Here’s a thirteen year arc or maybe a circle or maybe life is just a long looping GIF.

One of the old slides says “Start with the #*@% Demo!” so here goes my video prepared as an “alt-format” presentation at the just wrapped OER20 conference.

Do You Have to Be Here to Care/Share?
Serendipitous connections including blogs, twitter, Virtually Connecting, and postcards resulted in impressive acts of care from students in Japan to those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Such acts of caring/sharing/serendipity are not uncommon in informal networked places. Yet academic conferences for the most part privilege those able to attend in person and typify a classroom delivery model of interaction. #OER20 and Virtually Connecting are exceptions addressing it than other organizations, but even for this conference the submission form required on-site presentation.

Beyond the virtues of carbon reduction, can we create more collaborative professional development that make for a more effective experience for all, regardless of ability/desire to travel? Conferences need not be just in person (with a live stream or twitter back channel) or just fully online, yet formats seem little changed since before the internet existed. In addition to recognizing inequity for contingent faculty very few events consider implications of events for those involved in education who are self-employed– beyond costs of travel, attending/participating is time not earning income.

This performance piece aims to provoke what remains a centrality of in-person conference modes in an era of networked communities and virtual relationships that are more than real.

https://oer20.oerconf.org/sessions/o-120/

The Idea

I know long before the Pandemic Era that I would not be at the conference in London. And I am not hating on conferences across the board, but according to King (1969) the thrill has dramatically decreased and it’s been my own decision to deconference.

But an idea bubbled in my head about twisting about the conference presentation concept by doing a presentation about the state of presentations without being…. present. And that it’s not uncommon to have expressions of true care and concern from a distance, I thought of the way people responded to an online call for postcards to show #care4sagrado

Care when not there is certainly possible, but for the way we share our academic work, with notable exceptions, pretty much you have to be there to share (and watch slides).

I tossed the idea to Maren Deepwell, Martin Hawksey (conference planners from ALT) and conference chairs Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Mia Zamora. And rather than replying, “that’s not how our conference format works” they encouraged me to submit it.

I was also a bit “chuffed” as they say over there, as the conference specifications read at the time, that at least one co-presenter needed to be registered and on site. I pretended I did not read that.

Yet I dawdled, hesitated, and speculated if it made sense to criticize conference formats at a conference, and whether I really had a strong point beyond a title. I let the proposal deadline slide on by, and darned if ALT’s CEO Maren Deepwell (cared and) reached out to encourage me to do this.

I had this idea of how to do it (explained in the video) where a suitcase would be wheeled out on stage in front of an audience sitting at the London conference venue, my message played as a video of me talking over a series of images. At the end, as I would have been “there” via remote video, I could speak live to the audience over some techno magic coordinated by Martin Hawksey.

And then this virus thing happened. It put an interesting angle into the presentation as no one would be there.

i jotted some notes and maybe wrote two paragraphs of what I would record into a Google Doc. And procrastination set in as usual. So a week before I started writing in more earnest, doing a good chunk while Cori and I were out for a day sitting on a hillside looking over the scenic Qu’appelle valley.

I did a one take audio recording March 31; it came out at 11+ minutes, too long for the 7 minute slot as planned for the conference, but as mine would be a posted video, not as urgent. I did try and tighten it up, taking put a few gaffes and also in Audacity, removing seconds here and there in pauses. That’s why it does sound a bit quick talking, but I at least nabbed it down to 10 minutes.

Then I had to scramble over 2 days trying to find images to use; a large number are my own flickr photos, but got a pile of other images of presenters and empty conference from open licensed sources like flickr, pixabay, and pxhere.

I’m pleased with the video, though it seems like the set up, and the story take up the bulk of the 10 minutes. And I managed to get it posted on the conference site only the day before the first day of the conference!

A funny sidebar, I generally am not a fan of pxhere.com as they harvest public domain photos from other sites, but mostly don’t give credit to the source (because technically, they do not have to). But for some reason, this photo, which I did not remember taking, happened to indicate in the description that it was mine.

oddly pxhere actually attributed my photo! In case they really want to do it best, link to original at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/14622163673/

On finding it in my stream, this was when I “presented” (with slides) in 2014 at Camp Plug ‘n Play in Tucson. The trip is more memorable as I got to spend a few days with Wes Fryer, who I’d known a long time from afar, visited his home in twice. We went camping after the conference up high on Mt Lemmon, damn I keep falling into stories).

Being There in 2007

Ahh, but what’s this “Being There” bit in the title of the post?

As I was looking at the blank WordPress Editor, I remembered me doing a talk, long ago, yes, in a conference facility at University of Mary Washington. I was invited to talk in front of slides to Faculty Academy 2007 (web site gone but there is a Bava Blog post).

Being There
Being There flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)
The whole presentation is available as a flickr set.

I fell into the metaphor the Peter Sellers character Chance the Gardner from the film Being There. and how he went about his world with a genuine, unfiltered, sense of wonder. I actually started with slides similar to the OER20 video, so at least in 2007 I was publically poking conference formats… at a conference.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/albums/72157600226433215/

I then invoked the viewing of the web rather than dread of being overloaded, with wonder and curiosity. There was some of the amazingness of serendipity, a nod to the Engelbart vision, the advantages of building networks, creativity of remixes, this weird new place called twitter, a weirder virtual world place, well and alot more. It’s not about the particular technologies, but being there in the sense of presence, not bodily kind, but the personal kind.

Faculty Academy Morning Session
Faculty Academy Morning Session flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

And how fitting still are the words of an early mentor from Maricopa, former Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Alfredo de los Santos. He had this leadership style of asking what he sometimes called his “Stoopid Questions” aimed to get people to respond and think.

Alfredo's Questions
Alfredo’s Questions flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Among many connections at this event, with the metaphor of Chance The Gardner, this was an opportunity facilitated by someone who has been a close friend and ongoing colleague since, Gardner Campbell. I also got to meet Jim Groom for the first time in person, the whole amazing original DTLT team. And to walk, talk, trade stories with another huge influence (still), Barbara Ganley.

Plus the life changing experience of the after dinner Faculty Academy conversation, you had to be there to know it was more than a conference, and when people try to use the phrase “family” at a meeting– it was this.

Again, the whole irony biting myself back was how important this experience was (not my talk part) but the experience to my growth, trajectory in whatever we are calling this field now (Is this “The Field Formerly Know as Ed Tech?”).

Now What? ¯\_(?)_/¯

What I come to is that it’s not online vs in person conferences, that matter, it’s that whatever modality we use, that we make them more like Faculty Academy and OER20. And this all stems from the people who drive these events- not he venue or the speakers or the sponsors– its the human, caring spirit of the organizers.

This truly happened at OER20- from all of the communication, to making to open to all (we sent our NetNarr students), to the parts of the program that were not sessions, like drop in social spaces, the Who is Who site, the #ThisIsMe activity in twitter, virtual karaoke.

I felt a strong sense of Being There When Not There during the conversation as keynote with sava sengeli singh, where we watched together, and as a group in the chat, analysed her short Screening Surveillance film, Frames.

And what about the emotionally moving and deeply inspired effort for the Femedtech Quilt Project? What Francis Bell and her fantastic team did would have been incredible whether online or in person. As it happened, it did both. It was transcendental as a conference experience.

I don’t have a winning conference formula. But I am optimistic, inspired by OER20, and for the immediate future where the fly off to sit in a conference hall thing is on hold, we will see many more efforts to change things up.

The notes, script for my video are available as a public Google Doc as well as the 120+ attributions for photos I used (too many to stuff into a credits screen or a YT caption).


Featured Image: An animated GIF I made by fade in/out of Being There flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) along with the opening title from my OER20 video. Thus, for the 10 billionth time, I do not have to attribute my own stuff because I made them, but I prefer to model a spirit of Attribute Everything You Can.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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