Volume 1, Issue 4

September/October 2009

  From a Distance...

Online Newsletter for Arkansas Distance Learning



Valerie Wilson, ARDLA President2009 ARDLA Conference Overview 
by Karen Liebhaber

Overall, the conference was a huge success.  But don't believe me; almost everyone who has responded to the conference evaluation said they would return.  Most respondents simply said that they thought ARDLA's sessions had good information, but some were more explicit.  One evaluator said, "I will return because I got more useful information from the sessions that I attended than I have from any conference I've been to in recent years."

Reggie Smith, USDLA PresidentValerie Wilson, Cathi Swan, and Cathi's committee chose excellent guest speakers, as one evaluator put it.  Reggie Smith, USDLA President, was on hand for the entire conference, all three days.  His presentation was very entertaining:  every couple of slides had a video or media clip.  It was obvious that Reggie not only supported distance education and distance ed technologies, he used them himself--perfect for the USDLA president.  Congressman Mike Ross, visiting with us via CVN, presented some interesting information.

Attendees choose between 8 topics during the Birds of a Feather session.  Participants had time for two of the following:  marketing strategies for DL programs, ensuring quality in online courses, collecting data to drive decision-making, Blackboard user's group, creating content as an online resource, Moodle user's group, IVC virtual field trip user's group, CIV user's group.  Participants had about 20 minutes to discuss the topic with others at the table.  The Quick-Fire Round was a fabulous source of information, albeit directed almost solely toward K-12.  Participants had 8 minutes to present information about their topic.  Presenters included representatives from AREON, Dawson, ASMSA ODE, and other K-12 vendors and schools.  Attendees were most impressed with the four students who spoke on behalf of their DL schools.

Max doing the HulaEntertainment consisted of the Luau on Tuesday night which, according to one attendee, "was hysterical!"  Prizes for hulahooping, bellydancing, limbo, and best Hawaiian shirt were awarded. There were many opportunities to network with other DL professionals and vendors:  the Vendor Mixer, the ample time between sessions, at one of the many dining events, during the Birds-of-a-Feather session, and during the Luau.

The last day, Thursday, ended at 11:00 with a door prize giveaway.  Usually, the crickets are louder than the attendees on the last day of a conference, but Thursday was an exception.  Fully half of the attendees were still on site, most lured by the ingenious game, Around the World.  Participants were given a game card on which they received stickers for attending a certain number of sessions a day and colored markings from each vendor.  This in effect caused greater interaction with the vendors and session attendance, especially since winners received great prizes including an iPod Touch. 

Perhaps one of the weakest areas of the conference, one on which the board is already trying to improve, was the lack of telejustice, telemedicine, and the limited number of higher education sessions.  One attendee said, "There will have to be more higher ed content for me to be able to return."  Another "Would like to see more involvement from telejustice and telemedicine."  Many of the sessions, though, were able to straddle the genre barrier by presenting technology that was useful to every facet of education, whether telemedicine or K-12.

Almost everyone, including board members, was less than enthusiastic about the conference hotel and food, noted both at the conference itself and on the conference evaluation.  Before the conference, the board members discussed other possible locations, but because of cost and time constraints, a venue change was tabled until the planning of the ARDLA 2010.  The board would have liked to use the Hot Springs Convention Center or a location in Little Rock, but the cost of such locations would require a registration fee increase.  If you have suggestions for another venue that has reasonable price, please contact Valerie Wilson. 

All-in-all, attendees said things like "I enjoyed the people the most," "Loved it! I am even more pumped up about distance learning," "Excellent conference - especially the hands-on breakout sessions," "in terms of conferences in general this was one of the best, most organized, ones I have ever attended," "Will return -- good information and lotsa fun!" and "I am DEFINITELY coming back!"  That so many people stayed for so long is a tribute to the quality of the conference.  Please join  me in thanking the conference planners for a job well done!

About the Author


Karen Powers LiebahberKaren Powers Liebhaber is the Distance Education Coordinator, Blackboard and Moodle System Administrator, and an instructor of English and literature at Black River Technical College.  She earned a Master of Arts in English from Arkansas State University.  She lives in Pocahontas with her husband and two children.

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