26 June 2010

I've attended my first online conference

I attended my first online conference this week. A professional conference, with presentations and speakers, on a serious subject. The sort of thing that traditionally would have required me to travel, possibly staying away from home.

The conference was organised by the Open University and was run on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. All I needed was my computer and a set of headphones. I could have managed without the headphones, but using them was comfortable and I could have contributed if I'd wanted to.

There is no way I could have taken two whole days out of what was a relatively busy week for me... but because of the way the conference was organised, and because I was sitting in front of my own computer, I could listen to the bits that were particularly relevant, and monitor emails and do a bit of routine background work at other times.

I have never attended an online conference like this before - and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought I'd miss the interaction with the other delegates, but not so. There were specific times set aside for question and answer sessions and break-out discussion groups, but what fascinated me was the ongoing online chat. People were asking questions, responding, discussing issues raised - all why the presentation was going on. Every so often, the presenter would spot something interesting in the chat and highlight it. You couldn't do that at a traditional conference... could you imagine the "Shhh!" you would get if you were having conversations loud enough for everyone else to hear during the talk!

I'm not suggesting that every conference should be replaced by an online version... and maybe the participants were self-selecting (anyone not comfortable with a computer wouldn't sign up in the first place). It's something worth considering, though, and the pool of delegates came from Australia, America, various parts or Europe and the Far East.

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