Meeting the Potential of Hybridity: Access, Equity, and Inclusion
Workshop Session 2
Equity and inclusion cannot occur when virtual participants only have access to the Twitter stream. Explore effective ways to engage in hybrid conference attendance.
A language of access, equity, and inclusion is beginning to permeate professional development experiences for scholars/academics. Widening the range of perspectives in academic conversations is imperative to constructive critical dialogue.
Yet worrisome gaps remain in many of our professional meetings. Especially at educational technology conferences, we can see that technological access is uneven, and on its own, does not necessarily make our gatherings more inclusive or diverse. Physically attending conferences is often limited by prohibitive registration fees, especially when there is no discounted rate for unaffiliated scholars, students. International and distant attendees face additional logistic, financial, and social barriers in order to attend. In addition, some individuals are disadvantaged by factors such as physical disability, or manage responsibilities as primary caregivers for their family. The lack of daycare options may make it impossible for mothers of young kids to participate.
The alternative, virtual access, remains elusive because even if conferences livestream sessions, not everyone has stable and fast Internet infrastructure to view the stream. Few conferences have found ways of providing events for low bandwidth virtual partipants. While on-site participants can informally use tools such as Periscope or Meerkat to provide low-bandwidth alternatives to official live streaming, this measure only partially addresses the need. Even when access to streams is available, the experience for the remote participants is similar to sitting in the cheap seats at a sporting event since the live stream positions virtual attendees as peripheral to the event itself. These cheap seats do not provide virtual participants full access to the experiences at a conference because virtual participants do not have equal opportunities for participation.
While live tweeting and live streaming have dramatically increased virtual conference access, nonetheless true equity and inclusion cannot occur when virtual participants only have access to the Twitter stream and sessions are not designed to include virtual participants. In addition, conference planners regularly neglect to account for the logistics needed by remote presenters, leaving them dependent on the willingness and technical expertise of onsite co-presenters. Also, for presentation authorship, onsite participants are generally privileged with the first author listings, regardless of the role within the presentation team.
The co-presenters in this panel have been experimenting with alternate modes of hybrid participation to help overcome these barriers to conference equity. In our model, the onsite and virtual experiences of a conference merge into something more inclusive and equitable. The model involves using free technologies that work well at low-bandwidth and allow conversation to flow both ways, instead of a simple broadcast. The additional voices of those present via virtual access often help to challenge dominant discourses by providing richness and deeper understanding to discussions of research. Furthermore, virtual participants lack access to what is often the richest part of a conference experience-- the conversations that take place between sessions.
Since the 2015 Emerging Technologies of Online Learning (#et4online) conference, the authors have been pushing the boundaries of what it means to participate in conferences. Our collaborations have included participants who are physically present at the conference (onsite) and those who are attending the conference virtually. We have created an opportunity for virtual participants to have meaningful conversations with onsite participants, presenters, and keynote speakers, essentially creating a hybrid version of the hallway conversations.. While our initial endeavor was driven by a desire by virtual attendees to feel more connected, the result has been an enriched and more meaningful conference experience for all.
We have developed, and continue to refine, practices and approaches that integrate virtual presenters into conferences, and have created a movement that allows for thoughtful and engaging small group discussions relating to conference presentations - virtualizing "the right part" of the conference (Michael Berman, 2015). We have found a way to create a community and increase the social presence of virtual presenters and attendees.
This interactive hybrid workshop will both demonstrate and allow attendees (virtual and onsite) to participate in a hybrid experience. We will show short video clips of past sessions and collaboratively dissect their elements (with virtual and onsite participant input) in order to uncover some of the characteristics that can make hybrid conference participation meet its full potential in different contexts. We do not attempt to delineate unified best practices, but to discuss various models that work for different populations and purposes.
One part of our workshop will discuss an initiative we are all part of: Virtually Connecting (the evolution of #et4buddy piloted a year ago). We will share critical and positive feedback we have received from the perspectives of both virtual and onsite participants, for our attempts to enable more fully hybrid connections. And we hope participants during the session will contribute to the discussion, because even though we strive for inclusion, equity and access, we still have some way to go towards meeting those goals.