Back in April, my friend Maha and I decided to try out a new way of connecting. The idea came to us out of a desire to share the physical experiences of being onsite at a conference with each other. For a variety of reasons, Maha was unable to travel to the conference. She is a master at virtual conference participation, but really wanted to be able to connect with people at the conference. I on the other hand, could physically attend, but often find myself too shy to approach people that I don’t already know. I usually introduce myself to random people, but find it difficult to approach the presenters and speakers – I don’t always have the confidence and fear that I won’t know what to say. That is, in part, the beauty of being an onsite buddy – if I don’t know what to say I can always pass along the conversation to those who are online!
Today, I want to reflect on how Virtually Connecting is growing up. In part this is because the folks who organize the Digital Pedagogy Institute (#digped) were willing to have us crash their party – in that they openly invited us to participate in their onsite Institute experience.
Shortly after our initial #et4online experience, several folks volunteered to be onsite buddies (thanks Lisa Hammershaimb – @merryspaniel, Sarah Hammershaimb – @s_hammershaimb, and Andrea Rehn – @profrehn). This allowed us to have more virtually connecting sessions without me or Maha needing to be physically present. We learned very quickly that there are several people out there that are awesome onsite hosts – however, there is also a need for a lot of background work. In some ways, the spontaneity of the sessions we did for our initial #et4buddy isn’t there – there is a lot less giggling on tape – however, what is there is a lot more quality conversations.
Tuesday, we did our first formal presentation about Virtually Connecting, virtually via a virtual connecting session (how meta of us). This was the first time we’ve had a full cast joining the hangout live. We explain a little about what virtually connecting is, and had some fun trying to interact with the classroom.
With a little advanced planning, and announcing of schedules for our virtually connecting sessions, we are able to get more people involved. We had so many people sign up for a couple of our sessions that we had to turn people away. We had filled all our virtual spots. Online folks want to be able to join in the conversation.
We are also having really rich pre and post game discussions – that is, the time before we go live and the time after the folks who are onsite leave. The pre-game discussions, unfortunately, are not recorded. We often end up discussing things like what the heck “lower third” means in Google Hangouts on Air, and how to set it. We talk about challenging the bio, and encourage people to share something interesting about themselves in their introductions. The post-game show is an opportunity for those who are online to reflect on what the onsite people said, but also to continue the conversation.
One way Virtually Connecting has grown this week is that in addition to new onsite hosts, we also brought on several new people to help with the online facilitation (thanks Autumm Caines – @autumm, AK – @koutropoulos, and Alan Levine – @cogdog). Today’s session marked the first time that neither Maha nor I were on the virtually connecting hangout. It also marked the first session where the gender balance tipped predominately on the male side rather than the female side. This is something we had been very curious about – was there something specifically gendered about the idea of virtually connecting? We’ll be watching to see how this grows.
Mostly I’m impressed with quality of the conversations. I’m impressed with the ability to have dialogue across the boundaries of cyberspace. And I’m impressed with how Virtually Connecting is also allowing networks to converge. With each hangout I am meeting new people, and these new people are introducing me to more new people. More than that, the quality of my connections is growing. I’m not just meeting new people, I’m getting to know more about them. I’m getting to hear their ideas. I’m growing at the same time as I watch Virtually Connecting grow up, and that is pretty cool too.