Experiences at My First AAIR Conference

11 December 2010

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend my first AAIR Forum in Geelong, Australia. There were several reasons why I was excited to take part in the Forum, including the fact that this was my first visit to Australia. In addition, as a former President of the (American) Association for Institutional Research and member of our Board of Directors, I wanted to see how the AAIR organization and conference compared to ours, and what we might learn from each other.

I was very impressed by the structure of the AAIR Forum and the quality of the presentations. Presenters were very knowledgeable about their topics, and the questions and comments from the audience greatly enhanced the sessions. I moderated a session at the conference where participants reviewed Alan Mackay’s observations of the AIR Forum in Chicago. The session was helpful in pointing out to me that the American AIR Forum is both cursed and blessed by its size. Another difference between our respective conferences is that while AAIR tends to focus more on higher education policy issues, AIR has a larger portion of our program devoted to specific IR skill development. Finally, presenters at the AAIR Forum were much better than those at the AIR Forum in explaining to the audience how their topic can be generalized outside of their national context. I have seen improvements in the US in this regard, but we still have a ways to go.

On the last day of the conference, I gave a plenary talk about “Putting the ‘R’ Back in IR.” This was one of the themes that I identified for my year as President of AIR. In the talk, I argued that in recent years the field of institutional research has been drifting away from the “research” side of the field and towards the practitioner side, and that we need to strive towards a better balance between the two. Although this problem appears to me to be greater in the US than it is in Australia and New Zealand, comments during the session illustrated that this concern was not lost on AAIR as well.

Overall, I had a terrific time during my visit to Australia and my participation in the AAIR Forum. Everyone made me feel very welcome, and I greatly appreciate the invitation from the conference organising committee to take part in this year’s conference. I have already shared my observations – and your wonderful newsletter – with my American counterparts on the Board. I hope that some of the readers will have an opportunity in the future to attend our annual Forum as well (the next AIR Forum is in Toronto, Canada May 21-24, 2011). My only piece of advice to you is that if you do travel to the US, try to avoid sitting in the bulkhead section of the plane where most of the screaming children can be found.

Thank you again for your hospitality and allowing me to take part in your conference.

Rob Toutkoushian
Professor of Higher Education
University of Georgia (USA)
Immediate Past President
Association for Institutional Research

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