Eventedness

I was recently reminded of the importance of eventedness when it comes to events and has similar implications in the delivery of teaching both in-person and online.

One of my favourite presentations from the EdTech space is this one by that Dave White at ALT-C 2010.

Dave with his extensive experience with TALL at the University of Oxford certainly well qualified to understand the benefits and limitations of online delivery. However he discussed during his talk the importance of the social benefit that physical lectures provide for a community of learners. This is though not impossible to recreate online, is very challenging. Dave demonstrated through his delivery and content that the lecture in itself can be a useful way to stimulate discussion and debate.

Here we are twelve years later and much of what he spoke about resonates today with experiences across the pandemic. We know that with the emergency switch to online, that we lost the lecture and replaced it with online zoom calls. Many felt that this was a poor substitute for the in-person experience, and they were right.

David’s talk followed a keynote by Donald Clark who had opened the conference with his keynote, and riled people and annoyed them with a blanket attack on the lecture. What Donald Clark did was to challenge our perception of the lecture, and it appeared to me that the over-whelming consensus of the audience was that the lecture still had some place in the delivery of education. This was reinforced for me by Dave White who gave a wonderful (unplanned) response to Donald’s lecture, with an invited talk on the eventedness and social impact of coming together to learn.

The phrase “eventedness” has stayed with me since that talk back in 2010.

This was something that came back to me when I attended WonkHE’s The Secret Life of Students. In London. This was a real in-person event in central London. I have not done one of those for a while.

I think my last in-person (external) event was back in early 2020.

There was some great content in the event, I liked the use of different formats across the sessions. Mark Leach’s interview with Nicola Dandrige of the OfS was a highlight for me. I also liked the mix of panel sessions and keynote presentations.

There was something else though, in sharing these experiences with others. With the laughter at Mark’s humour, the weirdness of the B3 Bear, the in-person interactions with strangers. This was something I hadn’t really engaged with online events during the pandemic.

I really enjoyed the WonkHE event, it was nice to experience the eventedness of an in-person event. Something I have found missing from online events. I think part of the reason is that most online events I have attended during the pandemic have been poor translations of physical in-person events Losing all the nuances of what makes those events so engaging and not taking advantage of the affordances that digital platforms can provide.

I liked the interview format, something I don’t think we see enough of in both in-person and online conferences. The only thing missing for me was more audience interaction and discussion.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Next slide please!

Too often in online events I have seen people talking to Powerpoint slides, often this turns into a monologue. Having done presentations myself online, I have recently tried to avoid using slides and spend the time talking to camera. I also make an effort to up my game, or Partridge’ise my presentation, recognising that presenting online can flatten the performance somewhat.

I have also found online that few people take advantage of the chat function, actually I have also noticed that few people take advantage of the Twitter when attending online events. You almost get the feeling that the event is on in the background and delegates are working on their e-mails. Having that focus of the physical in-person event was useful for me and though tempted I did avoid doing “work” whilst engaged with the sessions.

Back in the 2000s I attended and participated in many online conferences and the technical limitations meant we couldn’t do live streaming. As a result we made use of recorded video, audio, and textual discussions. Once the bandwidth allowed live streaming, it was interesting to see that the engagement with the conference declined.

I do think you can have eventedness with online events, but it takes work and effort and thinking differently about how you will create that for the event. Similarly you can see similar thinking needs to happen with online teaching and learning. There is more to teaching than presenting.

Should note though that the coffee was awful at the in-person event, so much so I had to pop out for a real coffee.

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