(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me


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Making Virtual Attendance Count – at #unet4online

I promise I will soon blog something about the content of the conference (though I’ve tweeted a LOT from what speakers were saying – hopefully I’ll aggregate that for folks who are not on twitter) and I’ll be watching some recorded sessions later and I can blog about those as well…

But for now…. I’ve been trying to join the online unconference – the #unet4online – I got onto the video but can’t seem to connect besides viewing the video. People are rather quiet on twitter and facebook… so I thought I’d just blog about the topic I wanted to write about!! People on twitter trying to help out… but some participants have decided to call it a day, so…

The key to enjoying virtual participation, imho, is not to think of it as something LESS than being there f2f but rather to think of it as something qualitatively different than being there f2f – and enjoy those differences!!! They bring opportunities!

So… how I made the virtual unconference experience count. Some quick tips:

  1. It helps if you’re on twitter. That way you can connect to all sorts of people from the conference in all sorts of ways (see almost all the points below).
  2. Use the chat box (seems obvious, but many ppl don’t – so they lose out on the networking potential of having side discussions  that would be rude to have in f2f but are really cool to have online). If I decide there’s someone I have “seen” often enough in sessions, and have enjoyed talking to, I’ll talk about a virtual coffee and exchange twitter handles and start interacting in that backchannel
  3. Tweet out useful tidbits from the conference – you might benefit folks from all over the place who could not pay to be there (and I’ve read somewhere that it’s questionable whether conference organizers will accept this, but it seems like the new culture is that people do that and it’s good PR for the conference, I think).
  4. Connect with speakers before the conference starts. I hit the jackpot when I got in touch with Jim Groom beforehand and look what happened! I was “there” before the conference started, and we engaged really well during the session as well
  5. Connect with the speakers during the conference – you can have side discussions with them on twitter after their session, just as other people who are present would talk to them
  6. Have side discussions without being rude. This happened quite a few times on twitter particularly but also in the chats during live video. Really valuable stuff.
  7. Make it last: make a lasting connection with people. I’ve followed so many new ppl on twitter and my own followers have increased 10% in 3 days! wow.
  8. Make it last #2: in a twitter exchange the idea came up to have a “book-club-like” weekly discussion of the recorded sessions – this could be on twitter or facebook… I’d like the chance to discuss recorded sessions with other participants or even with the speakers themselves.
  9. It helps if some of your PLN (Personal Learning Network) or friends are already at the conference virtually or physically – it helps you have someone to talk to about it at odd times or to ask questions, etc. I was lucky to have both people I know who were presenting, attending physically, and attending virtually (OK, I sort of encouraged some ppl to join hehe)
  10. It helps if you’ve got colleagues at work joining. I had one person joining but we were in different countries so did not have a chance to swap notes and discuss.
  11. IMPORTANT: it helps if you’re at the right conference for you at that stage of your career. For me this conference was great in the sense that I almost knew all about what everyone was talking about – e.g. today’s starting session mentioned #edcmooc and #rhizo14 – two free MOOCs/open courses that I’d participated in. They mentioned the collaborative autoethnography we’re doing in rhizo14 and quoted my friends in that talk. Sometimes, you want to be at a conference where everything is new and you’re learning something new every minute. But for this stage, I needed the networking aspect of this conference and the incremental learning from the sessions, helping me make connections with what I already know and do.

I’ve been to many physical conferences before and lost touch with almost every single person I met there. This time, with Twitter, I don’t think I will lose touch completely. Of course, you could exchange twitter handles at a f2f meeting as well :))

Now… what are some of the things Sloan-C (the organizers) did to help make the virtual conference a good experience?

  1. Really powerful streaming tool. Very few glitches, and I’m here in Egypt on not-so-strong infrastructure. I had about a 3-5 minute lag with the video, but otherwise it was really robust
  2. They were active on twitter and retweeted e.g. some of my blogposts about the conference
  3. Some but not all of the session moderators were really good at engaging participants and passing their questions on  (e.g. Jean, Ben, Lynne) – others did not even tell us their names, or ignored us completely. Some did a good job of having side discussions (e.g. Sandra) besides the main presentation
  4. Some but not all presenters did a good job of engaging the virtual participants – particularly Jim Groom and to a slightly lesser extent Jesse Stommel/Sean Michael Morris (e.g. Sean once read a tweet off his phone). That made a big difference, that some presenters cared. Also Mathew from Kent U had his poll online, for example, so participants from home could participate.

Not so good… not being able to join the unconference in any way… but as I tweeted to Sean today “life is an unconference”

Many things made my day today that are not directly (or at all) related to the conference, and I just wanted to post three tweets about them right here:

First one relates to this post:

Second one, the announcement of my third co-authored article posted on Hybrid Pedagogy today:

Third one (which actually came sometime before the 1st one above and after the 2nd one below) had me speechless and in tears, I was so touched:

OK…I’m off

 

ADDED April 17:

I won “the top virtual participant” award 🙂 Yay!

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