By Rebecca J. Hogue and Maha Bali
This post was simultaneously published here and on Maha Bali’s blog.
Maha: So i am now definitely NOT going to et4online 🙁 I just wanted to confirm that some of you are going in person so that we can book our poster place and change you to ‘first author’ on the #rhizo14 autoethnog discovery session.
Rebecca: I will happily join you in the presentation via Hangout/Skype/FaceTime – whichever streaming media is working best for you at the time. We can test it in advance of the presentation. Now that I have a new iPhone, I’m getting much better speeds on it, so if the conference wifi sucks, I can still connect you over my phone!
Maha: Awesome, Rebecca. I’ve also got a “duty” as a steering committee member to interview people during the conference. I was gonna do virtual people but I might as well also meet all my friends who are present there, right? 🙂
I’d love it if you could show me the Tech Test Kitchen while you’re there. We could agree a time for it in advance.
Rebecca: Sounds like an awesome plan … we could play with what it means to be a virtual participant ‘buddy’ … and then maybe write a paper on it for something like hybrid pedagogy … on the ways we are helping virtual participants and face-to-face participants connect or something like that …
So we could use the conference as an experiment into ways to enhance the conference experience for both virtual and in-place participants. Sort of a way to bridge the divide … I can be your ‘feet on the floor’ for a few specific segments of the conference, which I think would make the conference more meaningful for me too … you can encourage me out of my comfort zone into exploring presentations that I might not otherwise engage in …
Oh that sounds like so much fun!
Maha: oh my GOD YES that is an AWESOME IDEA REBECCA!!!
You know I am also responsible for the virtual unconference, supporting Jesse who will be there on the ground. Are you planning to attend that?
Jesse and I were joking that if I attended the unconference we’d both sit there in the midst of ppl face to face and be tweeting on our phones 😉
Rebecca: Ya, I can be there for the unconference. I’ll just plan to fly out on Friday evening.
Out of this conversation, an idea was born. We both realized that by Rebecca bringing Maha to the more social aspects of the conference, that it could enrich the conference experience for both of us. We decided to call the pilot project a virtual buddy program (hashtag #et4buddy). We shared it with et4online social media chair (Robin) and unconference chair (Jesse) and based on their enthusiastic responses, we then shared it with Laura Pasquini and the steering committee as a whole.
During pre-selected conference activities (such as social events), the virtual buddy program partners a few virtual conference participants with participants who are physically at the conference. The partners connect using video conferencing, allowing the physical participant to share the experience with the virtual participant. The goal of the program is to enhance the conference experience for both the virtual participant and the physical presence participant.
Since the interviews and conversations may be of interest to other virtual participants, anytime we have permission of those involved, we will record and post the video clips. Follow #et4buddy on Twitter for live updates, and use the hashtag to make suggestions. We will be playing with a variety of different technologies to make this happen. We are looking at mobile technologies that can be used to enhance the virtual participant experience.
This year, we are piloting the program, with Rebecca being the buddy for Maha. However, we anticipate opportunities for additional virtual participants to join hangouts, and other in-person participants may volunteer to provide buddy support. During the unconference on Friday afternoon, we will actively encourage more people to try out the virtual buddy program.
For more info see the #et4buddy program on the Online Learning Consortium official et4online conference website http://olc.onlinelearningconsortium.org/conference/2015/et4online/virtual-attendance#et4buddy
Many thanks to our sponsor, iDesignEDU (http://iDesignEDU.org) for providing Rebecca with MiFi access throughout the conference. Special thanks also to Whitney Kilgore for helping arrange sponsorship and providing logistic support.