Tag Archives: sunycuad conference

SUNYCUAD focuses on the power of play

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug

Thanks to Ed Tatton for the photo of some nerdy guy playing Dig Dug.

The recent SUNYCUAD conference hit one out of the park with its theme on the importance of the power of play. Even though we work in higher education, we too often overlook the importance of curiosity, exploration and wonder in the creative process.

Bob Hambley, designer and partner in Hambly and Woolley, set the tone in the opening plenary by saying that we need to play and be curious to succeed in creative work. He cited the work of Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry, who posited that curiosity leads to a circle of creativity: 

  • Curiosity leads to exploration
  • Which leads to discovery
  • Which leads to pleasure
  • Which leads to repetition
  • Which leads to mastery
  • Which leads to confidence
  • Which leads to more curiosity

The challenge, Hambley said, is that curiosity peaks in humans at about age 5. Is it a coincidence that this is when formal education also tends to begin? Along the way, curiosity is discouraged by disapproval, by fear, by a lack of time, and by craving of certainty. The process of what we call “growing up” tamps our creativity down.

But Hambley thinks we can reverse the process by activity letting our curiosity come out of play. He encourages us to work five things into our regular routine to keep our curiosity strong:

  1. Observe
  2. Inquire
  3. Challenge
  4. Explore
  5. Take risks

The risk-taking part is important. Higher ed focuses so much (too much) on best practices, sometimes to the exclusivity of innovation and new ideas. But we can never evolve without risk. If we fail or if we succeed, the most important thing is that either road leads to learning, Hambley said.

After watching Hambley’s inspiring talk, I emphasized taking risks more in my presentation with (excellent) Oswego student blogger and intern Lizzy Marks, 6 Suggestions for Successful Student Storytelling. To invite student storytelling into your narratives, you have to take risks and trust people. But somebody had to take a risk to create the colleges and universities that make up the SUNY system — and making the system was a big risk in itself. Compared to the risk people like Oswego founder Edward Austin Sheldon took in the 19th century, hiring a student blogger seems like a fairly small deal.

Perhaps the biggest highlight was the trip to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, where we explored exhibits on Sesame Street and other children’s programs, rekindled our younger years with classic arcade games and enjoyed the natural wonder of an amazing butterfly garden.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

The looks of wonder and amazement in the butterfly garden speak volumes.

What was your favorite toy?

A wonderful question that cropped up from time to time was “What was your favorite toy?” For me, it involved trips to the dentist: While becoming creative didn’t require pulling teeth, getting my favorite toys sometimes did.

We went to a dentist named Dr. Betts in Auburn. The most memorable part was that at the end, our reward was selecting a little rubber animal. Which seems small, perhaps, except that our collection of rubber animals turned into a big community. My brothers Joel and Colin assembled their little communities and the Little Animals, as we came to call them, all interacted with each other and had many adventures, from football games to missions of international espionage to battling Star Wars characters.

From the power of playing with the Little Animals, my brothers and I learned three important things that followed us into our creative endeavors:

1. Storytelling. Without leaving the house, those animals went on adventures far and wide, to Soviet Russia, to the moon, to distant planets. We learned to tell a story — generally flights of fancy, yes — but to create characters and motivations and cohesive narratives. I honestly look back with a sense of awe at how sophisticated we were as kids when it came to crafting the adventures of the Little Animals.

2. Collaboration. As noted, all three of us had our own sets of animals, but they all interacted with each other in larger narratives. They generally began with a concept from one of us, often taking from TV or a movie but sometimes just dreamed up, with the others adding to it to keep the action going. In retrospect, I am so grateful for such an awesome preparation for collaborative creative work.

3. Community. Every adventure depended on the Little Animals working together and bringing their own strengths to the table to solve whatever challenge they faced. I still remember my characters like Jerry Cat, Sammy Squirrel, Singo Seal, Danny Dolphin, among others, and how they were all pieces of our larger Little Animal community that showed that togetherness conquered all.

Wow. That’s so much more than I realized. We grow up — or so we think — but how we played as kids continue to influence us. We also need to make sure that childlike curiosity and our willingness to play stay with us too.

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SUNYCUAD ’13: More than a fairytale of New York


“I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true.”
— “A Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl

Next week’s SUNYCUAD conference — June 5 to 7 at the Hilton Long Island Huntington — features a dream lineup of headliners as well as leaders, visionaries and practitioners in various fields of higher education. Dreamers and doers, if you will.

While we don’t have The Pogues, we may have gone one better with headliner David Pogue, tech columnist for the New York Times, Nova ScienceNow host and CBS Sunday Morning contributor. He’s pretty good on a piano too. I’ve heard rave reviews about his live presentations, and with nearly 1.48 million Twitter followers, he’s clearly a well-regarded authority on technology as relates to everyday life.

Our headliners have amazing depth and breadth, also including SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Columbia University Chief Digital Officer/CNetNews contributor Sree Sreenivasan and design firm Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. Any of the above would headline our conference any year, but this fab four, a veritable Mount Rushmore of brilliance, really supercharged the 2013 lineup.

But our breakout sessions are marvelous and will pose many hard choices for those in such fields as alumni relations, communication, development, publications, public relations, social media, web and everything in between. I’ll even have the honor of presenting with two of our talented students, Heather Casey and Alyssa Levenberg, on what they’ve done for us in video and blogging. Oh, and there’s even a clambake at the Crescent Beach Club on the north shore of Long Island.

If you can’t make it, we hope to have helpful bits posted up on the #sunycuad Twitter hashtag, and Lisa Kalner Williams of Sierra Tierra Marketing (@sierratierra) has assembled a list of Twitter feeds from conference speakers.

So much awesome in one place seems like a fairytale, but in truth it’s a fair sampling of what the minds of New York (and beyond) have to offer. We’ve dreamed big for this year’s conference, and we think the result will prove a truly great and fruitful time for all.


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3 tips for dealing with a conference backchannel.

Last week’s SUNYCUAD Conference featured its most active Twitter backchannel (defined as a real-time discussion thread using a hashtag, such as #sunycuad). While the backchannel is usually constructive, often retweeting the most salient lessons, it can occasionally include questioning of speaker effectiveness. Certainly nothing at SUNYCUAD reached the level of the #heweb09 Great Keynote Meltdown, but some comments centered on consultants appearing to present infomercials, speaker suggestions deemed debatable and seemingly suspect strategy.

To their credit, one presenter who faced some mild backchannel questioning, an integrated communication consultancy, tried to engage commenters after the fact and thanked them for their suggestions. They also asked if Q-and-A was moving increasingly to the backchannel, as the phenomenon was apparently new to them, and I applaud their efforts at making it a learning experience.

The worst thing that could happen would be if Twitter backchannels discouraged helpful folks from speaking at conferences. It shouldn’t. Backchannels are much more manageable if speakers take proactive steps to engage their audiences. Some suggestions:

1. Use a backchannel buddy. When Rick Allen (@epublishmedia) and I both spoke at the HighEdWeb Regional at Vassar, he asked if I’d have his back(channel) and offered to do the same. At the start of a session, you can note someone in the room will monitor the backchannel and ask any questions posed there if people don’t want to ask directly. And just knowing the backchannel is being monitored in real time may keep people more civil in their tweets.

2. Understand your audience. This was the real problem in the #heweb09 meltdown; the speaker was imparting antiquated information and just wasn’t playing the right room. Perhaps unfairly, consultants have an inherent challenge speaking to higher ed practitioners who may view them as mercenaries who make lots of money for telling administrators things the underpaid, underappreciated peons have said already. I don’t see practitioners rip other campus practitioners on the backchannel, due to mutual respect of the day-to-day challenges. That said, presenters may want to ask organizers about the job descriptions of attendees, skill levels (is a 101 or advanced approach best?) and whether the conference has hosted similar topics. Letting attendees know in advance you’ll focus on beginner-level information could make a world of difference.

3. Provide value early and often. Give someone something useful and they’ll respect you. Period. If presenters eat up considerable time pumping up themselves and/or their company/institution at the beginning, they’re missing an opportunity. Many presenters wait until the last five minutes to get to takeaway advice, but why not instead bring out some great stories, tips, tricks or helpful advice in the first five? Making a good first impression will buy you social capital.

Moreover, speakers should not take backchannel comments personally … sometimes the audience is just restless, feeling trapped in a presentation they didn’t expect and reacting the only way they feel they can. Any criticism in any medium can become a learning opportunity, including Twitter comments, but taking steps to create a productive and positive backchannel is even better.


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wanted: a few great speakers.

Do you have something you would love to share with hundreds of higher education professionals? Would you like to attend an exciting conference with a range of interesting college types and other top presenters? Haven’t you always wanted to see Buffalo in June? (Really, it’s an underrated city.)

We’re looking for a few great speakers for the 2010 SUNYCUAD Conference, June 9 to 11 in Buffalo. Those who attended last year’s conference or just viewed the Twitter streams and takeaways know that this event — attended by professionals from 64 State University of New York campuses and SUNY system administration — continues to build a high level of speakers. We’re a friendly, down-to-earth bunch of public-college workers in such areas as alumni relations, communication, development, marketing and Web. And did you know that Buffalo was the birthplace of the chicken wing?

Our conference theme is integration — of strategies, of resources, of technologies, and we have subthemes on branding, social networking/digital strategies and ROI/seeking success amid budget stress. Can you speak on those topics, and help us hard-working, well-intended, conscientious workers better serve our students and other stakeholders? Can you appreciate a city with lots of surprising cultural activities (and bars open to 4 a.m.)?

If you answer our call for proposals and you’re selected, we’ll provide free conference registration for what’s always an interesting event, cover your travel expenses and pick up one night’s accommodations. And while President William McKinley was assassinated visiting the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo, most people who visit the city find it charming.

So … are you interested in speaking at SUNYCUAD 2010, of using your knowledge and insight and skills to help us make a difference? In meeting hundreds of very nice people? In seeing the splendor that is Buffalo in June? Then visit our Call for Proposals page, download a form and return it to us by Nov. 6. Or drop me a line if you have questions. We’d love to hear from you … and hear what you have to say!

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