Most of my week was taken up presenting, hosting, and having a huge deal of fun at the Emerge project three day online conference, Digital Communities and Digital Identities. I lead on the programming for the event,& recruited many of the speakers, so it wasn't altogether surprising that I really enjoyed myself. The quality of the session content, speakers, and participant contributions exceeded even my high expectation though. I'm going to blitz through some of the sessions here, linking to resources on an ongoing basis (not everything is up yet) and inviting additional linkfo where people want to contribute them. Also, a quick reminder that following the ol Emerge tag convention, we went with jiscemerge0408. We used three primary environments: Elluminate (java based online conferencing software) for synchronous activities, Moodle (open source virtual learning environment) for asynchronous activity and conference co-ordination, and Second Life (multi-user virtual environment), for the conference social. We also used a host of other tools for specific tasks - twitter, wikis, media players, and the Emerge main site (a social networking platform), primarily for blogging.
You can see a visual record of the conference here. I tried to record as I went along, using screen shots of the presenters on cam. A very simple solution to creating a visual record of the online conference, but I can't say I've really seen it used at other online events.
What were my conference highlights? One of the big things that hit home for me at this conference was the definite sense of community belonging. Certainly, community members have a very diverse experience of and understanding of Emerge, and it's primarily (as Graham Attwell noted) a community of interest. Although the Emerge 'border policy' has been a semi-permeable and pragmatic one, our majority of our members are primarily associated with two funding rounds, designed to support innovation and user engagement in the UK post-compulsory education sector.
However, the more important understanding that really hit home for many of us at this particular conference is the appreciation of Emerge as a community of cultural and social practice. Graham Attwell and Stephen Warburton will doubtless add to this far more graciously shortly. For me, the conference really highlighted the business of serious fun and how conductive and essential providing an relaxed, comfortable environment where people were able to express themselves, take risks and reach out. Knowing that you are part of a community which is interested in your work, sympathetic and alert too the problems and contexts you operate in, and basically on your side, can operate as a critical safety net, fostering creative risk taking and collaboration. I'm not talking about blandly sycophantic agreement here either. Meaningful friendship involves critical engagement - people who care enough and are interested enough to say things that might be challenging. It's difficult to have and engage openly in critical conversation - but ignoring it and hoping it will go away is a childish, disrespectful strategy which will eventually bite you in the ass.
A fun illustration of this was the revival of Frances Bell's community beard meme, originally coming from a funny critical post on the the prevalence of beards in the community commenting on the gender imbalance of the visible community. Frances is an consummate expert in being a critical friend, and partly what I'd like to see actively cultivated in the community is an environment that allows constructive criticism to be given and received non-threateningly.
George Siemens delivered a great keynote on Technology and Community as Identity, and raised a lot of themes which continued to resonate throughout the three days. So hats off George - you're a great keynote speaker!
Brian Kelly's session on Developing a sustainable approach to the use of web 2.0 was a masterclass in service design and management, summing up where we currently are in terms of institutional, legal and ethical terms regarding using third party services to support learners in formal education.
The Emerge Bizarre launch (mp3 file)- that went out as a live radio show - was a triumph of content and production values, and includes some interviews with a couple of our projects. Great use of CC licensed music and a big kick to us to used multimedia more effectively in future.
The ARGOSI and HABITAT projects community slot - presented by D.H. Lawrence and two ladyz also wearing rather fetching beards - The User experience of Virtual Worlds was very interesting and exciting. I'm particularly in love with the ARGOSI project which seems to be inspired by 80's TV programme The Adventure Show (which I loved! Please send me a link someone!). I'll add more detail and links to this shout out shorty.
What Not to Rez - our fashion show social on Second Life was something that I really enjoyed too - you can check out the Flickr show link at the top of the post for pictures of me in my monster-truck proportioned frock.