I am on my way to the American Educational Research Association meeting in San Francisco. This is one area that even the best of current technologies cannot compete with. Despite the best of technology an online conference experience is still far removed from the real deal. In a way its like the idea of a pilgrimage. We need the physical distance and separation to create enough space in our goal system to allow full engagement with the conference. For online conferences to be as successful there is a need to simulate among others that separation.
Figuring this out is not a minor concern, as research and information become globalized we have to travel great distances to present and hear. This limits our ability to interact effectively, engage scholars from less affluent communities and to do so with lower impact on the environment. This important for professional development as well.
I often participate in webinars, hangouts and other digital formats and the expereinec for me is not even close. Mostly I am in my hometown, my office or home and all the daily distractions and goals are still ever present taking away from my engagement and making the experience less satisfactory.
So what can be done, well perhaps the key is creating a blended experience. First scholars and professionals in each of the locations need to be both consumers and producers of presentations. Participants are sequestered during the day in a separate location with peers say a hotel with meeting rooms. Each location can have a moderator and a tech staff making sure that tech problems do not become an obstacle to a good experience. Online informal meeting rooms can be set up for chats. Social can be used just as it is in F2F conferences to help direct traffic and enhance the participant experience.
This version of a virtual conference is considerably less cost effective than a series of webinars or Google plus hangouts- but it would be far more engaging and deeply interactive.
Until then I will enjoy San Francisco seeing old friends and my overpriced hotel room.