Posted By Barbara Lindsey on February 22, 2009
In the past, if I presented at a conference, I could receive some funding support from my institution. That’s no longer the case. I would hazard a guess that our ongoing economic woes have necessitated similar belt-tightening measures across U.S. campuses. That’s why I find myself seeking out more and more online professional development venues, like the free 2008 K12 Online Conference held this fall and the recently offered Spaces of Interaction: An Online Conversation on Improving Traditional Conferences.
But I want to do more than just expand my own personal learning options. I want to explore how our faculty and graduate students can use online venues to host, at minimal cost, their own conferences, because that support has also been eliminated. Perhaps one silver lining to our shared economic austerity is the “freedom” it gives us to consider novel solutions that may well improve upon current practice.
So where would I recommend graduate students and faculty look to meet electronically instead of geographically? I think I would begin with Skype and I would encourage faculty and TAs to first start using it in their courses. It’s easy to use, it’s cross-platform and there are lots of examples of its application in education, from Silvia Tolisano’s elementary school video conferencing via Skype mentioned in an earlier post to David Carpenter’s use of Skype to bring in subject matter experts in an AP Language and Composition class. In the course I teach in the fall, our graduate students had the opportunity to use Skype to converse with authors Barbara Sawhill, Barbara Ganley and Liz Kolb. Recording those conversations is inexpensive (Call Recorder for the Mac, for example, is just $15) and making them available later opens up the possibility of extending the reach and impact of this sort of one-time event. Just one week ago Classroom 2.0 Live! hosted a free, online session, “Using Skype to Collaborate” and you can find an archive of that session along with lots of resources and ideas for connecting with other classes, educators and content experts. Bringing in a highly respected expert to your local conference could now be financially and logistically more feasible using an online tool such as Skype.
The next level of interactivity would be using something like TalkShoe, which describes itself as a service that allows anyone to “easily create, join, or listen to Live Interactive Discussions, Conversations, Podcasts and Audioblogs.” Using TalkShoe you can, for free, create a radio show type event for an internet audience that you can record and then host on their site or on your own web site. About two years ago Kevin shared with me his plan to use TalkShoe as a way for his undergraduate students to lead a discussion on Don Quixote with a wider audience. I remember telling him that I just didn’t see this working out. Who would actually call in to talk about Don Quixote with a group of undergrads? But Kevin went ahead and posted the discussion topic, the date and time of the ‘show’ and to my astonishment, his students not only had callers, but these callers were knowledgeable (and passionate) about the topic and the students had an experience they are unlikely to forget. That’s powerful.
Now if you wanted to broadcast your local conference to the world you can use free, live video streaming sites with ‘backchannel‘ chat functionality for participant interaction and recordability for subsequent reuse. The Educon 2.1 conference used Mogulus while the the Ed21 Unconference 2009 conference used UStream. I’ve been thinking that our department could live stream our annual undergraduate awards ceremony so that more friends and family members can participate and share in the success of our students. Having a readily accessible archive of the event is also a great way to build support for our programs. As you can see in this example, EdTechTalk makes innovative use of online broadcast channels to bring in content experts from disparate locations to discuss topics of interest. That could make for very interesting cross-institutional conferences and collaborations.
You’ll notice that these conferences included some mechanism to facilitate connections among attendees and keep the conversation going, even after the conference has ended. Whether its a venue like a wiki, or a ning I think it is important to provide a home for a conference like this.
Am I advocating for a complete shift to online interactions? Not at all, but I do think that we can use this current financial crisis to explore ways in which the use of online collaborative environments can enhance the current way we connect, collaborate and communicate. If you think this might be too hard to do, take a look at the great how-to webcasting resources Wes Freyer has posted. I’ll end this post with a link to David Warlick’s thoughts on “reaching out with your conference” through the use of social media.
How about you? Have you used social media to expand the impact of your conferences or your students’ presentations? We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.
In which a crisis causes us to rethink the way we network by Barbara Lindsey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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