Me and my Virtual Me.

I’ve been working a lot in the library recently, reading, highlighting and expanding my own personal understanding of the educational theories relating to the teaching and learning in virtual worlds. As the students returned to university, I found that the time I spent in the library was reduced as my teaching increased once again. Tweeting one morning that I would not be in the library was greeted with a reply that maybe I could be replaced with a virtual copy. Interesting since this week’s waffle was going to be about virtually attending conferences.


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Time is always of the essence in our busy lives and as I try to squeeze every ounce of time from every second of the day, I try to think of efficient and effective ways to address traditional activities. One activity which I have been considering recently is the attendance and the presentation at conferences. I have seen on twitter, examples of people who have presented at conferences virtually and recently I have been attending webinars virtually as well as listening to keynotes online. Last week I waffled about using Twitter at conferences and this week I wanted to waffle about attending conferences virtually. There are a wealth of conferences happening both nationally and internationally all the time. In my current role, the majority of my time is taken up with teaching and the associate tasks that accompany this – e.g. preparation and marking – which means the time for either exploring possible conferences or even attending them is limited. But is attending a conference virtually the best way? I thought I would waffle about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

  • To travel or not to travel – I’m not the best traveller in the world, whether this is travelling down the road in the back of a car to a train journey to the capital. If I have taken the range of tablets then this can be bearable, although with a mortal phobia of flying, international travel is still something which I try not to even think about let alone do. Travelling costs – both in money and impact to the environment and, although I am not going to use this as an excuse, the former needs agreement from the ‘purse holders’ before the tickets can be booked. Of course, attending virtually does remove all of this and the time taken to actually get there and back. Some people do enjoy the travelling and I am completely aware – after travelling to BERA with colleagues – that the journey can provide important opportunities to talk and explore ideas – something which is often lacking in the busy work day. Although I can attend a conference sat in front of my computer in my office, travelling to the location can be enjoyable and even beneficial. I would probably consider that it is not the actual journey that is beneficial but the actual company and the interaction with colleagues.

  • Interaction and Networking -While watching/attending the recent #OER15 conference I noticed that when taking questions from the audience, the speaker was addressing everyone by name. I tweeted – “does everyone actually know everyone there?”. The response came later in the day in the closing remarks when it was stated that if they didn’t at the beginning they certainly did by the end. Although there is some interaction while attending virtually, usually via twitter and or online chat, this is somewhat limited and participating in the conference proceedings in this way also eliminates you from the personal, face-to-face interactions. In considering my self a virtual attendee, I wonder whether people on twitter or at the conference through the interaction of tweets actually know who I am and whether, if I ever did actually turn up at a conference, whether they would recognise me. I’m not saying this would be essential – many times I have been responding to tweets and the person has been sat directly in front of me and there has been no personal interaction. But in developing both personal and professional connections it is important to actually meet and discuss face-to-face. Being a virtual attendee, I might not have to spend time travelling across the world, but it does mean that I ‘lose out’ on those personal interactions and discussions.

  • Only the Keynotes? – When I have attended a conference physically I have enjoyed every aspect of the event. These range from the keynotes, through the workshops/sessions to the social aspects of the coffee time and meals. All these parts of a conference are very important as it is during these times that not only personal networks are increased (see previous point) but also ideas and concepts are discussed further. Watching the keynotes virtually allows me to interact and also to participate in the questions and answer sessions and to even watch the slides, but once the keynote has finished then the screen and often twitter goes quiet and my virtual attendance is put on hold until the next keynote. I know that tweeting does continue in the workshops, but without the live stream or slides then participation is limited. I never have the choice of which workshops to attend and even if they were streamed, the ones which are streamed would probably be limited in any case. It is interesting that Martin Hawksey repeated his session on Google Hangouts this week and, with lecture capturing becoming more and more common place, maybe this is something that would be possible for all workshops/sessions in the future. Is it worth not attending a conference physically because of only being able to interaction with the keynotes? Well I think yes – depending on the priority of the conference on your professional list. I really enjoyed the #OER15 conference even though it was not a priority on the list of conferences to attended. Attending it virtually definitely allowed me to increase my understanding of the concept.

  • I could go on with other points but I try to limit my waffles to three points and these are what I consider to be the most important aspects for me. I do wonder whether they is an equal weighting to attending a conference virtually to attending it physically. I have participated in a range of webinars lately and added these to my personal CPD list. Should I be able to add the ‘virtual conferences’ as well? I did only actually listen in on the keynotes and participated with the twitter feed, but my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter has increased. Surely this could and should be seen as continuing personal development. As I continue my research into the use of virtual worlds I wonder when, or if, there has or will be a completely virtual conference based in a multi user virtual world such as Second Life? Are we still basing our conference systems on ‘traditional’ methods and do we now need to embrace technology more and begin to engage completely with virtual conferences. If you are planning one then let me know, my avatar is prepared and I am ready to log on and (for you Star Trek fans) engage…

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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    Have fun and I’ll catch you later (virtually or in real life)