Monday, April 14, 2014

Amen to all that

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by William G. Tierney, Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, University Professor & Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Affairs, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

A long time ago I served as Vice President of Division J.  I was also a member-at-large for the Council about a decade ago, and now I have concluded my 3 year presidential term.  One of the aspects of academic life I always have enjoyed is the ability to do different things rather than having to do the same thing over and over again.  AERA has enabled me to do a lot of different activities and learn a great deal about ideas and people.

AERA has changed a lot, but probably not changed enough.  It’s a conference, in some respects, that everyone loves to hate: It’s too crowded.  It’s too exhausting.  It’s too qualitative.   It’s too quantitative.  There are not enough sessions on (fill in the blank); there are too many sessions on (fill in the blank).  It’s also too expensive.  I could go on.  And on.

But people keep coming to the conference.  Last year we had 15,000 attendees; this year we had 14,000.  AERA works best when people are able to disagree with one another out in the public in sessions or in meetings or even in hallways.  We’re a ‘big tent’ organization and big tents should be able to hold lots of people with competing ideas.  At its best, AERA fosters conversations across disciplines and methods to help improve educational theory, policy, and practice.

However exhausted I am when I leave AERA I always head home with a sense of having learned something and made a new friend or two.  This year was a touch different because I’ve sort of come to the end of my AERA involvement.  I’ll still show up for the annual conference and publish an article here or there, but it’s time for me to look to other horizons and other adventures.  AERA helped foster that sense of intellectual adventure over the years, and I hope it does so for all of you.  Get involved.  Change the organization and move it in a direction that is responsive to the multiple needs we face.

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

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