Watching your baby grow up – reflections on Virtually Connecting (@vconnecting) at #digped

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!

Anyways, I am rambling a bit. If you want the backstory on Virtually Connecting, you can read it in our Hybrid Pedagogy piece for Maha’s Column or Prof Hacker piece.

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.



2 responses

  1. […] Rebecca wrote about this with a question I likely wrestled poorly wih […]

  2. CogDog Avatar

    Thanks Rebecca and Maha for letting me sit in the drivers seat as a Virtual Buddy. I’m impressed with the format of the 15-20 minute conversation with people there and then a chance to carry it on with those in the hangout. It would have been fun to have afew more people but it was a short lead time! It added much the AK joined us.

    I’ll probably toss up a blog post. Or write a ridiculously long comment.

    I gave a lot of though this afternoon to the question of “is there specifically gendered about the idea of virtually connecting?” and pretty much what I ended up with is “I don’t know”. There is a bit of walking into a mine field if I question the question. If you are asking if there is a different feel to the sessions when there were more “dudes” as it was today, I’d say yes, things can change with the gender mix, as it does with an age mix, a geography mix, the mix of people who are present, can you really isolate gender as a single factor? Maybe? I just ask.

    But the question was about the “idea of virtually connecting” being gendered, that it arises from a female space, perspective, sense of care? Is that the question?

    I hate to be pulling out the dreaded “it was done before” but this kind of thing of connecting form conferences and classes was again something we did frequently in ds106. Like Virtually Connecting, it was intimate, single digital audiences were the norm. I was present at EDUCAUSE ELI in 2011 when we did a live audio stream during and after an audio podcast interview with Gardner Campbell. People were talking back to us via twitter. As he does, Gardner went off talking about “analytics” and make a reference to “Do we talk about Love Analytics”? Within a few minutes @noiseprofessor had tweeted a mocked up cover of a book with Gardner and the fake title. We had a whole crew cover love streams of both sessions and in between sessions of the 2012 Open Education Conference in Vancouver. It was not all male, frequent streamers included Giulia Forsythe, GAN Garcia, Leslie Lindballe (who later went on to do regular live streams of her work with indigenous people and the land).

    I’m pretty sure when some of the first mobile stream apps (like came out or the early days of some of the first web streaming apps there were people doing both formal and informal streams at events.

    And as easy as it is to mock Second Life, in its hey day I was in the middle of using it to run online virtual conferences and we found that people were extremely interested in hanging out between, after the sessions as much or sometimes more than the sessions themselves. There was a lot of generating a sense of presences with live audio and a cartoon physical proxy.

    This is just my own experience; I’d hazard people did a lot to create a sense of buddy in the early days of two way radio. This is why I tire of the “X did it first” discussions, and here I went down the trail myself, #fail

    I’m not trying to do the condescending ‘you are not first’ but like many things what you are doing is a remix of what others have done… and where do you place gender in all of that?

    The important thing is what you have done is start something that feels like it has momentum, and people are excited about Virtually Connecting, about thinking differently about the boundaries of professional gatherings.

    I could not agree about the statement of expanding networks and connections each time; I had never talked to anyone besides Andrea before on the DigPed end, and this was a first time speaking with Nick. I would not have had this much of a window into the DigPed institute.

    Whether the idea is gendered or not seems less important to the excitement of having this possibilities. Let’s do more.

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