The purpose of Virtually Connecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience for those who cannot be physically present at conferences.
Using emerging technologies, we connect onsite conference presenters with virtual participants in small groups. This allows virtual conference attendees to meet and talk with conference presenters, something not usually possible. Each session is recorded and, whenever possible, live streamed, to allow additional virtual attendees to participate in the discussion by listening and asking questions via Twitter.
Whenever possible, there are two seats in each session reserved for people we don’t know, or people who have never participated in one of our open conference discussions. This is intended to encourage participation from new people who are not necessarily connected to us.
It is our hope that through this experiment, people will not only make new connections, but they will also make weak connections stronger.
So far I’ve participated in 2 Virtually Connected hangouts – the timezone is a restriction for me here in Australia. It really is an enriching way to experience conferences you can’t attend – and let’s face it, living in Australia, how many of us can attend international conferences? Even if I attended the conference physically, I wouldn’t necessarily be in conversation with keynote speakers or people I didn’t know so the Virtually Connected experience gives you the opportunity to be part of a conversation with these people as well as connecting to other people at the conference and those connecting through the hangout. You get a chance to ask questions and take part in the conversation, but even if you don’t have a lot to add you are still in the room during the real-time conversation.
I like the fact that the backchannel exists as an added layer during the live hangout. It gives you a chance to be active during the listening by bringing up questions or additional idea or information and interacting with the other members of the hangout.
It’s also a perfect way to ask a question without interrupting the speaker – and a good way to ask before you forget! The people speaking will have an eye on the backchannel and answer the question when they’re ready. Of course, there’s another backchannel which is on Twitter and that’s open to those people following the hangout but not directly involved. To do all those things at once – listen to the hangout, participate by speaking, participate in the hangout backchannel and participate in the Twitter backchannel – that’s a serious brain-stretching exercise! But fun, for sure.
After the hangout I find the people I’ve just met on Twitter or Google+ or wherever they are, follow them and add their blogs to my Inoreader. It’s a brilliant way of doing PD because you continue to interact with these people and keep up with their writing and conversations.
Sometimes you haven’t been able to actively follow the conference sessions before the hangout – because you’re at school! – and so you don’t actually have a lot to say but it still feels like you’re in the room and the opportunity to speak up is there.
My participation in these hangouts has been fairly low-key. Firstly because it’s new to me and I’m a bit overwhelmed with the collective knowledge of the people in the room, but also because I’m learning on the spot from the conference speakers and don’t want to ask questions for the sake of asking them. The backchannel is great for this kind of situation although you can’t see it on the video. I’m usually much more active in the backchannel. I think with practice I could increase my participation in the face-to-face conversation especially if I’ve had time to keep up with the conference. Work gets in the way!!
I was invited to participate in a third webinar and was all set up at work (before school started) but technology failed me! Very disappointing and confusing because it had worked at school before that. Oh well. Maintain a philosophical attitude to these things…