Online conferencing

There is not one but two online conferences of sorts going on right now that are kind of interesting to me. The first is the online portion of Computers and Writing, which features sessions spread out over the next week or so via a Sakai site (asynchronous), SecondLife (though there doesn’t seem to be that much going on there), and AdobeConnect. Actually, with the AdobeConnect synchronous sessions, there was one yesterday and one today.

The other one, which I found here via elearnspace, is the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. The theme of this conference is on improving online conferences, which probably isn’t a bad idea for a discussion.

In theory, online conferencing ought to be one of those things that I ought to be all for: I like teaching online, I like interacting online, I like reading and writing online, and I’ve published more online than not online; what’s not to like about the online conference? Well, so far at least, online conferences seem like the sad second cousin of the face to face conference, with fewer presentations and less “prestige” or weight as something to list on a CV. I mean, I could count it at EMU, but I can imagine many places where the response of a tenure and review committee to an online conference presentation would be a laughing snort.

But besides that, one of the reasons I go to conferences is to travel someplace else: you know, to see colleagues and friends and to attend sessions in a “real” time and space that is not the same as every other day. Often enough, part of conference going is sight-seeing and socializing, which is why Computers and Writing in Hawaii was well-attended, and which is why the CCCCs is not likely to hold its annual meeting in a town like Omaha anytime soon (even though maybe they should). But beyond the junket factor, going to a conference is a way of doing “work” while simultaneously getting away from the usual work routine.

And we already have on-going “online conferencing” of sorts: mailing lists and, increasingly more important IMO, blog spaces. The blog post is in some ways like an online conference presentation. I write a post, and it shows up in various people’s RSS feeds, kind of like a promised article/presentation in a program schedule. Some folks come by and take a look, but most don’t, which is also very much like a conference. In fact, judging by some of the small audience numbers at some conferences I go to, it sure seems like a lot of folks’ idea of “attending” a conference is going someplace, thumbing through the program, and then doing all the fun stuff of conference going.

Don’t get me wrong– I like the idea of an online conference for the same reason I like online everything, and sometimes the travel is simply not realistic. But maybe the format has to be different somehow. Maybe the blog carnival or some kind of wiki-based exchange is more viable than just mapping the traditional conference presentation onto an online space. Or maybe I just need to attend some online presentations and see how it goes.

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