The Conference Buddy Experience at DML

by Alan Levine

This is a guest post by Alan Levine (aka @cogdog) who participated in a buddy hangout onsite at the DML conference. This post was originally published on his blog at:


At the 2015 DML Conference I got, for the second time (first was in April at et4online), to join in a Conference Buddy Google Hangout session with Maha Bali.

I almost hesitate to have to say who Maha is, for while being on the opposite side of the globe in Egypt, she is so part of so many cMOOCs, twitter banter, articles, that I teased her we should rename the “Mahanet”. In back channels and front channels, having this ability to call a colleague an educator in Cairo might seem like no big deal, but obviously is not something even likely pre-web.

In likely an effort to further connections with colleagues, Maha, and collaborators, have been setting up as un-official parts of conferences, “Buddy Sessions” which are as simple as someone at the conference being a focal point for finding times between sessions to run a live Google Hangout with Maha. It becomes a way for her to maintain connections, but for those at the conference, it’s a great way to convene with others and share observations on hr experience.

This interests me as a sensible way to make a face to face event something more participatory for people not at the conference. I see a live stream and optionally views of the slides as a pretty low level of participation for remote participants. I compare it to the old obstructed view seats in old baseball stadiums, sitting behind a pole.
Wikimedia Commons image

Some conferences do try a number of approaches to provide more than a passive viewing experience for remote participants. Others likely do not care (as they are not paying fees), or if they are paying fees, well, its in the thing you must do to justify fees.

So I like this Conference Buddy approach, it’s almost guerrilla, and since it is not overly planned (beyond time and place and pulling people in), it tends to be energetic. A bunch of people gather around a laptop running Google Hangout; it gets automatically archived.

Maha and Mia, oh My
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Maha and I had a few twitter DM exchanges about what could be done at DML. I offered to be a buddy, but Mia Zamora has already agreed to do so. We had some banter about the fact that all of her buddies have been women- is that significant? Not? I hesitate to generalize, and have no need to demand to be a buddy.

It’s more an issue of sorting out time zone differences, we settled on Thursday at 3pm since there was a 30 minute break at the conference, and while it was 12:30am for Maha, it works because her daughter is asleep, and apparently Maha sleeps herself about 20 minutes each evening.

I caught up with Mia and Anna Smith in a spot in the foyer where the break occurred, but we decided that it was too noisy, so we sat in he back corner of the big session room (with what I was told were “LA Style Chairs”); there was some prep for the next big session in that room. We are joined as well by Mimi Ito and Christina Cantrill. The session was just as chatty as one does at the conference, and as conversations go, it might flow one way towards some more serious commentary or just to more chatty talk. That is conversation? The archive, FWIW

You can read more about it as well as other recent Conference Buddy sessions on Maha’s post about PJs and Headscarfs.

I also grabbed the mic took the opportunity to have Maha be part of a little buzzword game I was having people at DML do- I would video them as I shoed a random buzzword, and ask them to say it as if it was the most exciting thing ever. Maha was game as well (no surprise):

Showing Maha her buzzword to say on camera for me.
Showing Maha her buzzword to say on camera for me.

And thus see her among others in the final video

One could easily speak, as I already have done, about the culture cutting this simple approach provides. But what if these were not one-offs or just Maha focused? Does it really take more than good wifi, people willing to act as connectors, to make a conference be more than what the walls of the venue allow? More than offering a glimpse in for those not at the event, does it not just broaden the overall experience?

If this is of interest (and it ought to be) see more at the Almost There… Virtual Connecting site Rebecca Hogue and Maha are running to share more about the Conference Buddy concept (and more, I bet)

It seems rather simple. As often great things are. There are all kinds of ways to be a buddy.

Me and My Buddy
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


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  1. My First Stint as a VConnecting Buddy

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