In astronomy, scientists talk about a region called the “Goldilocks zone” which represents the habitable area near a star. Because water is one of the critical ingredients for life, the Goldilocks zone encompasses the area that is not too hot nor too cold for water to exist in its liquid state. Like the age old children’s story, the Goldilocks is “just right” for finding life.
I have to say that I’ve always been searching for a Goldilocks zone, professionally. My interests include an odd mix of research, teaching and technology that makes searching for my personal Goldilocks zone pretty difficult. While I attend some regional and national instructional technology conferences, the sessions often focus too little on examining the research behind technology integration. While I also attend a variety of research conferences, the presentations are rarely implementable in my day-to-day teaching. Add in my role as a director of our institution’s teaching and learning center and it’s hard to find a home that’s “just right.”
I wanted to share this struggle after attending the Teaching Professor Technology Conference this weekend. In full disclosure, I was the chair of the conference and have been a member of the advisory board since the conference’s inception. Like me, the conference is a little hard to describe, involving an odd mix of teaching, technology and research. While sessions focus on tools and devices, it’s not really a technology conference. Although most of attendees and presenters hold advanced degrees in their content background, it’s not really a research conference. If I needed to describe the Teaching Professor Technology Conference in a single phrase, it’s a conference that “shares informed teaching strategies that leverage technology in higher education settings.” Kind of a mouthful, I know. But like I said, it’s kind of hard to describe.
Because of my chair responsibilities, I had to make several group announcements at lunch and dinner and introduce the keynote speakers. This sort of me a visible figure at the conference. Midway through the conference, an attendee stopped me, introduced herself and explained excitedly that she had attended a really great session. She went on to declare that she had “found her tribe.” When I asked her what she meant, she said that she’s been searching for people who shared her focus on teaching, technology and research. She described the difficulty SHE had finding her professional home and that she felt the attendees at the Teaching Professor Technology Conference were just like her. She was surrounded by people who shared her vision, enthusiasm and teaching philosophy. She had found her tribe.
When I shared the attendee’s observation at the next morning’s announcements, the phrase “found my tribe” took over the activity stream in the conference app. As the conference came to a close, several attendees posted similar sentiments. One participant wrote:
“last session of the conference – going home is bittersweet when something is so wonderful and your realize you have ‘found your tribe!”
Just to be clear, this post isn’t intended to be an advertisement for the Teaching Professor Technology Conference. Instead, it’s a reflection of my personal and professional journey. While I’ve been searching for a place that was “just right,” I realize that my Goldilocks zone isn’t really a place, but a community of people that share my odd perspective on the interplay of technology, teaching and learning. While I went looking for a geographical region, I found a tribe instead.
To my fellow tribespeople, I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in Baltimore next October.