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Done doing keynotes

I hope that this post doesn’t come across as excessively self-serving. I’m trying to communicate a change in my professional interest to a group of folks that have provided me with many opportunities. I’ve started, stopped, and deleted similar posts about half a dozen times in the last 18 months. Rather than trying to get the statement right, it’s probably best to just get it out!

I’ve been privileged and blessed over the past decade to have travelled the world meeting educators and interacting with colleagues globally. The past several years have been particularly busy, with my annual mileage consistently hitting 160k+. Each year seems busier than the last and I’ve loved the opportunity to contribute in a small way to the conversation about trends in higher education.

I’ve long held that once something becomes routine, rather than innovative and challenging, that it is time to rethink what I’m doing. Additionally, there has been growing creep of “rockstar-ism” in education where we look for “the person” to give us “the solution”. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the view that the answer can be brought to us by someone outside of our system. This view is appealing but completely false. I’ve answered many questions from audience members with “I don’t know” and “that depends”. People seem to find this unsatisfying. We like our so-called rock stars in the education and technology field. We like clear answers. And it’s not healthy for us or for our field.

Against this backdrop, I’ve decided that while I’ve found the experience very rewarding personally, it’s time to stop the keynote routine. I have a series of existing conferences that I’ve committed to attending, but won’t be taking on new engagements. I don’t feel that I’m giving my audiences a sufficient quality of dialogue and insight to match the scope of the challenges facing education. The keynote circuit does not allow for the types of interactions that are needed to leverage network engagement.

My interest is in having conversations that generate relevant and important action. There are significant pressures for educational reform and the nature of the intended reform is starting to become more concerning than the problem to be solved. My goals now are to:

1. deepen my connections to the analytics and data research communities
2. devote more time to teaching and doctoral students
3. pursue research activities in social networked learning
4. explore the role of universities as integrated social, economic, and knowledge fabrics of society

I’d like to say a particular thank you to the many conference organizers that have extended invitations over the past decade as well as the many audience members that have paid me the honour of their attention. It has been an outstanding and deeply satisfying time for me personally and one that I fully realize is an honour provided by the people that invited me and those that provided feedback, reaction, and guidance on my thinking.


  1. Barry Dahl wrote:

    I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience several times for your keynotes at various venues. I think you owe me a sizeable finder’s fee for all the times that I’ve recommended you to the planning committee for various conferences. I’ll give you a zero-balance bill and consider that you’ve paid it in full just based on all the great learning that you share with the world on a regular basis. That’s priceless.

    Hope you hit a home run with your keynote today in Melbourne. I recommended you for that, so my reputation is on the line (jk). Cheers, and no worries!

    Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  2. Thanks for your contribution to many learning opportunities George. We’ll miss you in person but look forward to a continued online engagement. Enjoy the next phase.

    Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Dan Pontefract wrote:

    Wow, big news.

    Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  4. A brave and correct decision that earns a lot of respect. Time to return to “core business” and contribute to the discussion from that perspective and via other channels. Thanks for the inspirational and thought provoking keynotes I’ve attended.

    Monday, September 9, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink
  5. Geoff Cain wrote:

    I have really appreciated the keynotes and workshops I attended. I have always found you very inspirational. You have influenced the work of more people than you can imagine. I look forward to seeing where this new turn takes you. A huge thank you for how much of yourself you have put out there!

    Monday, September 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  6. I hope I get a chance to see you at some point, even if it’s a keynote over a cup of coffee in your faculty office one day.

    I give relatively few keynotes each year, but choose the audiences carefully to make sure that they are the connected type, with whom one keynote is a launchpad into a longer term conversation. It’s like speed-dating with 2000 or 3000 people. For me, this is invaluable, in order to have push back on ideas, to think through the research and defend why things work, and others don’t. The deadlines are a must for my own mind, and magic happens around the medium, too – that condensed time forces me to rationalise what is most important for teachers to grasp so that they can take research and DO something with it. Research has consistently failed to market itself in a manageable way to teacher audiences who have to deliver this in the classroom, and the keynote is not a bad mechanism for a time-poor audience.

    That said, I get your frustration with lack of interactivity. When I hit an audience of whom only a handful are online, I die a little inside, knowing that I’ll not know what they actually DID on the back of what I shared.

    I don’t think audiences today really think that one keynoter is the Holy Grail – the web has helped show that there are a multitude of ways of achieving excellence, and no one speaker has all the keys.

    All this comment is, of course, self-serving, as I’ve never had a chance to hear you for myself. I hope I can help bend that arm behind your back a little and, maybe, like me, you’ll still do a dozen or half dozen totally different talks on things you’re passionate about, to start conversations, not to succinctly wrap them up.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  7. Terry Anderson wrote:

    Thanks for the time you’ve given to a LARGE global audience over the past few years! As a colleague at Athabasca, (and a friend) I’ve been quite delighted and amazed at your international stardom, and I think it is well deserved!!

    You have a great capacity for remembering citations, on the fly, – something that is alluding me these days!, engaging the audience and helping all of us conceptualize the huge change in education systems, opportunities and business models.

    But I also want to see you get tenure, get promoted, raise your family, spend time with your wife, and help Athabasca University make the necessary transition. So I understand.

    Will look forward to all your peer reviewed publications!! :-) (in open access press of course!!)

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  8. Brave statement, George.

    I appreciate the emphasis on discussion and inquiry. Events and conferences should do more of that.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Mark Curcher wrote:

    George, I have enjoyed seeing you and reading your work over the past 5 or so years. I think a wise choice given your reasons and motivations, but you will be missed for sure. Looking forward to seeing you at Curt’s pre conference do in Vegas next month. Best Mark

    Friday, September 13, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  10. Clayton R. Wright wrote:

    George, deciding to step off the stage when you are still a “rock star” in the technology and distance education field is unconventional. But your graduate students and family will greatly benefit from your decision. It would be fabulous to be a graduate student under your tutelage at this time as you will bring to them a world perspective and dedication to the craft of teaching. However, I would not be surprised if you returned to the stage – you have so much to offer to a wider audience.

    Sunday, September 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink