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Online Conferences

June 26th, 2008 · No Comments · web 2.0

Over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week I attended the Emerge online conference Digital Communities & Digital Identities. (Josie Fraser, who did a great job organising it, has posted on this in more detail). I contributed as a presenter some time ago to a JISC Webinar on Web 2.0 applications for HE but this was the first full-on on-line conference I have attended and it worked very well. The sessions were run in Elluminate and all the features were used, breakout group sessions, whiteboard, slides, video etc. The audio quality was pretty good (once speakers got their levels right and everyone turned their speaker off in open mic sessions!).

I was surprised how useful the chat window was for sharing ideas, making comments and asking questions. There was some real brainstorming going on. It contributed significantly to the value of the presentations and is an aspect of on-line conference sessions that would be difficulty to replicate in a ‘real’ conference (unless everyone had a laptop and used a web service like Cover It Live – now there’s a thought). The chat really enhanced the sessions, made it easy for the presenter to see what was interesting the audience and helped give a focus to the audio and text discussion at the end and the summing up. It also was very sociable and entertaining! At times it was a bit like a group of naughty school kids chattering, swapping jokes, and winding up each other and the presenter. Personally I felt the sense of community grow throughout the 3 days and felt this made a significant contribution to ambience of the serious discussion too.

I felt pretty comfortable in the environment quite quickly once I got the hang of all the bells and whistles and there was quite a lot of spontaneous mutual support and advice as the community sorted itself out. One of the ‘old hands’ at this sort of thing remarked how better we had become operating in this sort of environment, not just the techical issues of knowing how the functions and tools work but how to make effective use of them in the presentations and the peripheral activities around them. I guess we will all be experts at this in a few years time, and hopefully our students will learn good and effective practice in these environments while they are with us.

I am attending the Next Generation Environments JISC conference next week as a member of a discussion panel but this is a normal face-to-face conference. Several people who were ‘at’ the Emerge on-line conference will be there and I am looking forward to comparing notes. I think on-line conferences will never replace f2f for many reasons but as additional and in-between events I think they are enormously valuable and effective. There can be more of them, they can be highly focussed (mini-conferences) with more targetted agendas, they are cheap (often free) and do not require travel and accommodation. And of course, the 2 modes can be merged when f2f conferences also run Elluminate (or another suitable system) and provide wikis, social networking and blogging. This opens up conferences to individuals who cannot other wise make it. And often the sessions can be recorded.

There is a growing understanding of the main differences and the main pros and cons of each conference mode. One disadvantage of the on-line mode is that I had to buy my own beer. On the otherhand I didn’t make a fool of myself at the disco. Actually the Emerge conference did have a very successful social event in Second Life with a DJ and fashion show. Sadly I couldn’t make it because I found my home PC was under spec for the new SL client and it wouldn’t install.


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