Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Behind the Scenes of the Growth of @Vconnecting 

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August and September of 2015 were extra special times for Virtually Connecting. 

August 2015 was the first Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Wisconsin. It was the first event where we had multiple onsite buddies. More importantly it was the first event where we had multiple sessions that had NEITHER Rebecca nor me in them. When Virtually Connecting started out as et4buddy…it was all dependent on Rebecca onsite connecting me virtually to people. Inviting others virtually was a secondary consideration. It was a story of two friends. As we expanded, for a few months, both Rebecca and I stayed virtual in all sessions while the onsite person changed. Maybe once or twice Rebecca could not make a virtual session or I couldn’t. But always one of us. Until DigPedLab last year. Alan Levine did a session. Autumm Caines and Apostolos Koutropoulos did a session. Rebecca and I lovingly started to let go and open this up.

The second turning point was #ALTC in September. Where Rebecca and I met in person for the first time. Hugging her and being in her presence was one of the highlights of my year. Watching how my little girl responded to her (as if she already knew her, as if she were family, because they hung out so often) has touched me so deeply.

But I digress. #ALTC was superspecial because we met f2f. But extra superspecial because by being f2f, we had to fully trust others to handle the entire virtual side of VC. By that time we were using Slack and expanding our team. Slack helps a lot because not everyone is on Facebook (our initial mode of working) and we needed to organize conversations better.

Autumm Caines stepped up during #ALTC to manage the virtual side. She didn’t facilitate all the hangouts but she managed a way to organize things in ways Rebecca and I never would have naturally done coz…we just aren’t that good at that kind of thing. She was helped by virtual buddies at the time including Alan Levine, Simon Ensor and I Koseoglu. 

And it was takeoff from there. Because of Rebecca, Virtually Connecting happened in the first place. Because of Autumm, Virtually Connecting had enough structure to expand. Because of many people, Virtually Connecting continues to grow and thrive.

We would be nowhere if Michelle Pacansky-Brock and Jesse Stommel didn’t encourage the et4buddy experiment and endorse it as part of et4online. 

We would not have done anything beyond et4buddy without the staunch support of those who loved and encouraged it – especially Whitney Kilgore who insisted on expanding it and was the first onsite buddy after Rebecca.

Some people have supported us from day 1 – Michael Berman, Alan Levine, Bonnie Stewart – these 3 are among our advisory buddies now and each of them brings a different perspective and gives to VC in different ways. Alan is our all-round buddy (he participates virtually and onsite and with the tech and website and as an advisor all at once). Bonnie is the person who in reality doesn’t like being on a Google hangout much but appreciates what we do and is always thinking of different ways of making it work. Michael has given us support in many deep yet intangible ways that I cannot even express. 

It’s a beautiful team…an expanding community… We have people like Wendy Taleo who manages all the Australian connections which is so hard because so few of us live on that timezone… And Helen DeWaard who seems to me to make events work out of the blue with the effort of her enthusiasm (seriously). 

We have people who dive right in and don’t look back. I can’t even count the times Andrea Rehn has been an onsite buddy. I still can’t believe how fast people like Autumm and AK and Ken Bauer jumped into VC and just ran with it and became people we depend on.

And to think they said this thing had a unique Mahaness/Rebeccaness.. That two people different from us who didn’t have our special bond couldn’t do it. They were so so so so wrong. Rebecca provided the example of the generous person willing to reach out to people onsite and connect them to me, sure. I provided the example of someone virtual hungry to connect but willing and happy to share my meal 😉 but we aren’t the only people who can do it. And we are still learning how to do it better. From a wonderful team of people who care about connection and inclusion and carry that ethos deep down. And I learn from them every day.

You need to know that to make an event work, it sometimes takes hours and hours of working with organizers. It takes time (up to 2 hours and 2 or 3 people) to create a blogpost announcement with hangout links and feature image. It takes weeks to organize times to meet people onsite and figure out who will be onsite buddy and who can be virtual. It takes effort and constant Twitter checking and Google doc updating to invite people and create waiting lists. And in between all that Google goes and changes on us and then our team work together to find ways to modify our process and still work on this together. And in between we give each other support on other things. And we ask ourselves how we can do better.

This wasn’t an Oscar speech (although, come to think of it, where is our award? Nah. We’re gifted every day by knowing that what we do makes a difference to someone somewhere and we are gifted just by being together and having each other). This was a clarification. When I say we’re a team… I really mean it.

One Comment

  1. Great to have this background Maha, having met you for the first time at #altc I’m looking forward to being a first time on site buddy next week.

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