Image via WikipediaOver the past few days, I attended two conferences, #opened09 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and #steconf at Harvard in the United States. The conferences overlapped in real time and were across the country from each other. I participated in both conferences. At the #opened09 conference in Vancouver, I was even invited to sign up as a "virtual attendee". You see, I did all this from the computer in my basement in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Since I couldn't hop a plane and attend either conference in person, I watched and learned from a distance.
The Open Education Conference in Vancouver was easier to participate in. It took place over 3 full days with many sessions each day. (There was a pre-conference event as well.) All sessions were online via live-streaming video. These sessions are now available at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1978748 if you missed them. Check out my earlier blog about more URLs for conference information. Two people who presented at the conference, Dave Cormier and Alan Levine of CogDogBlog fame, returned home and wrote blog posts about the conference. (What's Truly Amazing at CogDogBlog and Open Ed 09 - My Debutant's Ball by Dave Cormier). I watched and listened in on and tweeted about both of these sessions. I read many other people's tweets and read Ann Taylor's notes from many of the sessions as well. As I mentioned before, I was signed up as a virtual attendee of #opened09 (this was the hashtag for this conference on Twitter).
This morning I learned about another conference (see my earlier blog entry) being held at Harvard. This conference was called Social Technology in Education Conference (#steconf). I discovered (via two of those in attendance at the conference) that the conference was free for those in attendance. As I read the schedule and followed the tweets, I realized that everyone was in one large gym (with few plug-ins for all those laptops). All the sessions were about 30 minutes long with no time for question and answer. However, imagine 250 people, in one room, hearing the same information. I believe that there are some SlideShare presentations being made available from this conference. They ran out of time and resources for doing live-streaming video.
From both of these conferences, I learned a lot. Especially with the conference in Vancouver, I almost felt that I was there. Last year I vacationed in Vancouver and stayed in a hotel on Robson Street (this is very close to the conference venue). I drove around Stanley Park which is where the conference had a barbecue one evening. Through Twitter, I followed Alec Couros trip back to Regina. I understood his pain when he had so little room that he couldn't even open his laptop. When I read Dave Cormier's excellent blog post--his reflections on his experience at #opened09 and combined that with his tweet about writing lots on his plane trip back to Prince Edward Island, I imagine that that's when he wrote his blog post. (Hmm! Working on cloud computing stuff while really flying through the clouds.)
Back to the conference in Harvard. I've never been there. However, when many people tweeted the same quote from a speaker, I could imagine the quality of listening in that room. When a young man repeatedly tweeted that he wished he could attend the conference but had no ride, I was hoping someone had picked him up. People tweeted about lunch plans. They shared resources in their tweets.
I have decided that I was not a virtual attendee at these two conferences. I was a vicarious attendee. Because of the power of live streaming video and real-time tweets, I experienced those conferences through the personal sharing of those who were there. I lived the experiences through them.