Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 12 seconds

Hugs, Handshakes & Heartache #altc & @vconnecting

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 12 seconds

I was in Manchester around 48 hours. But boy, were they packed. I’ve been struggling to write about this emotional, exhilarating experience that fits right into the middle of a line between professional & social.


On the plane while my daughter napped, I wrote a dissertation-length dear diary version of this post that no one probably wants to read, so here is the lite version of it ๐Ÿ™‚ it’s still long ๐Ÿ™‚

Here is the playlist of all the virtually connecting hangouts btw: and all the livestreamed sessions from #altc are here.

I didn’t need the validation of meeting people f2f to know they were real friends. But it was still special and surreal and those hugs n handshakes were worth it. And seeing people’s eyes up close ๐Ÿ™‚

In our virtually connecting hangout I talked about how Rebecca wasn’t my “virtual” buddy. Just my buddy. It was surreal sitting beside her, touching, seeing her in profile, having to whisper to her because I couldn’t backchannel message her while in the room talking to people. I also almost knocked her overย  a couple times walking beside her, we laughed a lot, we cried a little, and we suffered thru a sainsbury’s self-check-out-gone-wrong together. Oh and had a couple of meals together. Let’s not ask that question “how many academics and hours does it take to agree on a restaurant for dinner that uas gluten-free, vegetarian options but still serves good meat and can accommodate a child?” (answer 4 of us on Facebook messenger for about 2 hours)

I loved how people who came to connect w me (in person like Suzan and Frances; and via virtually connecting) also connected w each other

I love how my daughter turned out to be a buffer and enricher of social interaction rather than the disruptor I expected. Everyone was super sweet to her and she fell in love with them all. After the day she spent w her dad while we were at the conference, she told me about her day, then said she wanted to tell Sarah and Rebecca and Ashley about it. She gave Rebecca Eskimo kisses and held her hand when we walked to dinner. She cuddled with Sarah throughout the actual dinner. She let Suzan carry her around the restaurant while we hungout. She sat and chatted on Frances’ lap. She calleddl Ash-u-ley across the room and left me to go play with her while we were on a hangout. And she showed Martin Weller her new my little pony.I loved sharing some of the moments onsite with others virtually. These are exactly the moments i was missing out on as a virtual participant and I was happy to share.


I loved the hugs. Probably over did it, but hey, how often can I get em? Apparently I was giving too many handshakes to the men. I was actually trying to avoid getting hugged but wanting to connect physically in some way and I think I shook Martin Weller’s hand 5 times or something!


People who are supersweet online are supersweet in person. This shouldn’t be surprising, but I still didn’t imagine the humility and warmth and friendliness and kindness that people like Martin Weller, Catherine Cronin and Jonathan Worth had. I just thought they would be less approachable, more distant. Instead, when I raised my hand at the end of Jonathan’s keynote to ask a question (well no one else had questions – I waited then raised my hand) – Jonathan said “Maha Bali is in the house” (big ego boost for me) Apparently someone took a photo of me asking the q and tweeted it which is so cute ๐Ÿ™‚ oh (Teresa and Alan tweeted it).


But also, after the keynote people realized where I was sitting so lots of em came to say hi. Here I thought Catherine would be less approachable and she was approaching me!


Our vconnecting sessions somehow had more purpose than usual. After Jonathan’s keynote when were going to do a virtually connecting session, he came to us, ready to roll. It was a beautiful discussion of so many angles and depths. We decided near the end to contact Cory Doctorow to think of how to introduce younger kids to digital literacy and issues of privacy, etc.
(photo below btw almost turned out to be a Jonathan Worth selfie but we figured it might be easier for a 5th person to take our photo – also, apparently ppl don’t normally interrupt keynote speakers to ask for photos. Go figure. They didn’t seem to mind, though. Note to self: u look bigger when ur closer to the camera).


Martin Hawksey was so kind before the event and during, as were other ALT organizers. Retweeting our virtually connecting tweets, inviting us to wirte a newsletter about vc, and coming to say hi to me during the conference … And thanks Martin for letting me know Jeans and sneakers were ok! So I came in them!


Martin Weller was so so so kind and friendly. He approached us when it was time to connect and was patient during the wifi tech glitches. After a lovely session where we talked about personality and conference rates, he asked us about virtually connecting. He asked if it was a startup business and we said no – all volunteers ๐Ÿ™‚ He asked if we were doing open-ed and voila! Ash is going and volunteered to be onsite buddy for that! Ash, btw, was that soldier behind the scenes helping out a lot but almost never appearing on the recorded sessions


We had a women-heavy hangout after lunch w Catherine Cronin, Laura Czerniewicz (who stayed throughout) and Sue Beckingham and Teresa MacKinnon (who had to leave to go to their own sessions). The hangout was a really deep conversation about inequality in edu (the topic of Laura’s keynote the next day). Laura and I had been wanting to do a project or research together for some time and maybe this topic is it! It fits well with what we do withย edcontexts.orgย too

We had a great presentation about #rhizo14 and it was interesting how most of the audience questions came from ppl we knew already!


Slightly funny throughout the entire event/trip was how we 4 (Rebecca Ash Sarah and I) were private messaging each other eg while in our hotel rooms or during sessions. Because apparently we are so wired that being in the same room wasn’t enough haha


The heartache came just before the conference when Sarah took issue with virtually connecting. It does detract from the onsite experience in some ways. So I was even more aware of it than I already was, and also trying (probably not succeeding) not to be defensive about the value of vc. We talked it over and I feel we managed to spend a good amount of quality time together despite it, but that it is definitely something to be careful of in future. But I also felt the vc sessions helped me spend time with others who wanted to meet with me, it helped actually schedule that time and it also helped me share that time with others virtually rather than just enjoy it for myself. I actually wanted more private time with my closer friends like Rebecca Ash and Sarah, and I got that. But I was perfectly happy to share much of my other time with keynote speakers and such. Three vc sessions in one day is a bit much (and I now truly appreciate Rebecca’s work w et4buddy and also anyone who has been an onsite buddy – I know they worked even harder because they had to approach people whereas I had it all planned out and people easily approached me coz my headscarf stood out in the crowd). So I think in future: one hangout per onsite buddy per day max. If there are multiple buddies, maybe they can do more if they like, divide them amongst themselves. And for less involved events, one hangout per event is fine. But vconnecting is clearly making a difference to people virtually (see Simon’s and Wendy’s posts on that, first team members located in France and Australia respectively) – and the team process, community building that goes on before, during and after is awesomem

The other heartache is in leaving. But of course we aren’t leaving each other. We are still connected. A small heartache is that so many of the people I love are going to #dlrn. We have grand mutli-buddy vc plans for that one. So I hope that will give me opportunities to see everyone. And others like me who can’t go. But now I know how awesome it can be to be together physically, I will be yearning ๐Ÿ™‚ for that social/professional third place.


(thanks to Mac Toot for the custom cartoon and Andrew Middleton for tweeting out the photo – er do u two know each other?)

[The real heartache, though, was at the airport on our way out. I managed to get thru security without getting molested (last time I was at Manchester airport the lady put her hands inside my underwear while checking me over! I should have reported her) – but my girl’s milk got confiscated ๐Ÿ™ and a little ball that had liquid in it. Her dad had just got it for her the day before. It was awful. I knew the milk was likely to happen (she’s picky about her milk) but the ball was just totally avoidable if I had put it in my luggage. Oh well!]

Oh well, moving on – virtually connecting is taking a bold new step as Rebecca ventures into a non-edctech conference for engaged patients at QUB – schedule here! Today and tomorrow.

I’m gonna end this post with our last selfie that Rebecca used in her post


16 thoughts on “Hugs, Handshakes & Heartache #altc & @vconnecting

  1. Maha, I still sense a bit of tension, even within the rhizo community, between virtual and actual connections. We are still working this out, I think, and at least for me, the rules, the affordances, and the traps are not so clear, but I have great faith that they will become clear. You and Rebecca have started a marvelous program that I intend to emulate or use in an upcoming humanities conference (Jan, 2016), so I will need your guidance. We will speak of this later.

    In the meantime, I’m pleased that we can still find time for and can revel in the joys of both actual and virtual connections without forcing them into an either/or choice. We can have both, and as you say so well here, it makes the entire experience so much richer. Well done, and thanks for the insight.

  2. Maha, it’s been a while since we have been in touch…although I have been following along with the Virtual Connecting (group? movement? not sure how to best word it…) that you and others have been working on. I am a big fan of it…what a great idea.

    I saw your comment about Ash being an onsite buddy for the opened conference – do you mean the one coming up in November in Vancouver? I’m planning on attending that one too, and would love to work with Ash as onsite buddies…let me know!

    1. That’s awesome Jennifer – both That u r a fan (who knew?) and that ur willing to partner w Ash as onsite buddy for open-ed! Will tweet u the link to join us (we then add u to a slack group where we do the pre-planning and coaching for buddies)

  3. What a super lovely and heartfelt post Maha ๐Ÿ™‚ I really enjoyed reading this.

    I had so hoped to catch you to meet you in person at ALT-c but alas with all the running around between rooms sadly I didn’t manage to … Next time for sure ! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hiya, I am sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet – inshallah next time ๐Ÿ™‚ meanwhile – the virtual chariot awaits ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Mahe, love the post and the pictures.Reading about the characteristics of systematic and empathetic personalities in an interface design course online and it seems really natural that you and Rebecca, being empathetic techies would venture into something so valuable for others. Making the distance personal by BEING personal–what an insight!

  6. You and Rebecca are to be congratulated on such an excellent initiative! What with live streaming of keynotes and vconnecting I’ve been able to keep up with altc just about as much as I want. There are probably many more people who could benefit and given current cost and other disincentives for international travel to conferences I think you’re providing an alternative with a very bright future.

    In the future many of the tech problems affecting virtual conferencing are likely to ease or even vanish. (Eg the delay between a live hangout and availability of the recording has all but vanished!) ย Currently audio quality can be poor at times (eg I missed most of your words of wisdom during one of the hangouts). I’m no expert but I suspect that this could be greatly improved by having individual (preferably wireless) headsets and mics for all participants?

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    1. Was great Laura. I know you have a wonderful event in South Africa same time as dlrn. Wish i could do vc w u and Audrey and Joyce n Tressie n my boss! Do u think we might manage a quick one?

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