If you set out to plan a conference, a conference is what you are likely to end up with. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Conferences are largely formulaic, and in higher education we put on A LOT of them. While some may be better executed than others, these events all tend to follow a familiar pattern: keynote, breakout sessions, vendor booths, and a lot of carbs. In all of this, the greatest value tends to be from those intimate, social interactions that promote the sharing and adoption of high impact practices.

Last year we sought to break the mold. Instead of trying to put on a traditional conference, we aimed to design an event that began by acknowledging that the effective use of data in higher education is maybe 10% about technology, and 90% about people. Innovation is more about practice than product.

The 2017 Blackboard Analytics Symposium brought together 100 current customers, from faculty and instructional designers to CIOs and university presidents, to share what was working at their institutions through a series of unique presentation formats designed to inspire transformative change through the effective use of educational data. This was not about Blackboard. It was about the institutions we serve and support. We did not charge a registration fee. We did not invite third party sponsors. In every design choice, we asked how we could help our customers share their stories, and how we could optimize attendee experience to promote the adoption of data informed strategies that work.

The event was a great success. It was praised by analysts from Ovum, Eduventures, and Wainhouse Research but more importantly, more than 1/3 of attendees said they learned something new that they planned to implement at their home institution in the next year. More than 90% said they or someone from their institution would attend the next Symposium.

So we’re doing it again. Planning for the second annual Blackboard Analytics Symposium (February 1-2, 2018) is well under way. Driven by the same spirit of community that inspired our inaugural event, much remains unchanged. Acknowledging the importance of network effects on analytics adoption and transformative change, as well as the limited budgets of many campuses, we are continuing to offer this as a free event as a service to our customers. Our ongoing commitment to community is seen through an actionable program that is focused more on people and practices than on product. We’re also back in Austin, TX because, let’s face it, the food is incredible!

We are also making some exciting changes to increase the value of this event for our customers. First, we have increased our emphasis on teaching and learning practices, and with that we have opened up the event to ALL Blackboard customers. In addition to bringing together our user communities for analytics products like Blackboard Intelligence, Blackboard Predict, Analytics for Learn, and Outcomes Assessment, we are interested in supporting campuses through sharing practices designed to increase the value they can extract using the built-in analytics capabilities of Learn 9.1 and Ultra, like the Retention Center, the Performance Dashboard, and the Activity Stream. The classroom (digital or face-to-face) is a basic unit of student success, and we are excited to explore the ways that data-informed instructional design can eliminate barriers to academic achievement and student progression.

Second, we are adding two workshops. The first is a technical training session to help Blackboard Intelligence and Analytics for Learn customers to customize and extend their data models. The second is an analytics readiness workshop designed to walk campuses through potential adoption challenges and present specific tactics to accelerate impact. Each of these experiences will be professionally delivered by our global experts, and these incredible sessions will be made available for attendees free of charge.

With a view to working with campuses to increase rates of analytics adoption, we are thrilled to have Dr. Deborah West as our keynote presenter. Dr. West has written extensively on the experience of learning analytics, and how institutions can unlock their potential to benefit students. In addition to her work in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at Flinders University, Dr. West leads the Let’s Talk Learning Analytics and Student Retention project, a partnership between five universities in Australia tasked with the development of a guiding framework for the institutional implementation of learning analytics projects. As a strong sign of our commitment to the high impact use of data and analytics to promote a holistic view of student success, Blackboard Chairman, CEO and President, Bill Ballhaus, will also be in attendance to deliver opening remarks and celebrate the innovative practices of our customers.

Look forward to full session details in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please check out the conference website at http://symposium.blackboardanalytics.com/, and submit your registration. This is an exclusive event with limited spaces available. Claim yours today!

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