Message from the Conference Chair:
The Case for In-Person Vs. Online Annual Conference
I say “almost” annual because COVID-19 had other plans for us last year. Then-Vice President Melinda (those who know and love her call her Lindy) Coleman and the board faced a tough choice. We erred on the side of caution – and science – and canceled our much-anticipated 35th annual conference at Little America in Salt Lake City. Local ordinances forced our hand, too.
While the board lamented that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy Little America’s astonishing bread pudding and buttery biscuits the size of a baby’s head until 2024, our members were facing grim realities at their home institutions. Learning centers, ever the sources of innovation and paragons of flexibility, pivoted to online support. Attendance in our centers dropped until students and faculty felt comfortable with Zoom and other streaming platforms, and even then, most report that their attendance is still down.
NCLCA’s board kept in constant contact with the venue and hotel in Birmingham, the contracted site for the 36th annual conference. Nine months before the conference, the world was still grappling with the devastating effects of a global pandemic and the rollout of a vaccine. At six months, the board recognized it was time to make a decision. Do we cancel or forge ahead?
As we weighed our options, in February 2021, Lindy Coleman rallied the board and assembled a team of volunteers to run a successful online conference. Almost 600 attended. Our “normal” conferences usually host about 400. That told the board that our members, already engaged in our monthly online meetings, were hungry for more information and connection.
Canceling in Birmingham meant negotiating with the venue in hopes of moving it to our next available year, 2025 – a number that sounds like the setting for a science-fiction blockbuster – without incurring too steep a penalty. It also meant forgoing another opportunity to engage our members. We polled those who attended the online conference and discovered similar findings that you’ve heard from your schools:
You’re tired of your engagements looking like episodes of Hollywood Squares. We hope we never hear the words “Can you hear me now?” or “Is my mic on?” or “Hey! Is that your cat in the background?” again in our lifetimes.
Six months before the conference, the board decided to forge ahead and create something special for our members. Although successful, running the virtual conference wasn’t without its challenges. Since we just had one, running another one this soon wasn’t prudent. We called our Birmingham contacts and told them to polish their best silverware: NCLCA was coming, and we like dessert with our meals.
We want the Birmingham conference to be about you. It’s about gathering together, hugging colleagues (if you’re so inclined) who you haven’t seen in over a year, and learning from each other the lessons COVID taught us. NCLCA isn’t hiring a keynote. We’re not going to bog down every meal with fundraisers and speeches. We won’t run you ragged from daylight to dark and session to session.
Our presenters will be here in Birmingham. We’ll stream one or two sessions per hour to our colleagues who can’t join us in person (more on that soon – we’re building that page). We’ll also stream the awards ceremony and CLADEA induction ceremony because we should applaud the extraordinary achievements of our colleagues who succeeded during a challenging year.
Best of all? We’ll enjoy each other’s company. NCLCA has always been about relationships because you’re not just a number in our organization. You’re a valued member of a family of learning center leaders who lean on each other and pat each other on the back when we need it the most.
And we need it right now.
See you in Birmingham!
Michael Frizell, MFA
Vice President, National College Learning Center Association
Editor, The Learning Assistance Review
Certified Learning Center Professional – Level IV (Lifetime)