Open University UK Online Conference 2010

Being fans of Weller, Conole, Buckingham-Shum et al I was looking forward with anticipation to this year’s Open University UK conference at that was fully online and open to all for the first time. Impressively there was no charge to participate, even for non-OU people. Martin Weller did a great job in organising and structured the 2 days in 4 sessions each with the same easy-to-remember structure:

  • 3 OU speakers over 1 hour
  • discussion period(s) of about 45 minutes
  • external speaker for up to 1.25 hours

All sessions were live and interactive using Elluminate who were also a sponsor. Not only did we have the text chat backchannel going continuously but via Elluminate we had the opportunity to ask questions via the mic. Another huge benefit of Elluminate is the recording feature which allows the sessions plus all the interactions to be played back using Elluminate at a later time. Twitter was used heavily as usual and the tweet stream can be followed by the hashtag #ouconf10.

The other main online tool was the OU’s own Cloudworks which housed the pre-conference information, in-conference schedule, comments and resources, and post-conference feedback and supplementary information.

For us in Australia the timing was near perfect with the early session being from 18:30 to 21:30 our time and 22:30 to 01:30 for the late session. We could arrive home from work, eat and then join in during the evening and early part of the night.

This post comments on the novel conference structure and conduct and is not intended to cover the conference content, the session themes of open content, open learning, open teaching and open access speak for themselves. Doug Clow did a great job in liveblogging the conference and has excellent summaries and links on his blog posts. As usual the content relevant to me varied with my favourite being the first session, and of course George Siemens and Jimmy Wales.

We had the usual post-conference questionnaire concentrating on the new conference structure as well as content. The last question asked us for three words to describe the conference, mine were informative, impressive and novel. The tagcloud looks like:

27-06-2010 SNAG-00


Despite a few hiccups in timing and an odd missing speaker the new open, online conference structure was very good. I will certainly be willing to devote the 10 hours or so I was able to be present live.

However, I have to admit that sleep overcame me just before Jimmy Wales spoke but I was able to enjoy his excellent contribution in full from the recording. Also sitting at home it is very tempting to do the odd spot of work while watching the speakers – I am even guilty of that using a netbook with wi-fi at a ‘real’ face-to-face conference. My only negative comment concerns the bad quality of some speaker’s audio caused I suspect from using cheap analogue mics. A minimum requirement for every presenter must be a headset with mic connected via USB. Conference participants might be reminded of this if they hope to ask questions with a mic.

Overall though this was an excellent conference and should be the example for all online conferences into the future. This is the way forward for all academic conferences, I believe. The online social media tools we now have available should allow us to do the human-to-human networking that traditional conferences claim to provide.


About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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