Autumm Caines recently wrote a lovely post on the Paradox of Inclusion relating to Virtually Connecting. The word “paradox” resonated with me on so many levels; I find that paradoxes abound when it comes to being inclusive in the small microcosm of my individual online courses – perhaps the topic for another post at another time.
What is Virtually Connecting (VC)?
Per their website, “The purpose of Virtually Connecting is to enliven virtual participation in academic conferences, widening access to a fuller conference experience for those who cannot be physically present at conferences. We are a community of volunteers and it is always free to participate.
Using emerging technologies, we connect onsite conference presenters and attendees with virtual participants in small groups. This allows virtual conference participants to meet and talk with conference presenters and attendees in what often feels like those great spontaneous hallway conversations, something not usually possible for a virtual experience.”
You can also read their manifesto to learn more or watch some of the recordings here. One that I highly recommend to get started is this one: Hallway Conversation: Inclusive Networked Learning.
In her post, Autumm discusses a research project where participants discussed ways that Virtually Connective is and is not inclusive, and ideas for moving forward in the future. One of the themes that came up was the idea of how intimidation can be one of the barriers to jumping in and participating.
The participants brought up many insightful examples of both inclusivity and barriers to inclusivity within the VC model. As someone who is on the cusp, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what draws me towards VC and what stands in the way of my participating more fully.
So far, I have lightly engaged with VC by watching some of the recorded sessions asynchronously, although one conference session I attended at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute last year did use Virtually Connecting. I haven’t participated directly in a live meeting.
The most welcoming aspect of VC as someone on the outside has been the approachability and friendly online personas of Maha, Rebecca and Autumm (follow them on Twitter!). I am not a gender theorist by any stretch of the imagination - and in some ways I hesitate to say this out loud - however, I do feel more comfortable with the idea of participating because they are women. I had no idea that was true until I sat down to write this post (!) so I’m just going to stop here and move on to the next point.
I have this perception that VC is a huge experiment, a great big “what if” that’s still in a pliable and tender state. It takes courage to put yourself out there and to try things that may or may not work, that aren’t fully fleshed out, and I like to support people who are doing so for all the right reasons. It feels unlimited and as if there is opportunity to shape the way things turn out. I appreciate that there isn’t a commercial aspect to the project, and that just by existing VC highlights some of the problematic features of the conference circuit/culture. To me, these are big things that draw me to the project and encourage participation.
Much to my surprise, Maha also directly invited me to participate in a live VC session a few (?) months ago via Twitter. I was booked up all day, and couldn’t join. All the same, though, the single direct invitation has opened up the idea that I might participate. It made a big difference for me and lowered the barrier of entry. The invitation felt welcoming and like a hand was extended to meet me halfway.
One barrier that I didn’t see mentioned in the discussions Autumm summarized was what I call the fire hose problem. As someone who is new, my first instinct is to watch from the sidelines for a while to see what the deal is. When I go to the VC site and scroll through the list of available recordings and conferences, it does feel a bit like drinking from a fire hose.
Since I am relatively new to the critical pedagogy scene, I don’t know many of the terms, I don’t know most of the big names, and I don’t really know much about what each conference covers or represents (not to mention the hashtags!). Where to start? It feels somewhat challenging to know where I fit in to all of this. Which topics would be of most interest to me? Which speakers might offer some insights that are relevant to my work? In which topics or sessions might I have something to contribute?
I like to maintain an open mind – certainly anyone at any point might say something that sparks interest or action. And at the same time, with so many options from which to choose I feel a bit swept away by the current. I have such limited time to watch (or participate in) continuing ed/personal development sessions that I really want to make sure I am making solid choices.
Of course, this is another paradoxical barrier. It doesn’t make sense to limit the number of conferences, conversations or participants. And it is my job to figure out which conferences are relevant to my work or to just jump in and see what I can see.
From here, I’m making a goal for myself to a) look for curated lists of VC recordings so that I can focus on a few that are relevant for me right now, and b) to reach out and participate in a live VC session over the next three months and possibly c) in the future, consider curating my own lists of VC sessions for those who are looking to jump on the train. I’ll keep you posted!