tl;dr: I will be a VirtuallyConnecting onsite buddy at #OEB16 and I couldn’t be happier about that. Also, I am trying to explain my take on VirtuallyConnecting as a concept.
— Christian Friedrich (@friedelitis) November 27, 2016
This week, I will be visiting the 2016 Online Educa in Berlin. I will also host a session there. The theme of #OEB16 this year is ‘Owning Learning’, a theme that needs lots of unpacking, I think. This post is not about that though. I do, however strongly recommend to check out the posts by Audrey Watters and Maha Bali on the several shapes, meanings and nuances ownership of learning in ‘the digital’ can take. This post is about something different: I am not only presenting at the Online Educa for the first time, this is also the first time that I will be taking on the responsibility of being an onsite buddy for VirtuallyConnecting (VC). There are several interpretations of what VC aims for – personally, I like the explanation of it as a hallway conversation at a conference. VC is different in three ways, I think:
- It happens online.
- It is recorded and published.
- It integrates not only folks from the conference, but by design aims at integrating other voices.
Over the last weeks, many (mostly German) people have asked me what the fuss with VC is about. My answer has been a version of this argument: VC’s value proposition has nothing to do with the technology itself (only few, if any, edtech solutions’ core value lies in the tech, I think). For me, however, the perceived simplicity entails the core value. VC is not about dissemination conference keynotes or output, that’s what conference documentation and live-streams are for. VC is about opening conversations to those who cannot make it to an event, for whatever reason. VC is also about breaking down (perceived) barriers. Maha Bali recently noticed (and blogged about) that some people might be intimidated by authorities in their field. I know for a fact that this is true, being more or less new to all of this (open) education and technology thing. Not everyone simply walks up to a keynote speaker, a workshop facilitator or someone they know from their blog or twitter to chat about research, a project or last night’s football game for that matter. I think VC plays a role in making presenters and conference delegates more approachable for the very reason that these sessions do not seem carefully choreographed, which is not to say that organizing these sessions wouldn’t be much work. VC allows people to watch how others engage presenters and conference delegates in conversations around their topics. VC allows for questions to be raised from outside of the physical conference barriers. In doing so, I believe that VC gives room to many people who otherwise would not be heard and VC potentially gives people confidence to engage in conversations with others, including the ‘rock stars’ of the field. VC also amplifies the voices of those who cannot make it to a conference, thus providing a more diverse and more multi-dimensional perspective that many of the events and tech-driven solutions in edtech are in need of. Doing so can only work if the technologies used are not perceived to be cutting edge, if the spaces that those on the ‘outside looking in’ inhabit are familiar to them. Videoconferencing requires bandwidth that too many mistakenly just assume to be given but, apart from that, being in a video conference is something that most who work at the intersection of education and technology are pretty used to. To participate online, all you need to do is follow a link to a YouTube live session and there you are. Next time you might raise a question, you might participate in a session onsite. Along the way, you will get to know people, you will grow more confident. My first VC Session was in October 2015 (Jim Groom blogged about it here) and even though I loved to follow the conversation back then, I was a fly on the wall. About a year later, at #2016DML, I was part of a session onsite. This week, I will be onsite buddy of VC at #OEB16 and I didn’t think this would ever happen.
And for anyone who assumes that these sessions just happen by accident: I have been in the VConnecting Slack Channel for about 3 weeks now and I am impressed by the dedication, commitment and care that the people who make this happen devote to organizing sessions, approaching conference organizers, potential guests online and offline, etc. – don’t mistake an informal conversation with a lack of care or commitment devoted by the organizers (who, as far as I know, don’t receive a compensation for doing this). Anyways, this post turned out to be longer than intended and I’ll cut it short here: I will hopefully see you at #OEB16 in a couple of sessions, very much looking forward to it.