I’m going to start with an apology for not blogging recently, I’ve been a bit busy and launched VivaCards last week – go take a look if you know of anyone approaching a viva who might be interested, all feedback very welcome @VivaCards. Right, plug and apology over, this post is about attending a conference in purely virtual form.
The last two days I’ve been attending a conference, the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum #UKKMbF14 that is taking place in two places, physically at NESTA in London, and virtually in Second Life (SL) at Patient Partnership Island hosted by Imperial College. I have a feeling that this blog post of reflections will develop over time but I wanted to get something down now, quick and dirty, while it’s fresh.
Initial thoughts are as follows:
1. It’s been a real privilege to participate in Second Life – without knowing who was attending UKKMbF14 in advance I decided it was too big an investment for me to attend in person (the event fee itself was reasonable, but throw in a train fare to London and overnight accommodation and two whole days time and one evening and my reluctant decision was a no). The ability to attend in SL has been invaluable. If there hadn’t been a virtual option I would have followed along on the conference hashtag, but that would have been as close to the action as I could get.
2. It’s been a real education to participate in Second Life. I’d never used SL before the conference and I’d describe it a bit like being given a car without any driving lessons. I had absolutely zero idea what I was doing the whole time. I was very lucky that others there were more experienced and exceedingly patient, but it was quite stressful trying to learn something brand new and concentrate on what people were saying. As anyone who has used other forms of social media will know, there’s a learning curve, for me the SL learning curve was a steep one, and a little bit distracting. To make matters worse I was trying to follow on twitter both – requiring a lot of concentration to be in two places at once.
3. If you’re not in the room you’re really not in *the* conference. Before I go any further I wish to be clear that this is not a complaint, as referenced above without SL I wouldn’t have been attending at all. The point I’m trying to make is one I think is worth acknowledging, which is that while you are participating in a conference, when it’s in two places and the bulk of the speakers and participants and microphones are in the physical space, it didn’t feel to me like we were part of the conference. It was like being in a sub-set, or a parallel experience, which is why it’s not a complaint, but at times it did feel a little exclusionary. There are things that just didn’t work in our space e.g. speed networking (possibly hampered because some of us – me at least – didn’t have the required SL skills) but also because we’d already done introductions, and you didn’t have any of the things that (oddly enough) make a conference more real….I guess the physical affordances like a name badge (not sure if they had these in real life either), or a conference pack printed, or an up to date programme – some of this might have been the style of the gathering too – there was a programme beamed onto the wall but it wasn’t clear who was speaking when. We were brilliantly shepherded by Dave and Michael, so we didn’t miss anything, but I didn’t have a strong sense of what was going on next.
4. Why not just have a live video stream? There were some technical difficulties with sound and audio lags, but day two was much clearer (not sure why). When I first heard about the SL version of the conference my initial assumption had been to question whether a livestream would make more sense. While I suspect there may have been less technical difficulties, I’m certain you’d have got a different (and lesser) experience. The SL room set up for UKKMbF14 had leaflets and posters displayed in a way that you’d never have seen in a livestream. While it would have been good to have saved these as pdfs too (and this might be my lack of SL skill being evidenced here), it was amazing to have them.
5. Challenge your assumptions, give it a go. Simple this one, I told myself I’d wait until day two before passing judgement, SL wasn’t easy for me, and I can’t imagine it ever being my preferred state for a conference, but it was *so* much better than I was expecting. If you’re not sure, give it a go. I can see it would have particular benefits to attending international conferences, but also physically, I’ve been able to stand up and take part, not spend 8hrs sat on a train and then lots more hours sat in the conference room, so my back is thanking SL too!! Finally it also challenges other’s assumptions, as a woman with a man’s name I often throw people when they first meet me – turning up as a cat does that even more!!!
I’d like to thank the other people attending in Second Life, Michael and Jenny for their encouragement and patience, and a massive thank you to Dave who was literally straddling two worlds, in the conference room and coordinating the virtual world. Thank you also to UKKMbF14 team for organising and giving it a go. I’ll see you at the next one, in virtual space or in real life.