ASSOCIATES (2011, November, v. 18, no. 2)

Feature

Library 2.011 Worldwide Virtual Conference

Julanna Hennessy
Library Technician
Reserve Bank of Australia
Sydney, NSW
julannahennessy@hotmail.com

An online conference about libraries and technology was held on the 3 and 4 November 2011. It was international, with sessions running live all day and night in order to cover all time zones. I think there was only a one hour slot without a session the whole time. And it was free! It was organised via the Library 2.0 site, http://www.library20.com/, and used Blackboard Collaborate software.

I took 2 days off work to get the most out of this. I have worked as a library technician in libraries for 27 years and take my staff development seriously. If a workplace isn’t supporting me I do whatever I can within my means to ensure my own development. This was free, all I had to cover was my leave. Very workable. I also adore playing with technology and this was a new thing to try out.

This report will not be about the sessions. They have all been recorded and are available online (http://www.library20.com/page/general-session-room-links) and I recommend everyone browse through the giant list and watch the sessions that interest you. Use the ‘Recording’ link on the right hand side, not ‘Link’ on the left. You will get the slides, audio and chat. If you save them you don’t get the whole set.

I am writing about the process, my experience using the technology and being a participant.

Setting up

My computer is fairly new, still powerful and I have broadband. The site has a section to test your set up and I had to update my Java to be able to attend. There was also online training on using the software for presenters. Blackboard Collaborate has a section to test your audio both for listening and speaking, although I didn’t end up using my microphone. Questions could be asked via the text chat area, and most people used that. The one time I tried to talk it didn’t work and the need for speed meant it was easier not to do problem solving at that time. I just went back to chat.

The site provided a list of time zones and clicking on yours meant you would get all the session time correct for your location. Very nice as I always have trouble working out conversions for time zones. Once the list of sessions was available there was the option to load it into your own Google Calendar so it’s best to read through the descriptions of the ones in my day/evenings and load the ones you want in to the calendar. I would include multiple sessions for each hour in case sessions disappeared, and at least one did, and eventually I went through all the sessions in my night times as well and put those I wanted in the calendar as a reminder.

So, on the 3rd I was up about 6.20am, not yet awake really, too late to start up for the 6am sessions but with lots of time to get coffee and awake and settled. I got the computer warmed up, read some news and was ready to go with coffee in hand. This computer has a large and wide screen, very handy for opening a document to take notes. I ended up with 7 pages of notes!

I logged into the first session about 6.40, even though it was way too late, just to make sure everything was working, and I’d finally had my first mouthful of coffee so I could feel my head finally starting to function. Mind you none of my passwords were working – my fingers hadn’t woken up yet. And my head wasn’t as awake as I though because I chose the forum link instead of the session link first go. That was only momentary confusion and par for the course when you attend a conference straight out of bed. Normally I would have been awake ages before the first session, breakfasted, showered and dressed, and travelled to the conference. Fully awake. In this case I was still in my pyjamas!

Participating

So, 7am and finally ready to start my first session. You need to log in to each new session and the Blackboard Collaborate opens a fresh Java session each time so you could end up with several open. To leave a session it was necessary to close the Java app. Each time a session closed a feedback survey would open. I found it easier to fill in the surveys quickly, they were nicely short, otherwise I would end up with multiple survey forms open.

The set up was straight forward, slides in bigger window on right, on the left at the top was a picture, or sometimes a video of the presenter, under that a list of presenters and people attending, and under that the chat area scrolling showing people coming and leaving the session and any comments made. The box for typing is at the very bottom. The process from the user’s end was clear enough although it took a couple of sessions for a couple of little things to make sense. Each session would have a map on the slide screen but it wasn’t until the 3rd session that I worked out how to mark where I was. It took four clicks! And there were two places to put smiley faces, one in the chat area and the other beside your name in the list of participants.

You were able to send private chat to individuals, as well as, use the public chat area. I used the private chat when someone I knew joined the session, and when a problem came up and the presenter didn’t seem to be seeing the chat area I’d try sending private chat to the presenter or moderator.

Some of the presenters came up with mini polls, would ask questions and there was drop down buttons for yes/no answers. They could then display the results on the screen for all of us to see.

And being a chatterbox I was in the chat area every chance I could get.

Problems

The odd thing was the lack of involvement by Australians and other countries in our time zones. There only ever seemed to be a few participants during my day hours. I would have thought the offer of free staff development would have been grabbed at by libraries everywhere, or like me, staff would take time off to do it. There could be a million reasons for this, no use speculating, though I do wonder about promotion in Australia.

The software mostly worked. Having said that – at times the sound was a problem during four or five sessions. I have no idea if it was Blackboard Collaborate or microphones or something else. Echoing, warbling, growling, volume changing, crackling and sometimes just disappearing. Usually the presenter had no idea. Sometimes we couldn’t get the presenters attention to get it fixed. There was usually a volunteer with each presenter helping out and sometimes they saw the problem and sometimes not. While I was watching Twitter I saw two people had trouble getting into the session and I don’t know if those problems were solved.

The other problem seemed to be with some of the presentations that were not created in a format native to Blackboard Collaborate. I could be wrong, not being a presenter, but from what I could pick up as a participant, if it was in an unfriendly format you had to use something called Application Share. The problem with that seemed to be enormous. The slides wouldn’t load quickly and would load in a very messy way often starting about a third from the top, loading to the bottom in uneven stripes and then back to the top to load the rest. If a presenter was going fast the loading would overlap. It was messy enough that I would call it a failure. I think, if anyone is presenting using Blackboard Collaborate, that they should use a format that is compatible. If you are using something you have presented before convert it ahead of time. I may have been looking at lots of presentations that used Application Share and they may have worked and the ones where it didn’t work may have been an anomaly. The one that totally failed was a video. It was the only session I didn’t like and had to leave early. The presenter tried to load it from another source, a web page, but that wouldn’t work either. The good thing was that it was on a web page so while I couldn’t see her whole presentation I could go to her page and watch it there. Thanks for the link!

Good stuff

It’s very nice being able to get up and walk around. My back doesn’t like me sitting for long periods and I’m not disturbing anyone. I keep my glasses on to see from a distance if anything comes up on the chat or if a slide changes but with the audio at a good level I would do other tasks, and as the computer lives in the dining room end of my kitchen/dining room, I can make tea and snacks whenever I felt like it (although it also inspires me to do housework at the same time, strange to find myself washing up in a conference).

I remember one of the emails that came through said 6000 people had signed up on Library 2.0 and there was some worry that the Blackboard Collaborate rooms would be too crowded. They can only take 700 people at a time (Only! And I was thinking this would be fun in Second Life (Second Life can only really cope with about 100 avatars on any one island and I suspect we wouldn’t be able to move because of the increased lag) but as it turned out the largest group was for one of the keynotes at 425. The smallest session I went to had 3 participants and the largest was just under 30. Not all of the 6000 came to the conference.

Playing the recordings later is quite nice, you get a progress bar at the bottom with vertical lines that show when the slides changed. It did feel a little frustrating by then not be able to comment/ask questions.

All the sessions were 1 hour, very neat. Some ended after half an hour and some went almost to the top of the hour, leaving very little time to organise between sessions. If there was a block without a session that interested me I’d rest or watch other sessions. Very nice as I was attending from very soon after waking all the way into the evening.

Conclusion

In some ways this is like all other conferences. Some better presenters, some not. Some who are very dynamic and invite lots of input and discussion and some who really only want it at the end. Some who do enough practice with the software and some who don’t, and some who are comfortable with public speaking …. etc.

I’ve done 14 hours in live conference, 4 hours so far in going through ones I missed, about 3 hours on this document. I’m glad I took the two days off and the weekend followed. I had conference head for some time after, couldn’t think properly, and kept wanting to come back to the site, talk to strangers about it, and the usual anti-climax. Going shopping seemed so ordinary, but probably helped bring me back down to earth.

I got a lot out of the conference, some new sites to explore, a stronger understanding of how changes in technology is affecting our industry and how our industry is rising to the occasion, and the fun of playing with technology I hadn’t used before. If anyone gets the chance to attend one of these in the future jump at it.

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