I’ve had a few days rest from the 2 day marathon of our NMC Online Conference on Convergence of Web Culture and Video — which had some phenomenal moments but also are leading me to some un-answered ponderings about these kids of events.
Participation. First of all, I attended every session, but that’s because I am working it. I have some serious doubts about the ability for those who participate in an online conference from their workplace being really able to focus on the sessions completely. It’s not like being physically ‘trapped’ in a distance city- so the call of email, colleagues, meetings, projects, NCAA brackets, all compete for attention. Then again, should an online conference assume all are really fully present?
Mode. Next, like most F2F conferences, the primary mode of activity is the “expert” led presentation session. One person talking and showing screens, and a room, group “consuming” them. (the quotes are not to question anyone’s expertise, just that its more or less the same set up of expectations as a classroom with a single lecturer. So in essence, many online conferences, replicate the F2F modes, which emulate the lecture. How far have we gone?
Presenting. I have been mulling more and more that presenting is a performance, and like theater, or a good film, needs a plot, an arc, a storyline, and an ending. There’s more to it than screens, or being able to grab the mike and talk. There is pacing. Intonation. Perhaps doses of humor. Surprise. Punch lines. And an end-goal. And all of this takes prep, and honestly, if you are walking in w/o prep and shooting from the hip in a presentation, you are not fooling anyone but yourselves. Now before the reach for their defensive trigger- I am not talking to you my Canadian/Virginian colleagues who put on a masterful, break the mold style of session with the Online Film Educational Web 2.0 festival. That was a model to copy, not to trash.
In that category from our conference was also our keynoters, who were loose, interesting, a bit provacative, but not winging it. And Jared Bendis from Case has this done to an art. He just mainly talked for a blitz like 35 minutes, had visually interesting slides, and challenges the audience.
Love/Hate the Backchannel. I am certainly in the former category of loving a good flow of audience backchannel, something an online conference should afford. I know others in attendance find it distracting, but when it works it adds layers of meaning, tangents, context. It brings it alive. I’d be worried if I was yammering away and there was no back channel activity. I’d rather have them throwing darts at my ideas than not even inspired to chat. But what can we do with that energy? How can it be harnessed?
Format. So I’m trying to get at what is a good format for a conference that makes it worth people’s time to do among their normal schedules. We had a pretty sprint-based format of 50 minute sessions bam bam bam, some interspersion with a happy hour in Second Life. But I’m curious more about what other formats of interaction, sharing, can be successful in an online conference? More like a BarCamp? an Unconference? Can people actually construct some content, flesh out an ideas, actually do something at an online conference? Probably the readers who might even respond here are the gung ho type that would like something more unconventional, but how to design an online conference that can bring more people into the fold?
I guess I’m just a bit bored with the presentation song and dance show– many are fine in the moment, but what is the longer term impact? What do people come back to? Or what can they walk away with?
So in the end I always end up with more questions than answers. But I can repeat myself, that the format of our professional gatherings, be it F2F or online, has really not moved much beyond the very first ed tech conference I attended some 15 years ago. And I am not sure I am happy waiting on a geological time scale to see some change.