The sold-out Symposium on Scholarly Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Practice in November proved to be an excellent opportunity to experiment with alternative attendance options, bringing remote participants into the conversation by remotely-piggybacking a physical attendee.

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At the Symposium on Scholarly Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Practice this past November, demand quickly outpaced availability and the event sold out quickly. The conference organizers were happy about this, but concerned about the growing waitlist of people wanting to attend. Rather than leaving them behind, the organizers found a way to bring the conference to them.

“We’re in the business of intentional designed use of technology to support learning,” shared Tracy Kelly, Manager, Professional Learning at BCcampus. “As technology invites faculty to reflect on their practice, this experiment gave us the invitation to reflect on the participant experience of events and consider ways to make it better.”

The organisers put out a call for volunteers, provided a brief overview of what was expected, and connected the in-person attendees with their online buddy. The initial plan was that remote attendees would join in the discussions selected by their in-person counterpart, but in some cases the f2f attendee allowed the remote colleague to choose the session. This collaborative approach allowed both parties to get the information they were looking for from the session, as well as benefit from the networking opportunities of their respective connections.

“We are extremely grateful to have had such fantastic volunteers for the tech buddy program – both online and face to face,” said Tracy. “They were generous, involved, and creative. They took ownership of their buddy partnership and made it work despite some epic technology challenges.”

There are substantial benefits to attending a conference online through the tech buddies platform. There’s no need for travel nor accommodation expenses, as online attendees can participate from wherever they have a reliable internet connection. And by participating firsthand, faculty can achieve a better understanding as to what the experience is like for remote learners, using this knowledge to improve their online delivery.

“As we move forward, we’re trying to make the online experience equal – if not better – than being there,” said Leva Lee, Manager, Professional Learning at BCcampus. “There are logistical challenges to overcome, but the potential to create a mutually beneficial experience is intriguing.”

Technology-wise, Skype is free and has become a dependable resource, but the tech-buddies can decide as to which platform works best for their particular situation. Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and Cisco WebEx can all be used to bring online participants into the conversation.

Feedback on the practice was overall positive, despite some technical challenges that forced the tech buddies to find other ways to stay connected. An issue with the in-house wireless setup gave the f2f buddies an opportunity to find other ways to stay connected with their remote partner. Some used commercial resources, such as ShawOpen or tethering their device to their cell phone, and others connected via EduRoam.

The tech buddies concept is iterative, and the conference organizers are looking for ways to ensure each event builds on the success of previous experiments. Availability of power outlets, wi-fi options, wearable cameras, and physical identifiers for on-site tech buddies are all being considered for future events, with the goal of improving the experience for everyone.

Notable Quotes

“BCcampus is committed to enabling access to our events, and we plan to incorporate the thoughtful and insightful feedback offered by the participants to make improvements and guide future tech buddy experiments. We see value in facilitating a dialogue and learning on this topic, as many of our colleagues in the post-secondary system have the same need and challenge of wanting to support authentic and engaging participation from people who are separated by distance.” ~ Tracy Kelly, Manager, Professional Learning at BCcampus

“I had a great tech buddy. When I couldn’t hear or see, he and I exchanged messages back and forth on Skype. He was very good at asking questions on my behalf of presenters.” ~ online attendee participant

“I love the fact that I was “with someone”. [My Tech Buddy] introduced me to folks she knew (an added bonus) and I asked [my tech buddy] to say hi to folks I knew (so [she] met new people too).” ~ online attendee participant

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