During the presentation, I mentioned a few of the exceptional online professional conferences that Terry and I studied and participated in while writing the book. Many more are mentioned in the book. However, I would love to hear about online conferences that you have participated in. What strategies and technologies were used to make it a worthwhile event?
- Seeing who will be attending and having ways to connect ahead of the event
- Having a variety of ways to participate. It's very difficult to sit in front of a computer for hours at a time! So a mix of synchronous and asynchronous, and ideally recordings of synchronous sessions in more than one format -- for example MP3s of the keynotes are handy.
- Not having to choose among a list of concurrent sessions!
- Daily broadcasts via email to outline what is happening that day.
- Access to conference artefacts after the event is over. (But for some reason organizers thing they should remove everything after 3 months!)
- A centralized, well-designed location for managing participation.
I'd like to comment on your first point - "Seeing who will be attending and having ways to connect ahead of the event". Almost all of the conference organizers that I interviewed emphasized the importance of organizing a pre-conference event and/or icebreaker activities prior to the first formal sessions. They provided many reasons:
- Events and activities taking place prior to the conference provided an opportunity for participants to become comfortable with the platform and complete any pre-configuration necessary (plug-ins, audio set-up, avatar creation, etc.)
- Pre-conference events promoted the actual conference and increased participant numbers.
- Pre-conference events provided an opportunity for participatns to familiarize themselves with the content.
- Pre-conference events and icebreaker activites ensured that the online delegates were ready to actively participate on the first day of formal events.
- Organizers felt that by making participants comfortable with the platform and each other, they increased the interaction that took place early on in the conference.
I found that having a space for discussions before, during, and after the online conference made the experience worthwhile. I found the following technologies appropriate for such discussions: Moodle, facebook, and Ning. I didn't like Google or Yahoo groups for the discussions.
I would like to see changes in the way live online conferences and online classes are conducted but the technology that is available is keeping me behind. I have mostly presented/participated in Adobe Connect, Elluminate, Webex, GotoMeeting, and WiZiQ. Only the team at WiZiQ have listened to my suggestions on how to improve the platform. The CEOs behind the technologies available for webinars don't seem to see the need for change. I get the feeling that no one is demanding changes and the companies are making enough profits as is, so why bother. For example, I have tried to interest Adobe Connect and Elluminate to make changes to cater to Arab & Hebrew, which are both written from right to left, but they refused. As a teacher/facilitator/instructor, I would like the virtual rooms to cater to my needs and they are behind. They are forcing me and some of my colleagues to teach in traditional ways that are no longer suitable for our students. I would like technology to serve my needs and fail to understand the point of using old ways with new technologies.
I can see that its frustrating trying to get the software companies to consider modifications which are so obviously needed. Are there any other changes that you'd like to see in synchronous environments?
I love exploring, too, I find that live online conferences are great because of the chat boxes. I would not be able to survive hours of listening or watching (if the webcams are available) if it weren't for the chat boxes. That's where I can connect with others, pose questions in real time, and learn about new technologies. The sharing that goes in in online conferences via the chatboxes is incredible.
I find online conferences more meaningful than f2f conferences because I can share/learn about websites/technologies and access them in real time. I love multitasking online so the chatboxes/online conferences are perfect for my learning preferences.
Hi Nellie, yes, the chat exchanges are so productive, and meeting new people is a great aspect. I hope that more conferences go online -- we can have more presenters, and even more attendees, and usually have access to the presentations we have missed. The expense factor is huge too.
The bandwidth problem has slowed video usage in Elluminate. Has WIZIQ solved this?
- We are connected to sites with small groups of people around an LCD projector/screen or computer with a speakerphone or microphone and where we want to engage, facilitate and harvest learnings from small groups.
- Other times we are connected to sites as described in number one above but also have individuals joining the session as well ... where they are sitting at a computer with a keyboard and mic/audio ... creating a mix of both small groups and individuals.
We are thinking about designing for participation in these instances and especially participation where we can harvest learning beyond just the surface or engaging these small groups via more than only the individual at the keyboard. (We have tapped into the power and potential of the small groups doing some work and then sharing back their thoughts with the larger group.)
One thing that we have talked about is how we might incorporate mobile technology so that everyone can contribute...not just the person in control of the keyboard. (For example, could we integrate something like a twitter feed into a platform like Elluminate?) We'd love to get your ideas on how to ensure that everyone who wants to actively participate in the dialogue is able to do so without the necessity of having one computer per person.
What have you done? What has worked well? What has potential?
What can you *imagine* could be done?
To the best of my knowledge, you can’t integrate a twitter feed into Elluminate. However, I have heard of many instances where a “back-channel” was set-up (by participants or conference organizers) so that individuals could interact there during live sessions. Back-channel conversations took place in Twitter and/or Facebook. These conversations were tagged, aggregated, and available from a central conference website.I've also heard of simultaneous back channel converations going on in Skype and wikis being opened on the fly during live sessions in order for participants to collaborate on presentation related content. The wiki was then linked to the conference website.
Hope this helps.
I really like the idea of back-channel conversations and intentionally bringing those to the forefront because such good thinking happens in the subtext. My dilemma at this point in time is that most of those I am working with are limited social media users. They use email, probably text a bit, and might be on Facebook, but those are the outer limits. My desire is to start where they are and build a bridge for using the familiar tools in new ways that increases participation (both "out-loud" and observational) of those in the small face-to-face groups who do not have a computer in front of them.
Does anyone know of any text aggregators that would bring all text messages sent to a certain number into one location...like a twitterfeed...that could be accessed by all of those on computers so they could be projected for all the individuals in the small groups to see? Or other ideas for how to create, capture, and share back channel conversations using simple cell phones (not smart phones)?
Hello Lynn, Terry, Sylvia and others I've joined in SCOPE and CP Square. This topic could not be more relevant for me, as part of my job is designing, implementing, and facilitating online conferences for professional development of faculty. In fact, I am smack dab in the most crucial build phase of my 4th conference, so I didn't get the chance to listen to the recording until yesterday morning. (I ordered the book right after.) All of my conferences consider everything you mentioned in your presentation, but the most influential factor is consideration of learner/participant characteristics. Each conference is a little different as a result of that analysis. However, some things are true every time:
Delivery platform must be Blackboard (now in 9.0).
"Sessions" are written like course modules in one large conference shell.
@300 participants - 30+ administrative (supervising) faculty are required to participate; the rest - (adjuncts) are invited with a very modest stipend. Supervising faculty for each program determine which "sessions" and activities are required.
There is always a dual mode aspect. For two separate conferences, people chose to attend f2f in 3 separate locations and dates, OR online, with the online venue "replicating" the f2f as a 4th location. Our second online conference attracted f2f folks to enroll in the online version for more learning and discussion afterward, particularly the additional discussion available in the scheduled scholars area. Both of the first two conferences enrolled @ 75 participants.
Last time, and this, we are in reverse dual mode.
- The online conference offers the content.
- Academic program groups construct thier own discussion forums in group spaces of the one large conference shell.
- Some programs opt to meet face to face, then continue discussion and activities online.
Online always runs for three weeks, but people are left enrolled to access content for one year.
Topics and content are determined via surveys ahead of time (both supervising faculty and adjuncts).
Some structural aspects are in constant evolution as we try to shift (and reflect) pedagogical and technological trends to be more participatory, more interactive, more media-rich and engaging, more mashed up, and more towards developing our faculty as a learning community.
The challenge is finding and tapping technologically confident faculty with time to contribute to the conference projects.
What works well every time is searching among the disparate groups (through surveys and lots of relational PR) for representative expertise, determining their comfort vs. growth edges and figuring out which tool or task, or topic allows them to contribute without too much remote coaching.
Another challenge is segmenting the conversation space while still reaping the benefits of having the conversations available for reference. We used program group spaces last Fall for program specific conversation, but had a few topical forums running discussions all three weeks to collect examples of faculty practices - using a World Cafe model. Those discussions became unweildy even with @ 75 of the 300 actually posting. Most posted only once, and about 15 engaged regularly.
One thing that worked beautifully is that I took on a task to summarize each of three conversation topics at the end of each week. It was intensely time consuming, but was one of the most reportedly valuable structural features. Many people said they only had time to scan the summaries, which are now part of our archived knowledge.
Keeping people enrolled in the conference "shell" for a year has also helped to reify our shifts in practice. Statistics show people return to them for months.
I think both those practices share a value of having recordings, but the recordings need transcripts and/or slides too. Because you had the SlideShare, transcript, AND mp3 all available for me here in Scope, I was able to participate here when I got the chance.
I've learned so much from my CPSquare colleagues about applying community of practice principles: legitimate peripheral participation, making paths for transferrance of custom from old-timers to newcomers, and newcomer knowledge informing the oldtimers. In addition, the technology stewardship practices discussed by authors Ettiene Wenger, Nancy White, and John Smith in Digital Habitats are useful as I go about planning such large collaborations with my team.
Thanks for providing this information on what is involved in the design of your conferences ( and thanks for ordering the book). I commend you for taking the time to summarize weekly conversations. In doing the interviews with conference organizers, I only came across one other who took the time to do that. She also said that her efforts were highly valued by the conference participants.