#OLCInnovate Fishbowl: So what’s Virtually Connecting all about anyway?

This Tuesday through Friday, June 19th – 22nd, I will be attending, presenting, and Virtually Connecting at the OLC Innovate conference in New Orleans. I’m excited to take the lead on our presentation Fishbowl: So what’s Virtually Connecting all about anyway? on Thursday the 21st at 11:15 am in Oak Alley (4th floor) of the Sheraton Hotel. If you are at OLC and would like to come by it would be great to see you or if you are virtual you can view the hangout portion of the  presentation here, here, or here.

There are a bunch of us that are presenting including Maha Bali, Whitney Kilgore, Alan Levine, Rebecca Hogue, Apostolos Koutropoulos, Patrice Torcivia Prusko, and Andrea Rehn. We will have some participants that are more experienced with VConnecting including Sundi Richard and Susan Adams who both just stepped up to take on more responsibilities on the virtual side of this conference.

What the heck is a fishbowl?

Virtually Connecting is all about informal small group conversation. The struggle was to find a way to adapt what we do into a larger group formal presentation. Rebecca was the one who suggested the fishbowl exercise. In this format, circles of chairs are set up around a smaller group at the center who are having the conversation. The larger group is there to listen while the center focuses on the conversation.

Fishbowl_diagram_172

Our twist will be that it will not just be a regular conversation going on in the center but a Virtually Connecting session. We will be joined by Laura Gogia and A. Micael Berman as our onsite guests to explore questions around the ethos of the OLC conference.

So how is it going to work?

I’m taking sort of a meta role on this session along with some others in our team. I’ve put together a slide deck which I will embed below and I will give a short 5min presentation/lightning talk at the beginning while the virtual and onsite buddies are getting connected.

Alan will be our virtual buddy for this session, he will be welcoming our virtual participants, waiting for us to connect onsite, and will ultimately take the VC session live on the Internet.

Whitney will be our onsite buddy and will be connecting with Alan and welcoming Laura and Michael as they arrive onsite.

As the conversation is happening Rebecca, Andrea, Patrice, and I will hang out in the audience taking pictures and quietly answering any side questions that people might have.

After about 20min or so we will open it up for Q&A on the topic or on Virtually Connecting as a movement. Audience members can come forward and jump into the recorded session or we can relay them if they don’t want to be in the livestream.

Some questions I have…

I’m really not sure if the facilitates at the Sheraton will be able to accommodate a circle. So, we may have to be more lecture style depending on the shape of the room. I hope that works out okay.

I’m hoping that Whitney can connect to the hangout on her laptop while I run the presentation from mine and that the switch to the projector (and the OLC live stream) can be seamless between them with just a cable switch when the moment comes… but I’m really not sure.

So, this session is not completely fool proof. But that is a part of what VConnecting is all about – not knowing all of the answers beforehand and not knowing exactly what you are going to say or how things are going to turn out. Of course in the case of a formal presentation we have to structure things a little more but that is such a part of who we are that it can’t go away completely.

… And of course – the why.

What is the purpose of this fishbowl session. Well, for me there are several.

There is of course that core conversation between those in the session about the spirit and culture of the conference. I’ve been watching as Laura has been doing amazing work with creating digital adventures at the conference through the PlugIN lounge. Michael brings us a conference history, as I understand, he has been a part of participating in this organization for some time – I don’t completely understand all of the iterations of this conference myself so I’ll save my questions for him for the session.

Of course we also want to explain what Virtually Connecting is and why it is so important. Why would you want to give access to those that are not present at a conference and to those that maybe have not even paid anything? Why is informal conversation important as a part of the virtual conference experience and how do you even do it? How is participating in Virtually Connecting a form of professional development?

I’m not exactly sure we will get to dive as deep on those big questions about VConnecting as I would like, with everything else that we have going on, but I do plan to touch on them a bit. At the very least we will be giving an example of what VConnecting is and how it works, we’ll have a great conversation with some really interesting people, and we’ll have some fun. It is our birthday after all 🙂

If you are at the conference we are in Oak Alley (4th floor) on Thursday the 21st at 11:15am CDT.

If you are not at the conference there are lots of opportunities to connect with Virtually Connecting. All dates and times of our session are listed on our website.

How I Made the Most Out of Missing EDUCAUSE

The only thing worse than not being able to make it to a conference, that you really want to go to, is being able to make it to that conference but then having something get in the way.

Lately I’d been wondering if EDUCAUSE was the right conference for me to be attending now that I’m not in IT anymore. I’ve gotten the opportunity to attend some smaller more academically focused conferences and I’ve been wondering if maybe that is a better place for me. At one point I was the only person from my institution to go to EDUCAUSE and back then I thought it was really important because I do think that someone from an institution should go every year. However, that is no longer the case so I’ve been wondering if I’m still the right person. Still, I’ve made some good connections there over the years and I was really excited to be attending again.

I also wasn’t sure if EDUCAUSE was the right kind of conference for Virtually Connecting. I’ve been volunteering with VConnecting for a few months now and I’ve been attending EDUCAUSE for seven years and while I love them both dearly I was not sure if they were the right fit together. EDUCAUSE is so big and has such a large business presence. VConnecting is so home grown, small, down to earth. Would they work together?

Alan Levine was going to be visiting me, attending the conference, and VConnecting onsite with me. We took some time before the conference to see Columbus and I could not let him visit without showing him the Hocking Hills. When we were in the hills I could tell that something was not quite right with my health but I thought it was just an adjustment to the weather change.

On the 3hr drive to Indianapolis the weather turned bad and it was dark and stormy as we drove through the night. It was pretty scary driving and not a complete surprise that about an hour from the city we hit standstill traffic due to an accident on I70. I think we must have sat there in park for over an hour. It was tiring but we made the most of it. I was thinking I might have sung along with those classic rock tunes a little too loud though.

The next day was the first day of the conference and my voice was starting sound a little deeper than normal but I felt pretty good. The keynote was with Daniel Pink and he spoke all about how we should approach things differently in terms of rewarding creative work by allowing individuals more autonomy and ownership of goals. It was a good message but it did seem a little too easy. The virtual world was there and it was Maha Bali who started my questioning around it pointing out that not everyone has the self-efficacy to take on that ownership.

Our first VConnecting session was with Joe Murphy as virtual buddy and Bryan Alexander onsite whom I had never met before though I was a little familiar with his blog. It was an awesome conversation with reflections on the keynote, the differences between corporate training and higher education (kind of a great question for EDUCAUSE), and what Bryan learned in his session about futures envisioning. We had a few people tweeting at us who were onsite that wanted to know more about what we were doing and several of them actually showed up and listened in onsite. Pete Hoffswell (who I met last year at EDUCAUSE) ended up in the camera at one point and jumped in to say hi. Joe pointed out that we actually had physical lurkers and it was true – I’m not sure that has happened before. It was an awesome session and Bryan even gave me a fortune cookie at the end (how often do you get a fortune cookie from a futurist).

My voice was getting a little more gruff at this point but I thought for sure that I would be okay. We grabbed lunch and attended a few more sessions. At the end of the day I started feeling a little more run down but the opportunity to grab some drinks with some EDUCAUSE Review staff with Alan was too much for me to pass up. Besides I thought a hot toddy could be helpful.

Later that evening it was clear that this was not an adjustment to the weather change or something brought on by singing too loudly with the music. My voice was completely gone, my throat was sore and swollen, and all this was coupled with a headache and general malaise. Alan was scheduled to leave at 5am in the morning and he was feeling bad for me – he hinted that he could help more if I wanted. Normally, with my fierce independence, I would not ask for help in such a situation but I broke my rule, let my defenses down, and asked him if he would cover the next day’s VConnecting session and help me get back to Columbus. He said yes.

It was particularly hard for me to let the VConnecting sessions go. I had approached Kristen Eshleman and Amy Collier about being on that session back when we were all at dLRN together. I had really been looking forward to it. I had been working with virtual buddy Mandy Honeyman (whom I also met at dLRN) to get things ready for it for almost a week. We had also got several others that were at dLRN on the call including Cristi Motx and Chirs Gillard at the last minute Rebecca Hogue even joined. It was like a big dLRN reunion and it was all going on without me. I have written about how I felt that dLRN was the beginning of something that had the potential to grow larger and here it was happening right in front of me but without me. Again, we had some onsite lurkers and Tom Woodward, who I had met the day before but actually did not realize that I knew from twitter, jumped in to join the conversation. It was hard to let this session go and to step out but at this point I could not speak above a whisper so there was no way I could facilitate a conversation onsite or even participate virtually.

What I could do was view live. Even tweeting was hard because I had not purchased the hotel wifi and was watching from my phone. I did snap a few pics from my phone as a way to capture the moment without interfering with my ability to listen but listening was all I could do. I’m kind of grateful for this however because it was an amazing conversation.

As I imagined it was sort of like a dLRN reunion but it was more than that. The conversation had these strange intersections with my own life and interests. A few big take aways was the idea of the quantified self and how this whole notion of analytics is often used to quantify an individual when we might do better to try to use that information to build better teams or connect people with similar or contrasting views (there was some of this in Bryan’s session too). The other was this idea of participatory action research and how we could use this as a framework to involve campus constituencies in change. I’m not sure exactly how to do that – I’m new to PAR. But my MA research takes an action research approach and I’m quickly learning more about PAR particularly for the recommendations section.

I tuned in to the next day’s live session with virtual buddy Patrice Torcivia Prusko and Michael Berman onsite from the waiting room of the doctor’s office but could not really pay attention. So, I had to watch the recording later that day. This session was also hard for me to let go because I’ve followed Michael on Twitter for some time and had fun communicating with him in the past. We got to meet briefly at last year’s EDUCAUSE and I was looking forward to having another conversation. In the recording Michael touching on the very thing that had me wondering if EDUCAUSE was the right kind of conference for me to be attending every year bringing up questions about social politics of the conference. I still have not resolved that question but it was great to see that articulated by someone else.

In terms of my involvement with VConnecting this was a really interesting experience for me in finding value in what we do. In the past I had always put so much emphasis on the participatory nature of our work. I have referred to the live stream and to the recordings as the “television thing” in the past. It is true that this is about the least connected form of participation that VConnecting offers. However, after this experience I realize how important it is to offer this – even though I was not there either in person or virtually I was there in this other sense – I’m not sure what to call it but I do think that it is a form of participation. It is kind of lonely but I learned a lot and I hope that something can come from all of what I’ve learned from participating in this way.

Connecting Virtually – Considerations from a Virtual Participant

What is Virtually Connecting?

Recently, I had the privilege of being able to participate in a couple of Virtually Connecting hangouts;  an experiment set up by Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue. 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.

Nelsonvilletent

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 replicate 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.

Insights from Alan Levine and Andrea Rehn on being an on-sight participant