Thursday, June 10, 2010

Old School Communication during the 2010 NAFSA Conference

As I was walking through the Kansas City Convention Center during the NAFSA Annual Conference last week I came across the message boards (pictured here) off to the side and not along a main traffic path for conference attendees.  The NAFSA message boards have always been a great way for colleagues to communicate and connect with each other during the conference and they continue to serve an important purpose for many.  I took this picture of the message boards with my iPhone.  As you can see, there are not that many message boards available for attendee use.  For those of you who have been to a number of NAFSA conferences take a moment to think back ten, five or even two years ago and the number of boards available/necessary for conference attendee use and the number that is now available in 2010.  Vastly different, no?

The rise of technology has decreased the use of and need for the message boards for many conference attendees.  In the early years of smart phone use the main form of communication between conference attendees was via e-mail and, anecdotally, I believe that e-mail remains the main form of smart phone communication between NAFSA conference attendees today.  I was certainly on e-mail throughout the NAFSA conference but I found Twitter, followed by text messaging and Facebook, to be the best communication tool for me during the conference.  While I missed a couple of direct messages about connecting for dinner or connecting for related functions I found it to be the best way to connect with many colleagues I wanted/needed to connect with.  NAFSA has had the Conference Connection for many years now and I always register but never use as it mostly leads to template solicitations from other conference attendees.  I did hear from many (via twitter, of course) that they found the new Conference Connection to be an excellent tool for planning their conference and @NAFSA indicated that a Conference Connection iPhone application for Vancouver 2011 (#nafsa11) was being considered/researched!  In fact, I think an entire #nafsa11 iPhone application that integrates Conference Connection with other vital conference information (like the discount code for the airport shuttle).  I want to commend @NAFSA for setting a Twitter #hashtag for their conference (#nafsa10) and I recommend that all international education related conferences follow this trend as there are many colleagues who can't attend conferences and are actively following the conference backchannel and appreciate what people are communicating/posting.  It literally takes 20 seconds (often times less) to come up with a #hashtag for your conference.  You can read my related post about conference hashtags here.

Those of you who attended the NAFSA conference last week, what tools did you use to communicate and connect with colleagues as well as prospective partners/collaborators?


  1. I do think that the bulletin boards serve a couple of purposes: they are a good meeting place (people who have not yet arrived at the conference may not know the lay of the land yet, but they know there will be a pretty centrally-located bulletin board meeting area) and they are useful to international visitors who may not be able to afford to be as Internet-connected as US NAFSAns.

    Making plans with an Ecuadorian colleague proved to be a bit more complicated than meeting with American folks, because most of our telephone communication was between her hotel room phone and my cell phone. So no texting!

    I think many of us may be faced with a similar challenge in Vancouver, when we Americans are paying international roaming rates for our phone calls and text messages AND for international data usage on our cell phones. Hopefully #nafsa11 will have free wi-fi to help us communicate a little more easily and cheaply. Otherwise, we may see a resurgence in bulletin board use!

  2. @sarah ~ To be sure, my post was very US/smart phone centric and many/most international attendees will not be able to afford international service fees for using their cell phones and with no free wi-fi it complicates matters.

    I agree about Vancouver and my usage of my phone, FB, Twitter, texting will be severely limited as I don't want to be paying international roaming fees. Like you, I'm hoping for free wi-fi for #nafsa11 but I don't see this happening so I think we all need to find the nearest hot spots to gather.

  3. Great post, David.
    Funny to see the message boards in your photo because this year I never even visited them at the conference!
    This was also the first year I used Twitter and what a difference that made. I agree the #nafsa10 was a great way to connect with people.
    I have to say that I had some challenges with Conference Connection, but I am looking forward to providing feedback to improve the user-end experience for next year.
    Thanks for your thoughtful insights.

  4. NAFSA 2012 update on message boards:

    While I haven't seen official notification by NAFSA to the membership and am only operating on discussion on Twitter via #nafsa12, a decision has been made to not have message boards this year.

    To be sure, many people have mobile/laptop devices that make the message board an ineffective communication tool. That said, I'm guessing that not all NAFSA conference attendees have such mobile devices and for these colleagues having a small number of message boards tucked off into a corner (as was done at NAFSA Kansas City) seems a good way to accommodate those without mobile/laptop devices who will be able to rapidly communicate and connect as long as they have battery power.

    NAFSA indicated via Twitter today that there will be free WiFi in the pubic areas of the convention center and that attendees should look for signs that include login info.

    In the end, I won't be in Houston for NAFSA 2012 and if I was I would be using my Motorola Triumph to connect and communicate mostly via Twitter, IHEC Blog's FB page and e-mail and possibly nudged [] to the Conference Connection tool []