Learning from a Digital Un-Conference

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

This last Friday the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council met for a regular meeting, and after a solid morning’s work (sweat on everyone’s brow, of course), we thought we would experiment at lunch with an attempt to beam Ancient Historian Bill Caraher (his blog here) from the Levant/Cyprus (for context, Cyprus is approximately 140 miles from the coast of Syria) into our meeting room at the Ramada in Fargo, North Dakota (for context, Fargo, North Dakota is 140 miles from Bemidji, Minnesota), this to give a short talk on some modern archaeology of man camps in western North Dakota (stay with me here).

Of course, before any idea becomes a reality, experimentation has to happen (this is where I start to explain what went wrong). Remember: all those polished talks are the result of a lot of experimentation and planning. In our case, the talk was cut short due to lack of band-with. While I’m uncertain what the band-with strength was like in Cyprus, I can say that on the Fargo Ramada conference room end of things it was dodgy — at best.

So what happened was this: while trying to establish a gchat connection with Bill Caraher in Cyprus, I texted and instant messaged back and forth a bit. While gchat struggled to keep up with beaming the powerpoints from Cyprus to the Ramada in Fargo, I messaged Bill to explain how things looked on our end (this in contrast to how things looked on his end: note, this is a metaphor and reality for life). Here is an excerpt from the messaging:

Aaron to Bill:

Your audio cuts in and out. You sound like a droid. And the power points aren’t synching on our end. Other than that, everything is great.

So the next time around, here is what needs to happen, at least beyond abandoning this technology all together (we have to keep trying: technology is supposed to save us from ourselves someday, right?). Establish relationships with the IT people at conference room establishment. Get a secure internet connection with heavy band-with. Use that. Also, what we did right in this case was exactly what we did: we experimented with it in an informal setting (at lunch) to see how it would work. Bill is scheduled to appear real-time at the next board meeting. The council, no doubt, will have more questions and thoughts for him then. As they say in the digital humanities, to be continued…


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