Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ASHA Convention Wrap-Up: An Open Letter on the Importance of Open Technology.

I really love going to the ASHA convention (despite ASHAs tendency to write it in print without the definite article the, I have to insist on it). I've gone 6 years in a row: Miami, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philly, and now San Diego. Clearly I really like the travel, the vibe of learning and whom I get to see at the convention.

This is not to say that there couldn't be some improvements each year, and I struggled with whether to write and publish this post lest it seem negative. However, as one of our technology spokespeople, I really feel strongly that I need to mention some points that would take this event from a good one to a GREAT one.  

These points of course are on message for my blog and in the area of technology, and I thought it best framed a certain way, and in the sense of What it Looks Like at a Conference when Access to Technology is Carefully Considered.  So here goes:

When Technology is Open and Carefully Considered at a Conference:
...there is a clear message to presenters that they are free to use their own equipment and devices in order to give the best presentation they possibly can.  As a result, we don’t have things like PowerPoints about iPad apps, which limit the power of that technology and don’t give attendees a sense of how things really work.
...we have a user-friendly web-based scheduling application that can be accessed on any device (including mobiles) and allows participants to select sessions, access all information including handouts, and even see which of their colleagues share interest in sessions so that discussions can happen before and after presentations (I have been to several that used SCHED and found this an awesome tool).
...free and accessible wireless Internet is available to attendees and presenters consistently in all areas of the convention center, resulting in (gotta break this down a bit more because I think it is the most important one):
-presenters being able to demonstrate the abundance of resources related to Speech and Language Pathology while making presentations, without having to resort to using personal hotspots or flat screenshots.
-facilitation of the previously made points, particularly access to supporting materials so that attendees do not have to (and this was definitely partly their fault) wait in (long) lines to print out itineraries and handouts.
-instant access to websites and resources, including apps, so participants can explore as they are learning.
-use of QR codes- imagine if at every door, poster and exhibition booth a QR code linked us to a handout, resource or website for further learning.
-finally, greater opportunity to continue the conversation about sessions and backchannel using various outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and ASHA’s new Community portal. 

Again, these tips are made with the best of intentions and from experience in attending conferences in which these things are considered, with wonderful results.  Given that ASHA is reasonable to attend (admission fee-wise) relative to some conferences, I would be willing to pay a bit more to see these things happen. All meetings are subject to a technical glitch or twenty but if these possibilities were considered, I bet we will have an even better ASHA 2012.  I look forward to it!


  1. I agree 95%: I also understand ASHA wanting to control the flow of info to a certain extent: free WiFi could lend itself to people streaming talks to people who didn't pay. And I understand that they might not want that to happen.

    That being said, I wish ASHA would be a little more TED-ish: provide content a few months after the conference to (at least) members for free. Not everyone can attend the conference, and not all presentations and posters get into publications and even then, not everyone has access to pubs (other countries, for example.) ASHA could really make a push for open accessibility if it wanted to (and I hope it does.)

  2. Sean,
    Excellent post and I couldn't agree more. Not only do you point out what's wrong but offer suggestions on how to fix those problems. Perhaps ASHA will invite a few SpeechTechies to brainstorm these solutions for future conferences via a special forum of some kind.
    Again, great post and I'm glad you had a good conference. Wish I could have been there again this year.

  3. Tara, you rock. Chris, we totally missed ya, and thanks. See you at ATIA. Kris, I agree with YOU 95% haha. Your TED idea is a great one, tho to be truly like TED we'd have to keep our talks to 15 min, which I don't think SLPs can do (I shouldn't say anything, as a consummate jabberjaw). I hear that concern about outside streaming. I think if any SLPs in attendance figured out how to stream in a watchable/listenable way without ASHA's knowledge or intervention, not only do those outside people perhaps deserve the knowledge they receive but maybe that person should also be the next convention tech consultant, haha ;-) The Building Learning Communities conference in Boston is a good model- they openly make keynotes available online (delivered by I think paid/expensive speakers) and the result is so impressive that it is likely to just bring more people to the conference the following year. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

  4. I'm definitely in agreement with you here. Re: Kris's points, the thing is that we all share, all the time, it's just usually after the fact. And sharing is good! ASHA can keep the model they have, and require attendance and fees in order to gain CEs. In a database structure, it shouldn't be hard to see if someone is trying to register for CEs who clearly was not registered at the convention.

    And re: iPads, I second your notion! During my last semester of grad school, I gave a presentation from my iPad, and it was super fun and very engaging. The beauty of the tablet is the simplicity: it's easy to have the presentation queued up and easy to have video or other supports queued up as well.

    I seriously think QR codes would be amazing, and dead simple, for the convention. The difficulty might be for folks who don't have smartphones, though.

    This was my first ever convention of this scale, and all in all I really enjoyed myself. I met incredible people, learned a ton of new things, and left feeling amazing lucky that I fell into this field.

  5. Hi Sean, and all of your readers –
    part one of two -
    Ellen S here… the new(ish) director of convention for ASHA. Thanks for taking the time to write up some suggestions – AND offer some ideas. I’m glad you enjoyed the convention and welcome your constructive feedback. I wanted to let you know that many of the items that you listed are things we struggle with, and I have been working to address them. I understand the value and usefulness of good technology, and have been working on trying to improve. We thought the new personal scheduler was an improvement over past years. It is not yet perfect, but it is an improvement. There was a mobile app for the scheduler, and we did have the QRs posted for access – but clearly not well enough. And some folks did figure out how to use it reasonably well. (We had problems with the handouts linking, but the important basics were there) We continue to work at it. Eventually I hope it will address most of your suggestions.
    One of the big challenges we had with long lines is that the tool suffered from slowness on site – I kept adding on bandwith, but we had some siphoning that we could not control. Still trying to figure out what happened. I added them drive connectors for people to download files, but most opted to print the mammoth handouts. As to handouts – well that is always a challenge – some presenters won’t upload and others upload 200 slide powerpoints. We’re working on guidelines – an outline and a list of references and links – to be given in advance and available as short reference materials. The idea of intellectual property and open access is far greater than my ability to address with submissions guidelines. I agree it should exist, but there are landmines with every step. I’m already dealing with issues of people who recorded sessions, and posted, without permission of presenters, despite our clear guidelines.
    We also started a test run on recording sessions, so that we can look at having some of the classes online post-convention. Again it’s a test, and we are trying to work through permissions and processes. There are CE requirements that add into the mix. There a million tools out there, but it’s about a culture shift as much as functioning tools. For as much as you seek functioning online options, we have literally thousands of people who complain about not getting print materials in advance. I am working to find some good middle ground.

  6. part two:
    As for the issue of presenters using their own equipment – that WAS possible. And we explained that. There are of course reasons why it makes sense to use your own equipment – privacy, unique software and other demonstrations, or, as you note – use of an IPAd. However, 90% of the presentations are powerpoint basics. Literally – 90% with gobs of embedded videos. I’m not saying that is the best presentation – but that is what exists. Taking the time to upload within our systems gives us several benefits – efficiencies of presentations, the ability to record the sessions, techs on hand to help correct presentations for the non techie. And for those that did need to use their own computers, they simply had to check in so that we knew to have a tech nearby in the event of an issue or technical difficulty.
    And well, free universal internet – that’s a beast. As a meeting planner, I attend events all year long with hotels and convention centers and it is the number one request and demand, but we haven’t reached a point yet where they will capitulate. The profits are too great, despite our demands. We live in a wireless society and we’ve made that clear, but we don’t have a winning case yet. I think we have found a way wherein we have connectivity to offer to our presenters when needed, but the frank ( and sad) answer to the idea of free wireless for all is that it is currently cost prohibitive. (Add to that a concern about people, as noted above, using the connectivity outside of the guidelines)
    I hope you don’t think any of the above is rambling excuses…. I want you to know that I think about this stuff often, and have been working diligently to find ways to move us in new directions. I do see the big picture benefits, and hope that each year we can add more and improve access and benefits. The good news is that ASHA management has been with me every step of the way. Every fresh idea and effort has had support (if not unlimited bank account) and I keep pushing. Hopefully we’ll see you in Atlanta next year and you’ll see many of your wishes in place.

    Thanks for taking the time, again, to think about and offer such valuable perspective. And Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Wow, Ellen, I do really appreciate your thoughtful response, and I don't think of any of it as rambling excuses as long as you don't think of my post as rambling whining. I definitely hear what you say about the problems around the expense of wifi, intellectual property, and people's dogged perseveration on having printed handouts. They really should get over that and be digital, or just take good notes! I did make do also with the Personal Scheduler but as far as mobile- it didn't really work- the handouts did not show up as an option to download in the iPhone or iPad screens, which is why I mentioned that. I am sure it's always a process to choose that kind of tool. Yes, also, the tech people did allow presenters to use their own equipment and I appreciated that especially as a presenter. However, the initial communication to presenters did indicate that using your own equipment was not an option, and that was a problem, both in requiring unnecessary communication with tech and in some people being downright confused, or not having asked the question. The word on the street was that some presenters still thought they couldn't use their own devices. I just wanted to emphasize that should be allowed and clear from the start.

    Anyway, it was a very good conference and I hope you take those criticisms as truly constructive points that I felt I finally needed to say as a longtime fan. I will definitely be back in 2012 and I appreciate your work.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. I would like to chime in to say how proud and thankful I am to be part of an organization which includes such honest and respectful communicators! This is how we continue to move forward. I look forward to ASHA 2012.