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Beyond amplification – how to merge online and face to face events

November 1st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A very quick post on an issue I have been thinking about recently.

Over the last two years or so we have been working with a number of organisations on what has become known as amplifying events. This involves using multi media and social software to link up conferences, seminars and other events with the outside world, for instance through setting up twitter and Flickr streams and through live streaming keynote sessions.

This has proved relatively effective at projecting events outwards to a wider community, and however rudimentary at allowing those unable to attend face to face to follow ideas and debates.

Where we have proved less successful is getting the outside world into the conference, seminar or workshop. A projection of the twitter stream is a good start but is limited as we all know and some conferences such as Alt-C still see such a stream as disruptive. More disturbing, is the low level of audio contributions in events held on  online platforms such as Elluminate. As an aside, participation seems better in the less sophisticated Flash Meeting. I wonder if the permissions hierarchies in Elluminate and the rigmarole of putting your hand up to speak is a pedagogic inhibition to full participation.

What I am thinking about now is how we can better blend face to face and online participation in events. Some events have been holding pre or post conference online sessions. Although these work well ahead of events, they seldom seem to happen post event. I wonder if it is possible to start designing learning activities so online events feed into the face to face session and the face to face activities naturally generate further participation online. Of course that requires rethinking how we manage and design face to face events. But one of the big successes of a range of recent seminars and conference  I have attended is a rethinking of formats. Most popular is the introduction of learning cafes, in all their variants. OK this is becoming a little formulaic but it is a big advance on the tired rehearsals of reading of conference papers accompanied by endless text based  and bullet pointed Powerpoint presentations.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is persuading conference organisers and presenters that the form of the event is a pedagogic issue. And the extension to using technology both provides new accordances and opportunities and at the same time some restrictions in pedagogies which could be deployed.

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