David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Verbal Kin: The Academic Conference Title Template

April 10, 2018

I have returned from another annual Higher Learning Commission Conference.  As usual, I got jacked incredibly high by amazing keynote sessions, brought low by many breakout sessions characterized by 43 PP slides of way too much information.  Alas, the academic community changes very slowly.

What will never change is the way we title our presentations.  In general, one looks at the list of presentations and sees either a broad statement captured in a clause ("An Overview of HLC's Teach-Out Policy and Procedure") or some version of a gerund phrase ("Assessing the Hard-To-Assess"), which given the use of an opening verb implies on-going action. The truly clever choose both, harnessing (see below) the infamous colon ("Innovating Gateway Course Interventions: The Plus Effect on Student Learning"). If there is truth that the words we use define us, the good news, theoretically, is that most of us apparently like the suggestion of non-stop activity in the ivory towers.         

After all, according to presentation titles at this year's conference, we are accumulating, advising, addressing, aligning, assessing (7), becoming, building (5), changing, connecting (3), continuing, crafting, creating (4), cultivating, debriefing, defining (2), demystifying, developing, documenting, doubling, embracing, empowering, enhancing, equipping, evaluating (2), executing, getting (2), harnessing, helping, highlighting, hosting, implementing (2), improving, increasing (3), innovating, integrating (3), launching, leading (2), learning (3), linking, maintaining (3), making, mapping (2), measuring, meeting, optimizing, passing, paying, preparing (3), protecting, providing, pursuing, quarterbacking, raising, realigning, redesigning (2), reporting,   rethinking, reviewing, seeing, sharing, shifting, starting, supporting (4), training, transforming (2), turning (3), understanding, using (6), utilizing, and writing (3).  [Numbers represent number of appearances in separate titles]

As I look at that list of what academics are doing, I am struck by several thoughts:

  • First of all, we are not F'ing anything!  That seems both depressing and disingenuous at the same time.
  • Second, we are failing to mention that we are appropriating every day.  Who knew so many academics were secret explorers mapping unknown worlds; football players quarterbacking our pasty-skinned teams to victories; or artisans crafting our wares.
  • Third, we like to de- or re- as a general rule: all we need to do is discuss the demystifying of the redesigning of presentation titles.

So, once you choose your action, then you choose your buzz-worthy adjective.  You can choose from the following, which represent merely a small sample of academic adjectives:

Asynchronous, budget-neutral, campus-wide, cocurricular (3), college-wide, competency-based (3), comprehensive (4), contemplative, continuous (2), continuing, culture, design thinking, digital (2), dynamic, effective, enhanced, evidence-based, federal, flexible, guided, holistic, hybrid, implementation, innovative (3), institutional (12), integrated (2), interprofessional, meaningful, non-traditional, outcomes-based, persistent, polysynchronous, post-truth, practical, professional, quality (5), reflective, shared (2), specialized, strategic (7), structured, sustainable, targeted, tested, transformational, transformative (2), transformed, transforming, transparent, user-friendly, and workforce. [Numbers again represent frequency of appearances in separate titles; also in this case, several adjectives can often end up within one title.  Stringing them together is worth extra points.]

As I look at this list of how academics describe their work, I am struck by several thoughts:

  • The dictionary within my blog can't recognize at least a half dozen of these words.  I think the grammar check wants to explode with "polysynchronous."
  • It is no wonder that the trans community is drawn to our transformational, transformative, transformed, transforming, transparent campuses.
  • Post-truth!  Only an academic can coin the phrase "post-truth."  It's merely a matter of time until we get "Pre-lie."

So, ultimately, any non-academic can aspire to be academic.  As Mad Magazine often does, choose a word from the gerund list and a word (or more) from the adjective list and add a noun or two (and any necessary connecting words). And to have a little more fun--guess which of the following titles is an actual title from the conference:

  • Shifting user-friendly offices into holistic work spaces.
  • Embracing cocurricular assessment efforts for the betterment of institutional effectiveness.
  • Transforming transformative transparent business practices to meet federal compliance requirements.
  • Optimizing reflective journal writing to improve student success in hybrid courses.
  • Launching a hybrid, professional practice doctoral program.
  • Harnessing strategic innovative budget-neutral assessment plans as part of institutional assurance arguments.
  • Empowering faculty for guided assessment best practices.
  • Mapping innovative comprehensive evidence-based structured transformational continuous sustainable stuff to look really pretentious.

So one of the above is an actual presentation title from the conference.  Did you take a guess?  It really doesn't matter if you are right or not.  In the world of academia, they all are theoretically right.

Yes, somewhere in America you can launch a hybrid professional practice doctoral program.  Because we aren't cranking out enough doctorate-level professionals anyway.