Social awkwardness

I am sure if you ask a lot of people why they attend conferences, in addition to the keynotes and sessions, one aspect that will come out is the networking and social aspects of the conference. Those moments over coffee where you discuss the omissions and errors in the previous presentation; or the conference dinner where you reminisce over past conferences and nostalgically reminding the person sitting opposite that they aren’t like they use to be; pr at the reception where you think there’s going to be something to eat only to find a few nibbles and a cheap white wine, resulting in a desperate attempt to find someone who didn’t eat before they came to the reception so you have a companion for dinner; or at the organised social event, where you turn up to find everyone else has gone off to FAULTY or something like that and there’s just you and that guy who has an ego the size of the Blackpool Tower who you have been avoiding all conference, and now he has you cornered….

Conferences are more than the sum of the presentations, the networking and social side can turn a conference from an interesting experience to an event to remember.

This November, JISC will be running another of their excellent conferences (and yes once more I am the conference blogger) and unlike other conferences this one is online.

So isn’t all this social and networking all lost with an online conference, I hear you cry!

Well in a way, yes! And in a way, no!

As you might expect the social side of an online conference is different from a face to face conference. But it is still there, and it is still possible to socialise and network. At previous JISC Online Conferences we have had a virtual conference dinner in Second Life, there have been lots of discussions over coffee in the social cafe area of the conference and the instant messaging component ensures that networking not only can happen, but does happen.

Just because a conference is online doesn’t automatically mean that it will be an individual isolationary affair. On the contrary it can as a social experience as you want it to be.

If you are a researcher, institutional manager or practitioner involved in technology-enhanced learning and teaching, Innovating e-Learning 2010 will be of interest to you. Delegates from further and higher education and from overseas are welcome. Proceedings take place in an asynchronous virtual environment which can be accessed wherever and whenever is convenient to you.

Find out more about the JISC Innovating e-Learning 2010 Online Conference.

5 thoughts on “Social awkwardness”

  1. As an aside, and somewhat oddly, I have found that the JISC Online Conference is in some ways more closed than f2f conferences because the closed forums take away some of the discussion that would normally happen on Twitter.

    Also, at many f2f conferences you pay to be there in person but all the talks are often free on the web. So, effectively, the f2f delegates subsidise the virtual delegates. With this conference, virtual delegates get nothing unless they pay for it.

    I understand the need for sustainability of online conferences but I’m not convinced that this particular conference has found the right model yet.

    Sorry… nothing to do with social awkwardness.

  2. Actually I’d disagree – I think the issue of virtual delegates not paying for predominantly f2f conferences is where changes could be considered, since they are getting something for nothing, including accesss to the thoughts of the delegates as well as the presenters. Perhaps f2f-with-an-online component should adopt a model more like the JISC online conference, where there is a smaller payment, and contributions are encouraged more.

    I don’t find the communication that goes on through twitter is anywhere near as thoughtful, or as social, as those that take place in the fora in the JISCel conference. They can be reduced to simply tweckling, or brief asides. The social aspects of the conference that SL affords are an opportunity to get to know people (or their avatar aspects), I’m not sure about a conference dinner, but Steve W’s fashion show was a great mixer, better than some f2f dinners I’ve been to.

    One thing that has improved the JISC online conferences is the interface, last time it was much easier to track new posts in the debates you were following, and navigate between topics. The advice too (which I’d worked out for myself the previous year, but is really helpful) that you don’t try to keep up with everything, but focus on the amount of debates that you can keep up with in a full way, really made it feel more intimate and inclusive too – the equivalent of sitting in for a whole session rather than dipping in and out of presentations if it were an f2f conference. The advice also to bl;ock out the time in your schedule, so that you can properly attend, also made a difference to my experiencing it as a conference, rather than just a set of bulletin boards.

  3. It is a really interesting problem. I’m not the most social person in the world. Anyone who knows me well knows i hate talking on the phone, am absolutely useless at small talk and talking at all to people i don’t know, and that I am much happier and generally more lucid in virtual exchanges via twitter etc. etc.

    I do think I would draw the line at attending an online dinner though, particularly as I know I would spill something all over my keyboard 😉 Yes, I totally agree that online engagement around events should be social as well as work-based (which is why you will often find me talking about ducks to people like Dave Pattern at UKSG), but I’m not sure it makes sense to try and artificially create a social event or a social space in the virtual space. Sure, provide the tools but perhaps not artificially create society.

    That brings me to my next point and it does relate to what Andy says. When you ask people to use tools in a virtual conference that they are not familiar with, it can create social awkwardness. It also takes people out of their ‘normal’ online social spaces such as twitter, where they have already established a social pattern with ‘friends’, and puts them in a new environment where those relationships don’t exist and have to be reforged, This must cut in to time that could be spent in more directed conversation. Dare I also throw the word ‘clique’ in? 🙂

    I’d argue that even with a virtual conference you still need a separate back channel or amplification that is more open – I’m pleased to see the JISC online conference is still promoting a twitter tag and will make some stuff available on elluminate. Just as non-attendees at a f2f need amplification because they aren’t physically there, no attendees at a closed virtual environment need the same amplification.

    Do you do anything to encourage local f2f meet-ups for online participants of the conference? Even if its just come hangout and Starbucks in Birmingham for session x if you are close and we can talk about it afterwards?

  4. Should f2f events offer a “donate” option for virtual delegates (who may get a lot out of following keynotes and tweets, and may be happy to chip in a fiver or so)?

    Or maybe live streaming offered for a small fee, with a recording following a day later for free?

    Just thoughts.

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