From tomorrow I’m ‘attending’ an 4-day online conference Innovating e-Learning 2008.  I’ll be blogging about the conference here and on my own blog.

I’m not sure about online conferences, this is the third one I’ve attended and I haven’t found them as useful as traditional face-to-face ones but I think this has been partly due to my approach as well as the format.  There are some clear advantages: you can attend from anywhere (subject to connectivity); for many of the sessions you can attend at anytime as they are based around asynchronous discussion; you can attend multiple sessions simultaneously and leave sessions whenever you like without being noticed!

Pre-Conference ReadingSo on the plus side, I’ve already listened to (part of) the conference welcome – an audio file.  These welcomes never keep my attention even face-to-face! I’ve browsed the list of attendees and said hello to a couple I know (via email).  The programme descriptions and much of their content -slides, papers, audio files have been available for two or three weeks so I’ve already decided what sessions I’d like to focus on and looked through some of the material (right).

Attending an online conference requires discipline and this is partly where I’ve fallen down before.  It’s very easy to get distracted by your day-to-day work so this time I’ll be spending some time attending from home rather than office.  When I’m in the office I’m going to block out specific times and maintain conversation / email / telephone silence.  But I will be online taking advantage of the conference backchannel and accessing related resources on the Internet.

At this stage I’m not convinced by the platform that the conference is using, it seems too resource driven – lots of folders and not enough social networking elements.  It took me an age to find the list of participants.  The last face-to-face conference I attended used Crowdvine which worked really well, the social networking elements put the focus on the delegates and allowed people to connect with each other.  However, to be fair it’s too early to be critical and I’m sure once discussions are under way then the online conference space will feel different.

Although it would reduce the ‘anytime’ aspect of the conference I feel there is a need for more varied types of sessions at these events.  I’d like to be involved in live discussions not just asynchronous ones and more activity-based sessions.  Although all sessions include a discussion board most kick off with powerpoint-style presentations.  The session that i have immediately been drawn involve either live action – a presentation via Elluminate, a live tour in Second Life or activities beyond watch these slides.

At the end of the day my biggest problem is that I just find it difficult to be strict with myself, it’s all too easy to get distracted or to flit between sessions without taking much in.  Hopefully I’ll fare better this time around…