By Autumm Caines
This guest post was originally posted on Autumm Caines’ blog She’s So Heavy at http://autumm.edtech.fm/2015/06/21/connecting-virtually-considerations-from-a-virtual-participant/
What is Virtually Connecting?
Well, for a while now bigger Ed Tech conferences have been streaming sessions, sometimes for a price and sometimes for free. It is great because you can tune in and watch sessions that you are interested in and sometimes they even have a place where you can type in a question and a moderator will relay your question to the presenter.
But let’s be honest, sessions are only one part of the conference experience.
A huge part of the conference experience is that person that you bump into in the hallway who just happens to be doing similar research or someone that you end up sitting with at a shared lunch table who last year implemented that same technology project that you are working on right now. It is those serendipitous little connections that just sort of happen.
How do you attempt to replicate that virtually?
Well… this is how it happened for me.
I was attending the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville Ohio, the first multi-day music festival I have attended in a long time, trying out my new 2 person Big Agnes Mountain Glo tent as accommodations for 3 nights and making food on my old propane 2 burner camping stove. Not bad data on the cell service but not the best either.
This is my attempt to replicate my situation/internal dialog/conversation with Maha Bali:
…Oh look a tweet from Maha about a hangout with some people from the HASTAC conference. I’ve always wanted to go to that conference; looks like a blast. I bet that hangout would be a blast; wish I could play but I am on my way to see this band – hiking the path from the camp site to the festival grounds – I’ll just favorite the tweet to show Maha my support.
Oh… DM from Maha ‘do I want to join the hangout’. Yes! I do want to join the hangout but I’m at this thing without all my tech – I only have my phone. What? There is a Google Hangout app? ‘It starts in about 90min’. That would give me some time to gather some things; earbuds, power cord, find a quiet place… Okay I’m in at least to try…
What was it like?
Well you can see for yourself:
But let me give a little more.
So, the majority of the labor for a thing like this falls on the virtual host and the on-site coordinator who together work out times, onsite location, technology set-up, etc. As a virtual participant you really get the sweet end of the deal – you just get to drop in. I ended up being a virtual participant in three of these sessions over the next few weeks with Maha as the virtual host each time.
They were Hangouts On-Air so besides the people in the hangout who are participating there is the potential for a whole other audience that might be tuning in and they are recorded so others might be tuning in later. I had at least one experience with someone blogging about our conversation after the fact when Simon Ensor reminded me about the magic of technology. I thought it was a wonderful way to extend the conversation.
Overall, it was a great experience each time. I got to meet some really smart people including Mia Zamora who I’m encountering again as she is helping to facilitate #CLMOOC. I also got great insights to some conferences (HASTAC and DML) that I have been wanting to check out for a while.
The spontaneous nature of the thing encouraged that serendipitous energy and each time it really did remind me of bumping into someone at a conference to chat over coffee – that thing that is so hard to replace in virtual conference offerings.
I will admit to a bit of social anxiety, which people say I hide pretty well but it is there. I was meeting people that I had never met before and who’s work I was not really familiar with so in the beginning there was a little bit of anxiety. However, Maha was a great host and did a wonderful job of getting everyone acclimated and it was easy to feel comfortable once things started rolling.
If you get a chance to be a virtual participant I would highly recommend the experience. It is a wonderful way to broaden your network and connect with some people that are doing good work in the field. The Virtual Connecting website also has suggestions on how you can run your own Virtually Connecting sessions if you want to give it a try.
Here are a few other blog posts and articles that describe the experience from the other sides:
Articles from Maha and Rebecca in Hybrid Pedagogy and in The Chronicle Of Higher Education’s Prof Hacker blog.