My use of experiment is more the try “to learn something” in the definition than a well-designed test “done in order to learn something or to discover if something works or is true.”

This is also framed in my ongoing wrestling with the conference experience that is (to quote myself) overly “presentationally oriented.” Compound this by a tendency to organize online conferences as replicating in-person ones without consideration of what Dominik Lukes described as the “affordances” of spaces. This is not simply fixed by online platforms where you move an avatar around a graphic of a conference hall. And usually overlooked is our focus and time- when participating in an online conference we do not devote 3 days to be fully locked in. We. Do. Other. Stuff.

I have no solutions to offer. Anne Gagné asks directly who is complicit in the conference game, and I here to write “not me.” While her focus is on exclusion of participation, my primary goal has been to explore ways to break down the dichotomy of in-person versus online conferencing.

In the end, I might only have a clever name.

Here we go, where I try to explain the “AND Conference” format I welded into the OE Global 2022 Conference.

The 2020 and 2021 OE Global Conferences

I may not have been writing a ton here about my work with OE Global, but I began some part time consulting in March 2020 invited by Executive Director Paul Stacey to bring in some community building new ideas. Other “things” in the world happened that month, so I was also asked to help plan their November 2020 Conference that originally was going to be hosted in Taipei but had to move online.

Well golly gee, I do have a blog post about that effort.

A part of this thinking I hold on to still is Conferences as Conversations.

One key influence was noting the registration for the 2020 conference was something like 4 times the count as an in person conference, and a significant response in the follow-up survey was many people noting that outside of a world-wide pandemic, they still would not have the capability to fund and travel for an in person conference.

Flip the calendar ahead a year to 2021, and the conference that was planned to be in Nantes, France was not viable for pandemical reasons. We at OEGlobal (and me now working full time as of June 2021) organized an online conference at the end of September 2021 that made use of the same discourse platform as the year before. For a while in the 5 months earlier planning, there was some hope they could have the in-person conference piggy back right after the online, but again, ****ing pandemic.

So the in-person conference was bumped out to May 35-25 this year, but it would continue the theme of the online conference around the UNESCO OER Recommendation. There was a desire for some kind of “bridging events” in the time between, but that did not materialize fully outside of efforts to engage the community in an annotation effort of the UNESCO OER Recommendation, ideally to attach examples, discussions, findings from he conferences directly to the wording it was related to.

I thought this would have a lot of resonance, and it’s not an onerous task to add a Hypothes.is note to a web page, but I did not really see a good amount of traction. At least I made a nifty remix, meet Rosa the Annotator.

By maybe February of 2022, the green light was flashed in the sky for a GO for the in person conference in Nantes.

So free trip to France, right? Who would not grab that?

Me.

Go or Not?

As a credit to Paul Stacey’s leadership style of operating as a “culture of care” he offered to his staff the option to not travel if any of us felt it was unsafe. While I was vaccinated and witnessing precautions fraying like a mask left by the roadside, as a Type 1 diabetic looking at varying variants, I questioned the need to go. Especially as at the time I had not had COVID (I got bit in April and it was a doozy).

But it was more than pandemic worry. I had/have misgivings that the way forward out of this unevenly distributed now being a return to doing what we did before. I was thinking too of all the people who had participated in the online conferences (like over 800 in 2020 and more than 600 in 2021) who again would have no shred of participation in a conference.

In my years at working at Maricopa and at NMC, I was fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to go to a (as a colleague nearby says) “wacksack” of conferences, around the globe.

This shifted much starting in 2012 as being self employed meaning that outside of a few invites, going to a conference was not only a “pay for everything yourself” ordeal, but also compounded by being salaryless “you earn no money while not working”–see Conferences by the Numbers. And Chickens. And I recall hearing of colleagues working at institutions having the opportunity to go to Bali, Cape Town, Milan for OE Global conferences. That was way out of my self funded ability. Oh well…

By opting out I was missing the chance to meet colleagues I have known for two years only through screens. At the same time, I did not feel like the chance to go on a plane to a neat place was enough to justify a risk to my health.

And it put me in the same place as others who could go to this in person conference, for all kinds of reasons. It seems like the person supporting a part of the conference open to participants not there in person should be operating the same way.

Presentation Mindsets

After proposals for the Nantes event were accepted in March, presenters were asked to confirm their plans to be there (and also they need to register).

We started seeing messages from a number of presenters who had planned to travel for the conference, but for an array of reasons- health, family, financial, etc could not. When told we were planning some online components, the first question was, “Can I do my presentation online?”

The idea that I was hatching was that the online components would be everything but presentations, it was not to be an online conference at all e.g. the OER22 Conference did a stellar job at being a “hybrid” conference of both in-person and online. But this is the modality for either state.

I’ve seen examples of pre-recorded presentations that just do not get much traction. I don’t watch to many myself. I aimed to design something counter-presentational. How would that fly?

The AND Conference Idea

I had leanings more towards an un-conference mode where those who wanted to share their work could do so, but not in the scheduled presentation mode, but more of discussions/activities that were asynchronous, again using out Discourse powered OEG Connect platform. The emerging idea was not to try and have this “in-person” vs “online” dichotomy, but more aim for ways of interacting that would bridge both, and offer something for both. I started with some playful naming of things do for hose “In Nantes” and those “Not in Nantes”.

Thus I started framing my concept to my colleagues not as an “Un-Conference” but and “AND conference”:

After two years as an online format the OE Global conference returns May 23-25, 2022 as an in-person event with the Congress in Nantes. This event continues the 2021 online conference theme of furthering the implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER.

Recognizing that many educators who participated previously in the online mode are not able to travel to Nantes, we are aiming to organize modes of participation for those “Not in Nantes.” This is not a presentation-based online conference or even a hybrid conference format; we seek a variety of connective channels of participation from wherever you are during the conference. Not an opposite to in-person, we suggest a mode of Unconference design as something added to the Nantes Program for all. The OEGlobal 2022 “And Conference” is a variation inspired by the Yes, and concept, hence our naming of this as an “AND” conference.

All of this will be based in the OEG Connect community space, and requires no fee to participate. Learn how to be part of the “AND” Conference at https://connect.oeglobal.org/c/oeg-2022  We hope to see you there.

Alan’s concept pitch

A bonus attraction for this was the conference hosts Nantes Université offered to produce live video streams for the two larger conference halls, meaning three keynotes, and 50 some sessions would be made available.

Also, we were not soliciting fees or registration for participating online. Free as in $0.

Having supported the previous two OEGlobal conferences as fully online in OEG Connect meant familiarity with setting up this iteration. Since this part was open, no access restrictions needed to be put into play. The structure was 4 fold- an area for the daily schedule, then all the in-person conference sessions (“In Nantes Conference Sessions”, plus the “Not in Nantes Unconference Sessions” (really just topic threads). Then between them was the Interaction Zone, aimed at being the activities that were available to those In Nantes and those Not in Nantes (see, the “and”?).

The In Person Conference Parts

The Schedule and the In Nantes Conference Sessions were no different than what we did for the online conference. Each presentation is its own topic, we added a link to a live stream if it as available, and we ask presenters to share resources (perhaps more than slides) and pose questions.

We ask participants to engage with the presenters. In keeping with my old idea, each presentation could/ought to be a conversation.

Out of 101 sessions, 30 have at least one reply “here’s my slides”, some have 2, 3 4 replies, one has 11.

So this did not generate much activity, but then again, this all came together maybe a month before the conference. The information about what we were doing gere went out bby social media and emails to participants.

The Online Unconference Parts

In the Looking at the Glass Partly Full Department, I was happy to see a few topics started in the Unconference area, three of them from presenters who had planned to be in Nantes but fate intervened. There were bursts of the kinds of exchanges I hoped for. The description for this area included:

We are asking that you try to think around the usual idea of this as an online conference built around presenting online.

We are urging you to think beyond the idea of a “presentation” as for this Unconference there is no fixed nor guaranteed audience, so yes, you can certainly present your work, research, project, but it can be more effective if you offer something for a viewer to do, respond, or contribute in this asynchronous environment.

https://connect.oeglobal.org/t/create-participate-in-unconference-sessions/3673

I had tried to be clever in my Magritte Remix on the concept, that what we were doing was online but it was not making it an online conference.

In style of René Magritte image of a presentation screen with text below- Ceci n'est pas une conférence en ligne (This is not an online conference)
Remix in the the style of René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images 1 made by Alan Levine using Pixabay image by 200 Degrees

I am not sure anyone noticed. But Werner Westermann’s topic on Artificial Intelligence and Open Education: indifference or unable to connect was exactly what I thought we could generate. To be this is more interesting, valuable than watching someone flip slides. Others of note include:

As a proof of concept, I feel like these were successful. Again, the late notifying of this (because it was assembled a few weeks before the conference) was a factor. But at least we generated discussion type activities outside the usual online conference presenting mode.

Interacting Together Stuff

Again, I see a very good sign that the topics created in the Interaction Zone had the most activity. The idea here was to offer things to do, discuss, share that would be a bridge between the audiences, that could be done whether one was In Nantes or Not in Nantes, may have overplayed that bit of wording, but at least did not slide into making it a pair of acronyms.

A few examples include:

Oh wait, maybe the most interesting/successful were the Hallway Conversations we held twice during the conference afternoon coffee breaks. I suggested having some sense of “live” action outside of the streamed presentations, and much inspired by the years of participating in Virtually Connecting experiences I suggested we try to arrange a way of allowing participants Not in Nantes to hear and talk to people on site.

Long ago and not so long ago people active with DS106 radio did things like this, but it requires someone with experience broadcasting on site, and then there is no remote participation without a lot of fancy audio rigging. And we could have done an audio only zoom, but haven’t we had enough zooming?

I cannot recall who suggested it, but we ended up experimenting (successfully) with Twitter Spaces. Yes, it meant participants had to use twitter, and it only provides speaking capability on a mobile device, but it did mean people could listen from anywhere, and potentially speak too. My sum experience was being a listener to one during Open Education Week and an impromptu demo with my OEG colleagues.

And because you can only pre-schedule one Space per account, I set up one via our OEGlobal account and one in my own twitter account. And thankfully Lori-Beth Larsen volunteered to be a roaming “mic” in Nantes, plus a few others joined in, and actually it did end up working fairly well. I set them up to be recorded, so at least the archive lives in the tweets:

and

Getting an audio file of the recording is however is anything but simple. You actually have to request a download of your entire Twitter archive (mine is well over 1.5 Gb). Then rummage around to locate a .ts file, a format I never heard of, but is some MPEG-2 relict from DVD days. It was stored inside a spaces_media directory. I recommend as well saving a copy of the spaces_metadata.js file which can help you locate the proper archive if you have more than one (it also provides a count of participants).

This part of Twitter Spaces makes it feel like the software was some high school kid’s special project. It is rather arcane to get your archives. Each time you want an archive, you have to download the whole boat, would it really be that hard to provide access to the one file you need?

Anyhow, then you are left with some mystery format file — I used an online converter to make into an mp3 and I was then able to have something I could share and also edit into a new podcast episode of OEG Voices:

I had a much longer list of ideas of interaction ideas, but just was not able to organize them all. Still, the response was very positive for the ones we did try (the cup is partly full, the cup is partly full, the cup is partly full…)

Timing as Challenge

I am pleased we were able to pull of these bits and put out there as a slightly different way to think about conferences, maybe to be less a dichotomy approach of online vs in person, and also to break down the idea of conferences as presentation-centric.

The idea was developed late in the planning process, so it became more of an emergent experiment, but now is on the table for the 2023 OEGlobal conference that will take place in Edmonton. As that is a few hours driving distance for me, I will definitely be In Edmonton, but also dedicated to creating opportunities for those who will be Not in Edmonton (I am starting this now!).

And beyond these efforts, we at OEGlobal were successful in person continuing the effort to create sessions where presenters could speak in their own language (see sessions offered in Spanish, French , and Arabic).

On site was a first use of a different approach to multilingual sharing than attempts at live translation, see the Multilingual Interactive Display an AI application created by students of our conference chair, Colin de La Higuera. I captured a few bits of the Word Cloud view generated during the opening keynote:

Expect this to be a design of future OEGlobal conference and events.

Much on this AND Conference “thing” hinged on the support and interest of the on-site staff, participants. Thankfully, my colleagues had faith on my whacky ideas.

I admit greatly over-estimating my own energy! I had grand plans of operating on Nantes Time, and after the first day being up from midnight until 9am, I collapsed. On day 2 I was not present live, even with some weird chills, and the original second Twitter spaces was rescheduled or day 3.

Note to self, Alan: You are not 22 years old ;-)

me

All in all, though, I am appreciative of having this opportunity to change up the usual conference game. And will continue doing so as long as I am breathing.

Can conferences be as much places for open conversations as much as for presentations? You can guess my answer…

Featured Image:

2017/365/7 Joined Together
2017/365/7 Joined Together flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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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.

Comments

  1. Interesting discussion and I really appreciate the detail you go into describing not only what you did but also the thinking behind it.

    Note that the paragraph just before the ‘The AND Conference Idea’ heading has some typos and as a result the meaning was (to me at least) quite murky.

    On a separate note, it seems to me that the only ‘presentations’ (properly so-called) took place at the ‘In Nantes’ version of the conference; online participation was relegated to the Discourse board. Am I reading that right?

    1. At least one person does more then click “like” buttons, thank you for reading my murkiness, Stephen.

      I tried to clean up that section, it may not be less murky. Shrug.

      Yes, to your last question. That is the point, that online sessions could be anything (and nothing prevented anyone from posting a presentation), but we were not pretending to offer the equivalent of a conference submitted, reviewed, accepted proposal. The online portions was not pretending to be a conference, but offering parts of a conference experience.

      The other factor was access to the “relegated” discourse space was offered openly, at no cost (open here AND free), including access to live streams for more than half the Nantes sessions.

      The “Yes, And…” concept means for those who never get the means/budgets to travel to France and register for a conference, whatever they can get is a bonus, not a negative.

  2. NotForever22 could be an insightful name for a clothing store… ;-)

    There’s a lot to be said about presentations vs. all other forms of interaction. Particularly relevant in Higher Ed. Especially in English-speaking contexts. The habit of “getting a large group of people in a number of different rooms so that some of them can read at the others for 20 minutes” did spread. There have been many other approaches, over the years. Including single-stream gatherings during which people take turn speaking extemporaneously on their specialized topics. And highly interactive workshops, which may or may not involve large sheets of paper and/or LEGO blocks.
    I must admit, there’s a special place in my heart for unconferences. My favourite was probably BarCamp Austin III, in 2008 (during SXSWi). I also had great experiences at other *Camp events, from PodCamp and WordCamp to RoCoCo (Recent Changes Camp) and BookCamp. When I mentioned the unconference model to a fellow member of what I’ve been calling “Montreal’s Open Innovation scene”, a few months ago, she laughed a little as it now sounded quaint. I think there’s still juice in that bottle.
    In fact, I’m indirectly involved in the third edition an unconference at Concordia University, which will occur in a couple of months.
    So, it feels like there’s something to be said about unconferences, generally.

    Back to your AND Conference…
    Thanks for this writeup.
    I interpret it as a “behind the scenes tour” of the AND Conference, with commentary along the way. Some of your thought processes. Your candour really helps the OEG membership specifically and the OE movement as a whole.

    Speaking of which… I can’t help but feel we’re an interesting phase in the movement’s history. For background, I keep going back to this chat Terry Greene had with David Wiley.
    https://voiced.ca/podcast_episode_post/david-wiley/
    Some parts almost sound like an oral history of the movement, with a strong focus on events.
    Timelines are a useful complement. For instance (on OE generally):
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WZe5Nbw1scCjbIIisxG6wZM07bjtq2hP4SIYNaW5h58/edit#gid=0
    And (on OER): https://h5pstudio.ecampusontario.ca/content/4804
    (Both focus on the English-speaking world.)

    My sense is that the broad OE movement and, indeed, the “Landscape of Open” (as Paul called it before joining the Consortium) is ready for a new “formula for action”. Sure, there will be events bringing people together for synchronous action, through diverse modalities (from videoconferencing software to rooms in “third spaces”). Hopefully, some forms of asynchronous engagement will help connect such events (again, through diverse modalities, from the design of board games to email exchanges). There’s been a fair amount of talk about Wenger & Lave’s Community of Practice concept and there are several CoPs scattered in the vast Landscape of Open. Gatherings of all sizes do a lot to CoPs, especially in terms of a sense of belonging (a key component of what Victor Turner called “communitas”). Many favour face-to-face encounters, which help develop special kinds of bonds. Online encounters have their own advantages. Our friends involved in VConnecting/MYfest have a lot to say about this. (As a personal aside, my life has recently improved tremendously thanks to an online encounter during #OEWeek22.) And it’s important to keep in mind that fortuitous encounters come from many contexts, often without any planning.

    I came back to work for a week, after a few weeks off. (Weeks which were filled with joy, thanks to the aforementioned lifechanging encounter.) I’ve been catching up on several items which had been posted before I left for a break. Several of them denote something about fatigue. Including about conferences. Especially face-to-face ones.
    It sounds like 2022’s Spring-Summer conferences have had different impacts on people than previous ones, including “virtual” ones like those from Fall 2021. Which may be a lesson for events set to take place in Fall 2022 or later.

    So, where does this all leave us?
    I’m not exactly sure. Which is partly the point. Don’t want to impose my views or ways on anyone.
    I do feel like part of the “solution space” is in… rest. If we’re tired, let’s rest. Part of that has to do with making informed decisions about participation, in the short term. Possibly shifting our attention from “interacting with lots of people” (which tend to favour extraverts) to something closer to an introvert’s preferred mode. Also, “microinteractions”.
    Is there a role for platforms? Certainly! From Discourse and PreTalx to Sched and Mattermost, we have a variety of tools at our disposal. Some of them focus on learning, as befits the OE movement. Some platforms could incorporate new features that we’d find appropriate to interact, co-create, discuss, exchange, gather, collaborate, and offer support.

    Through all this, it might be the right time to assess diverse motivations. While it sounds like we’re in the same boat, some people may focus too much on trying to steer the boat and not enough on our interdependence.

    1. Thanks for so much good sharing, Alex, and also with a tint of (?) optimism? excitement? small recharge?

      I don’t have anything close to answers, and plan to remain dialed in at “exactly sure” (and am wary of those who act sure). I am fully dedicated to trying everything I can to push for new ways of doing things rather than recasting the same old. I too would rather be part of a network of smaller ones rather than seeking the big tent.

      Let’s get in the boats and make some waves.

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