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ELI 2010 From a Distance
January 21, 2010 - 7:37pm

I'm still depressed about not attending the 2010 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting, "Learning Environments for a Web 2.0 World."

These people are my Tribe, and I feel a sense of loss in being unable to join them in Austin.

The ELI Conference is the premier gathering place for learning technologists and the people who work directly on program and course design and development. The conference is both intimate and high fidelity, attracting top notch speakers and presentations. The spirit of ELI is one of experimentation and a willingness to incubate and road-test innovate technologies and methods that may have implications for teaching and learning.

This week was a good opportunity to test the limits of staying involved in a professional conference from a distance. I learned that the limiting factor is no longer availability of conference presentations (they are on MediaSite) or the conversations around the sessions (on Twitter), or even the opportunity to ask questions (Google Moderator) - but rather the difficulty of blocking out chunks of time to participate online.

This week was particularly busy back on campus, so perhaps my experience is not representative of what others experienced in keeping up with the ELI conference via the Web. My experience was one of frustration, as I knew the sessions were going on and kept wanting to participate, but found myself in meetings or putting out fires or doing a million-and-one work things - never quite being able to devote time and attention to the conference streams and the Twitter backchannel.

The one session I watched (and communicated with other attendees/participants in real time with Twitter) was the General Session by Bill Thomas "Digital Histories for the Digital Age: How Do We Teach Writing Now?" This was a great talk, and the discussion around the talk on Twitter very much added to the experience. I plan to go and watch some of the other sessions, but the experience will be less satisfying lacking the ability to respond and read responses in real time.

Technology, and the willingness to embrace openness and transparency, increasingly provides opportunities to participate in professional conferences via the Web. I think that providing this sort of access will actually spur conference attendance, as the availability of conference materials and communications channels is no substitute for physical presence. The key variable is attention. Carving out time to leave campus and go to a conference allows us to devote our attention to the conference, a goal that (I found) was impossible to realize when participating online. The online materials and online communication only increased my desire to attend in person, as I was able to view first-hand the quality of the conversations and presentations.

The reality is that we will miss some conferences. Sometimes we have too many competing demands from work or family. I'm grateful that in those times where we can't attend our professional meetings that opportunities for online interaction exist.

Some of the methods that were available for people who could not make it to Austin to participate in this years ELI Conference (what am I missing?)

1. Live and Quickly Archived Sessions on a MediaSite Page.

2. An incredibly active Twitter Stream.

3. A Social Hub for ELI 2010 site.

4. A Second Life Presence: (I'm not a Second Life person…but still think is is cool).

5. A Site with Presentation Materials.

6. A Google Wave Site (that I didn't go on).

7. The ability to ask questions with Google Moderator.

Did anyone else out there attempt to participate in the ELI Conference via the Web? What was your experience? Do you agree that providing all these avenues for distant participation will spur a growth in conference attendance?


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