OLC Innovate: Student Voice & the Virtual Experience

OLC Innovate
 is debuting in several weeks (April 20 – April 22, 2016) in New Orleans.  As a member of the steering committee, I am both excited and nervous to see how things unfold.  Several days ago, Maha Bali asked me to participate in a special “fishbowl”  Virtually Connecting session on Thursday (April 21) at 11:15, designed to demonstrate how VC works for conference goers who are unfamiliar with this digital community. Maha is a friend and she knows my introverted ways, so she was kind enough to give me time to process my role in the fishbowl, which is “the main person talking about ‘What’s innovative about OLC Innovate?‘”

That’s a great question.

As I’ve written in a previous post, OLC Innovate is focused on exploring new ideas, providing unique opportunities, and challenging traditional assumptions and practices in the educational technology fields.  The PlugIn digital conference experience  offers just one example.  We are using elements of digital participatory culture to deliberately challenge “business-as-usual” approaches to conference communication and networking.


The first thing that I did as committee-member-in-charge of the virtual experience was to change the name from “virtual” to “digital”  (at least on everything over which I have control).  The second thing I did was make a conscious decision to maintain my student lens throughout the process.  I took this approach because I believe conferences would be completely different (and probably better) experiences if students were in charge. 

Ed tech conferences can be difficult spaces for students, particularly those who are traveling without mentors.  Students at conferences can be just as “virtual” as “virtual” attendees in the sense that they have not quite arrived; they do not have the degree or the established career, or the published articles, or the years of conference presentations, or the longstanding relationships.  As a student I attended ed tech conferences alone and could spend days walking through crowded conference halls without saying a word to anyone.  It was as if I wasn’t physically there.

When I registered for #ET4Online last year, I thought my time had finally come: Everyone I ever wanted to meet in ed tech was on the schedule, and my dissertation advisor was coming with me. He had the degrees and the blog posts and the conference presentations and the relationships to get “in” on the conversation, and I knew that he would take me with him. However, he got sick and had to stay home,  and I thought, “Oh no, it’s going to happen again.”  #ET4Online was no different from the other conferences – people still looked at my nametag instead of my face and would walk off when I was mid-sentence when they didn’t recognize me.  However, this time I found another way “in.” Bonnie Stewart writes that traditional academic indicators aren’t as important in digital spaces as they are in academic hallways, so I took to the #ET4Online backchannels like it was a paid position.  I introduced myself to presenters and asked if I could live tweet their sessions.  I included their slides.  I referenced their articles.

At #ET4Online I made myself useful and in doing so found my voice, and people noticed. My approach to designing the #OLCInnovate digital experience is born out of my #ET4Online experience, an event in which my student identity and virtual identity were inextricably intertwined.  The virtual space surrounding the conference was just free enough to enable a little designed serendipity to unfold.

The idea of the PlugIn experience is to leverage the affordances of digital participatory culture to provide students and virtual attendees with unprecedented opportunities to interact in meaningful ways with each other and other conference participants.  By designing the space, are we sucking the freedom and the serendipity right out of it?  I don’t think so – virtual space is so big that I don’t think it’s possible to lock it all down.

  • We are aggregating social media backchannels in one digital space for easier access, communication, and trend watching;
  • We are expanding opportunities for integrated digital conference participation such as: crowdsourced session note-taking, digital makes during the keynote lightning talks, and prompts to engage in reflective learning through digital media within the innovation installation

  • We have designed digital networking sessions such as photo safaris and gaming sessions on that aim to be inclusive and relevant to all attendees – virtual and physical, first-timers and old friends.

The idea is to make sure that students (physical and “virtual”) have a voice.  As part of that, when Andrew Rikard contacted conference leadership to request an opportunity for students to network with each other, the PlugIn Lounge was proud to host the event.

Andrew (along with Kristen Eshleman) has developed a Student Voice Breakout Session on Friday  April 22, at 10:30 – 11:15 am in the PlugIn Lounge.  According to Andrew, the session “is designed to engage students in cross-institutional dialogue as a way to promote voice and agency, and establish a group of individuals who could collaborate to produce a series of digital public reflections (Blogs? Podcasts? Newspapers?) on the OLC experience.”

Any students interested in attending the Student Voice Breakout Session can RSVP through this Google Form although I’m sure they would be happy for you to drop in too.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura Pasquini says:

    I am SO lucky to be able to work with you, Laura! Thank you so much for your talent, creativity, and enthusiasm for our OLC Innovate 2016 planning. I cannot wait for #OLCInnovate … see you in NOLA soon! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maha Bali says:

    Looove this insight into how and why you’re doing what you’re doing! Looking forward to how it all pans out

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s