Virtually Connecting at ASCILITE 2018

25 February 2019

By Wendy Taleo (Charles Darwin University) and Henk Huijser (QUT)

At the recent ASCILITE 2018 conference we stretched the borders of learning via an open, online hangout with people not physically at the conference.

‘The purpose of Virtually Connecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience for those who cannot be physically present at conferences. We are a community of volunteers and it is always free to participate.’

One of the key reasons to Virtually Connect is related to FOMO (fear of missing out). However, there is more to it than that. While it is nice to have an opportunity to take part in an event that one might not be able to physically travel to, discussions can develop that are not just about ‘catching people up’ but have significant value in their own right. Virtually Connecting sessions are not run like other conference sessions or regular webinars but are structurally designed to stimulate a discussion between all the participants. In this way, Virtually Connecting stimulates the co-creation of knowledge and the development of collaborative learning communities.

Onsite desk

For ASCILITE 2018, this session was not placed on the conference programme. The focus was virtual participants (8) who were primarily from the TELedvisors SIG. This was a natural extension of both Wendy Taleo (onsite) and Henk Huijser (remote) networks. Wendy felt it was a privilege to play host and sit beside the guest speakers and fellow TELedvisors, Chie Adachi and Kate Mitchell, for this short time of shared conversation. There were people on camera, people off camera and someone who was just sitting in the room between sessions and listened in.

Virtual views

It is always a little strange to temporarily ‘parachute into’ a conference, as you miss a number of vital clues about the context and the feel of the conference. However, Virtually Connecting sessions offer a great (and costless!) way to still participate to some extent in a conference and to get a sense of the main important themes and messages. This session in particular was very useful in this sense, as it looked both backwards and forwards in the same session. The session included two of the conference’s keynote speakers, one of whom (Dr Paul Le Blanc) had already given his keynote, while the other (Dr Margaret Bearman) was yet to do so. In combination with the physical participants on site, this created an interesting discussion, which was very beneficial for the virtual participants, and I believe it helped the keynote speakers themselves to reflect on their ideas and engage with each others’ main points and messages. The virtual participants coming in ‘fresh’ could also contribute unexpected and important perspectives, based on their context.

“Universities are in the business of hope.”

Dr Paul Le Blanc

Based on the conference theme of ‘educating without borders’, Paul Le Blanc discussed the idea of ‘stretching the boundaries of the university to be more inclusive of deeply underserved populations’. He imagined this as a higher education system that is more of a platform: ‘to get people just the right learning at just the right time at just the right amount’. This breaks down the traditional hierarchy of credentials, but he did not go into too many specifics about that. The key idea is to make learning fixed, and make time flexible. Margaret Bearman responded by highlighting the idea that ‘universities are in the business of hope’. She further said we need to critically reimagine the university with attention to different values in relation to the global spaces in which we operate. Another key point made was that ‘access is not the same as equity’. By Virtually Connecting we attempted to equalise the access to the energy and current knowledge being shared at the conference.  

See the full details of the Virtually Connecting session and watch the recording here:

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