Saturday, March 20, 2010

Virtual Conferences: The Tech Advantage

Our Presentation
Locations: CCCC, Louisville & VWBPE, Second Life

Note to readers: the brilliant Viv Trafalgar must also be modest, because she's standing in front of her name in the image above, from VWBPE. You already know the malcontent at the right.

Having just attended a few sessions at Virtual Worlds: Best Practices in Education 2010 and read Dusan Writer's excellent post about the event, I set out for Kentucky, a nine-hour drive, to go to the Conference on College Composition and Communication. I learn a lot at every CCCC, but given several factors, I think I'd get just as much if not more out of an online event.

There's more to commend virtual conferences than saving money and energy on travel. I'll talk about a few technical advantages, and at least one moral one, in my next few posts, then give readers my peak-oil travelogue to Louisville.

Reason 1) Better Technologies of Presentation: Most big-city conference centers and hotel ballrooms have rotten internet connectivity. Business types tote in their PC laptops and blah-blah over canned Powerpoint shows, whereas educators want to use, show movies, present live sites. Even getting a data projector for 90 minutes ran me--well, ran my employer--$80. I carry a Mac adaptor for VGA input, but some colleagues drop the 80 bucks and still cannot present any media.

And at most presentations, presenters read a paper in progress. I heard two good SL talks given as a reading at CCCC, but for one I kept wanting to see the presenter's avatar or that of her students, the subject of her talk. The room only had an old-style overhead projector for transparencies. On the other hand, in virtual worlds all presenters need are rezz-rights for the conference venue, perhaps a gaming headset for voice, and prep time. As soon as the bugs are out of the SL 2 Viewer, we'll have live media on the fly at in-world conferences and it will be free of charge.

Reason 2) More techne, less talky-talk: We can do things, rhetorically, in virtual worlds that we cannot at a corporeal conference. When I attended Barry Joseph's talk on "Revenge of the Ludic Life: The Future of 3D virtual World Education" he could change his avatar into a clown...which led me to shout "what does that clown think he's doing?" to much laughter. It's a line I'd always wanted to use and actually fit into the concept Barry discussed.

But Joseph was after serious points, when he showed how shifts in identity of an avatar could encourage creative and pedagogically useful play. My students have little experience with this.

Ludic Life!

At a face-to-face academic meeting, however, instead of showing, we tell, and any clown clothes on academics are tragic fashion mistakes, not pedagogical strategies. Too often, talk of the ludic gets buried in making nods to the correct theorists, in shout-outs to luminaries in the audience, and so forth. Yawn. I do need the theory, but it comes best for me in the context of print and reading-time, not
name-dropping. We are buried in episteme at the expense of techne.

Dusan's post says this better than I could, and better than CCCC presenters--writing teachers all--have said. Because at online conferences, participants see that
"knowledge is constructed from the granular components of craft….that in a world in which the accumulation of knowledge is increasingly based upon techne as compared to episteme." This is writerly thinking of the sort that compositionists have stressed for years in our praxis with students. And CCCC too often I hear papers read blandly or Q&A reduced to "Ive have a question...not really. Let me tell you about MY project."

The sessions at this VWBPE often included break-outs to other virtual worlds, tours of projects inside SL, and the ability to bring in students for discussion. This is just not possible at an event like CCCC with distance to project-sites being insurmountable because of geography or lousy Internet service in the conference ballrooms.

One presenter about SL at CCCC had the very canny idea of giving us a nicely formatted bibliography so we could learn more later. That was brilliant and kept us focused on the tasks at hand.

Grudging Admission: Okay--the CCCC book room provides brain-porn for academics. But that's the best work-related reason I can find for coming to an actual conference. I picked up several titles to help with my research and program-development.

And single-barrel bourbon. But I have that at home already.

Next: Less Schmoozapalooza


Dan Holt said...

Iggy, no reason publishers cannot post their wares in SL. Yeah, you can't grab books immediately, but they can be shipped in no time.

But the bourbon's a big one! The only downfall I see in virtual conferences is the inability to go out to dinner or sit at a bar with colleagues.

Iggy O said...

Irony of ironies: my $80 projector refused to work, even though everything was set up perfectly.

At least they did not charge my school for it...

Viv Trafalgar said...

I think people are a lot more tolerant of tech-fail at a real life conference than they are of a virtual one - slides not rezzing and an overcrowded sim have real-life counterparts in overbooked rooms, overflow rooms, and equipment incompatibilities. One main difference is that you didn't just drive/fly/hotel all the way for the privilege.

A good tip for virtual conference presenters is to come prepared with multiple ways to present - have a notecard with much of what you want to say on it, have slides or a machinima, but also external links to the same, have a second person available in case your voice shorts out (big thanks to Lyr Lobo for that at a recent conference).