Providing conference content to meet the particular needs of our employer members remains a challenge for CACEE. Our conference content rarely meets a satisfactory standard for those seeking high quality professional development opportunities, and that is a concern for all of us. To their credit, our employer members have been pretty good sports about it, excusing us our failure to deliver, but their tolerance has limits - rightly so - and we may be coming close to it. The low frequency hum of disappointment has become a voiced complaint; a call to do better. And that’s good. We need to sort this out. What follows is an attempt to get us started.
At our larger events (National Conference, Professional Development Conferences) CACEE offers content through keynote addresses and breakout sessions. The keynotes are delivered to all delegates in a plenary format, while the breakout sessions operate exactly as the name suggests - delegates break themselves out into smaller groups to attend simultaneous professional development sessions. These are much more numerous than keynotes, and a lot more work to select. CACEE employs a peer review process to determine the breakout sessions. Here’s how it happens:
Step 1 Form a Program Committee
The Program Committee is comprised of CACEE members representative of our membership. Affiliates, educators and employers from across the country are asked to participate.
The Call for Proposals includes a description of theme (if one exists), the guidelines for submission, the evaluation criteria, and the submission deadline. Typically, the call is repeated several times.
Once the deadline arrives, we distribute the submissions to the Program Committee for their individual review. Next, committee members gather to consider the submissions, assigning each a score based upon the evaluation criteria from the Call for Proposals. Only CACEE members vote.
Once the sessions are scored, they are ranked, and assigned program slots until they are all filled, or until we run out of submissions that meet a minimum standard. This is a rare occurrence, and when it happens we scramble for content, but we would rather scramble than approve an inadequate session. Once the slots are filled the draft program is once more reviewed with an eye to fairness and balance. After that review, the program is published.
As an association we have members who are knowledgeable about practice, and we are fortunate that many are willing to share their knowledge and to help us to evaluate the submissions we receive. The peer review process assures that the content being offered has been vetted for quality and suitability. That is a great strength for us. The process works best when there are lots of submissions, and although the number of submissions has been trending upward over the past few years, we are always open to more.
As Executive Director, I have the privilege of attending Program Committee meetings, and I have witnessed the efforts members exert, in good faith, to create the best program possible from the submissions. They take it seriously, and they work hard, because they want to offer the best conference they can. They know that reputations are at stake – theirs, and the presenters.
Peer review poses us a number of challenges however, and it is time we address them. Over the past while, I have taken part in discussions about employer content in CACEE programs, and I have heard concerns about the process and the outcome. Here are the dominant ones:
These are valid concerns, and I expect that our members are not unique in having them, so that begs the question – what do other associations do? To find the answer, I examined the recent conference offerings of our international peers to discover the following: What sessions do they offer? Who delivers them? How are they chosen? What follows is a brief comparative analysis of employer oriented content offered as part of the following conferences:
Please note - CACEE and NACE are similarly structured – educators and employers comprise the majority of their memberships, while AGR and AAGE are primarily employer based, with few educator members.
Table 1 Comparative Employer Sessions
After considering the nature of employer oriented sessions our colleagues can offer, we are able to come to a few conclusions. Applying these conclusions to the concerns we have heard from employer members, we are able to generate some questions for discussion.
CACEE offers our employer members fewer dedicated sessions than our international peers, with our colleagues in the US and the UK offering more Best Practice by Peers sessions, and our colleagues in Australia offering more Vendor / Sales sessions.
The standard duration for conference PD sessions offered by our international peers is 60 minutes, although there are a few exceptions. CACEE is unique in offering 45 minute sessions. We have heard from our employer members that they would rather offer 15 or 20 minute sessions as ‘Quick hits’ or as part of a panel (common with our international peers).
Peer Review is the preferred manner for determining breakout session content, yet we have heard from some of our employer members that they don’t have the time to prepare proposals.
When you compare CACEE’s processes and outcomes to our international colleagues, it is clear that they seem to have dealt more effectively with the concerns expressed by Canadian employers. Either that or the international employers don’t share the concerns to the same degree. Regardless, it is a priority for CACEE that we offer more content for our employer members. It only makes sense that we do more to meet the needs of our current members or else we cannot realistically expect to recruit more.
These conclusions and questions are intended to serve as a starting point for a dialogue that will lead to a solution. I hope that CACEE members will take a few minutes to reflect on them, and a few more minutes to shore their reflections. We have some way to go, and the more feedback we get, the more confident we can be as we move forward. Your contribution is gratefully accepted!
Thanks for participating.
Paul D. Smith
CACEE Executive Director