Another week of online conferencing: week 2 of the lockdown diaries and a bit more #OER20

Photo by Essentialiving on Unsplash

I’m not sure if I have quite got used to the “new normal” of life just now. Only going out for a walk once a day is still hard, as is not being able to see loved ones. Book group reverted to the ubiquitous zoom – and I got as close as I have to COVID-19 as one of our group had symptoms and was going into proper lock down and self isolation. She is steadily getting better thanks goodness.

However, in work life things are a bit easier but a equally a bit different. The big event last week was the OER20 conference, which less than 3 weeks ago moved from face to face to online.  That was a huge, but ultimately the right, decision for ALT to make as I wrote about at the time.  All registered delegates got their conference fees refunded, with the option of making a donation to cover some of the cost of the conference.  At time of writing contributions stand at around £5.5k. This is amazing and will make a huge difference to ALT. As a member organisation, conferences are a really important source of income that help support its infrastructure.   With the registration fee dropped as well just everything else going on or not going on just now, there was a huge increase in registration numbers which topped about 1,200.  

I’ve already written my immediate thoughts from the conference, and I’m still reflecting and catching up on many of the sessions I missed. This morning I read and watched Alan Levine’s (aka @cogdog) presentation where he challenged the conventions of the f2f conference, asked how we could elevate and augment “the share” not only of knowledge but of deeper connections and perhaps close the divide between the “there and the there nots”.   It’s a huge challenge but I think OER might be pivotal moment in rethinking conferences in our sector. 

I think we may well all have to go into lock down at short notice several times over the coming year(s) so I suspect that every conference from now on will have to have some kind of augmented online option/channel. Not just a twitter back channel, but a really viable option to reposition/or just present online. This may involve developing a different/parallel submission process. That might open things up a bit more to the “there nots” and of course a bit more thought than this short paragraph!

What did impress me this during the OER conference was the the way that conventions were challenged and subverted. For example the keynote from Joe Deville and Janneke Adema where they played a recorded slide presentation. That meant they could be more “present’ in the chat and I think better prepared and already involved in the discussion their really provoking talk fostered.  

During the conference it also struck me how much less reliant the participants and presenters were on presenting themselves synchronously through video, and how vibrant the chat spaces were in all the live sessions I attended.   We don’t always need to “see” ourselves all the time.

I also really enjoyed the online conference space provided by Collaborate Ultra. It felt much calmer than the endless Zoom/MS Teams meetings I now find myself in.  Partly that is done to my own familiarity with it, but also it was down the sophistication of the users. OER participants want, and know how to use the chat space, and seem much more comfortable doing that than taking the virtual mike. Maybe that’s just a reflection of the f2f situation. It can be daunting to ask a question in any physical or digital room full of peers .

Last week I was in a networking event (held via Zoom) for a colleague who runs a coaching business.  I was really struck by the fact that no-one (apart from me) used the chat function. I don’t know if that was a down to people using zoom for the first time, and so not realising it was there. But I did really get the impression that this particular demographic (smart, small business owners in general) were much more confident in speaking to the camera.  It was also possibly due to the context, maybe a much more immediate, personal response was needed  rather than pondering questions.  Or maybe they just realised how zoom chats can be saved and accessed.  

One plus point about the current situation was that I was also able to attend the QAA Scotland Focus on Technology event as even thought there was a date clash with OER I could be at both conferences.  Along with Jason Miles-Campbell (Jisc, Scotland) I co-hosted an “ask the expert” session around digital and online learning and student engagement.  Lots of chat here – in a MS Teams space (is there a way to export chat session from Teams?).  For me, it was really useful to hear the reality of what colleagues in institutions are actually experiencing just now.  As we seem to be coming out of the first wave of the crazy mad, let’s get as much as we can online, I think last week a few people had a bit more time and space to put their heads above the parapet so to speak.  Lots of discussions around time and place and basic access and support.

I see something emerging around a realisation that maybe Zoom and it’s ilk are perhaps better used for immediate general support/scaffolding and maybe one to one small group activities, rather than as a lecture replacement.

We don’t always need to be seen to be engaged/present. We can subvert the use of video in live sessions, we can experience the power of collective viewing, integrate and remix the synchronous with the asynchronous, we can also combine the digital with the physical in quite unexpected and emotional ways. This was particularly true with the FemEdTech quilt session at OER.  The physical object was so present in the “digital’ space, and that digital space provided a tangible emotional response that I’m not sure could have be replicated in a f2f event. There would have been emotion there for sure, but I think it would have been of a different intensity. 

This week is back to the standard “new normal” work wise, who knows what it will bring in other ways.

2 thoughts on “Another week of online conferencing: week 2 of the lockdown diaries and a bit more #OER20

  1. Thanks for this lovely thoughtful reflection Sheila. Our reflections seem different this year as times are so strange. In reading your post, I realised that I used narrated videos in my OER19 presentation, and that was probably what encouraged me to create a video for the Femedtechquilt session. In OER19, I was able to bring people’s stories to the session: in OER20, I was able to bring the quilts’ stories. And I am beginning to think that brought materiality to a virtual space in both cases. It’s quite humbling to learn these things. I’ve always loved the chat in a webinar. It can be a bit counter-cultural with perhaps slightly pompous talking head speakers when the critique and resistance is in the chat. But what happened in the Femedtechquilt session was something remarkable that I am still processing.

  2. Thanks Frances. I agree you did bring that materiality to those virtual spaces, and yes it was such a memorable session. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like it at any conference.

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