Forging creative pathways and connections online

Forging creative pathways and connections online Community Exchange

Though the EAIE community was not able to meet face-to-face in Barcelona as planned this year, it is fair to say the first-ever virtual Community Exchange, that took place 14–16 October was a success. After months of social distancing and deferred travel plans, more than 1600 international higher education professionals from 57 countries came together under one virtual roof for a healthy dose of knowledge exchange and inspiration from the extensive and interactive online programme. 

What a week it was! In welcoming everyone on day one, EAIE Immediate Past President Sabine Pendl mentioned that when the theme Forging creative pathways was developed more than a year ago, there was no knowing what meaning this would take on in 2020 with the global COVID-19 outbreak. From our home offices around the world, the Community Exchange showed the international education community was hungry for the knowledge and connections usually enjoyed this time of year at the Annual EAIE Conference. And though higher education professionals met online through video meetings and interactive break-out discussions, the insights flowed as the programme and theme looked at what we can do as a sector every day to make our work more impactful despite the distances and challenges. The overall experience was deemed by participants as “impactful” and “easy to navigate” with calls for a blended conference in the future.

Getting emotional about enrolments to reach our audience

Best-selling author and marketing expert Seth Godin opened the programme by posing a challenge to our sector: we have the chance to become part of a learning enterprise rather than the education business. He identified the key difference between the two as “learning is a commitment to leaning into something you do not know, because you want to know it.” It is a voluntary experience and has the power to put learners on a journey that truly changes them and their thinking. He asserts that we as a sector need to make real and emotional connections with our students and peers, and most importantly, make those who want to be part of the journey feel welcome.

Composing your own world

Violinist and innovative composer, Kai Kight, took the virtual stage for his keynote during the Thursday Plenary. Easing everyone into the day with some original compositions and using the metaphor of music, Kai posed a question that resonated with many individuals in our audience: “Are you the performer or are you the artist?”. He urged us to be creative and improvise in our work, instead of ‘reading the musical notes from the page’. He also gave us hope and said that while the “music of the pandemic is disruptive”, the lessons we’ve learned will help us follow a new original path as opposed to returning to our ‘old normal’.

Friday’s Closing Plenary keynote speaker, Inma Martinez showed us the possibility of a new path paved with digital building blocks as a way of dealing with some of the challenges of the non-physical learning and studying environment. She shared her insights on how technology can create extra value for education and enhance student mobility – it’s up to us to be open to change and take action.

The #EAIE2020 experience

In addition to the keynotes, the live Spotlight panel discussions were a programme favourite offering participants the opportunity to put their questions to a panel of speakers. These collaborative discussions were called “inspiring” and “refreshing” and explored a theme or topic from the extensive On-Demand recordings allowing for in-depth conversations and sharing of insights. Likewise, the daily life skill sessions offered practical advice on the new reality of working from home, including some important tips for self-care and how to avoid Zoom overload. Participants felt that these sessions were “energising”, “lively” and they welcomed “the push to make some changes” in the way they work. 

Outside of the scheduled sessions, connections and new partnership were also forged in the online exhibition, which saw 30 exhibitors from all around the world showcase their services to the enthusiastic Community Exchange audience. The only things missing from the virtual exhibition were the fun gifts and chocolate treats. Virtual campfires – small intimate discussions on crowd-sourced topics – also proved a dynamic forum for making new contacts, and a much-needed moment to share insights and experiences from the year so far.

The genuine interactions and time that everyone took out of their busy work week to connect online showed that while there is still a lot of uncertainty in our work and future, the field is resilient and through new creative solutions we will make it through this together, and stronger.

A selection of the session recordings will be made available to EAIE members in early 2021 to watch back and revisit as an exclusive member resource.