Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The End of People Moving? Follow the Grad Students

An original article written for #hackacad

I'll be presenting in Montréal later this week, from the comfort of my Vancouver home, 3 500km away. It may seem like something out of a 1950s commercial for picture-phones, but as we all know, it's really not that complicated anymore. In this case, all I need is a webcam and an Internet connection.

As soon as I've finished this article, I'll don my dinner jacket and ascot, sit by the fire in a wingback chair and record a video of myself speaking with a fake British accent. I'll then post it online where my graduate student colleague in Montréal can access it and show it in a week's time at the conference. As he is co-leading the project with me, I trust he will have no trouble answering any questions the audience members may have about our work.

Distance travelled: 0km
Total Distance not travelled: ~7000km
Total cost: $0

The work I'll be discussing is a virtual network of scholars I helped establish this past year for graduate students looking to reach audiences beyond the academy. Every five months we put out an internal call for participation that asks members to draft an idea to submit to an editor. We then meet to offer encouragement and feedback on the drafts.

Please note that by “meet” I mean none of us leave the comfort of our homes. We leverage the power of a Google Group and email to bring together graduate students from 17 different Canadian institutions of higher learning. After our first call for participation, our members had a 75% publication success rate - far higher than the 10% return most new freelance writers can expect.

Distance travelled: 0km
Total distance not travelled: ~22 000km
Total cost: $0

On Monday, I have a meeting with colleagues in Ottawa, Edmonton, Toronto, Saskatoon and Tokyo. We've decided to forego the collective 17 000km it would take to bring us all together, and instead we'll be meeting via Skype.

Distance travelled: 0km
Total distance not travelled: ~ 39 000km
Total Cost: $0

It's a good thing we're getting used to Skype, because we're meeting to discuss a virtual workshop we're hosting in October that will bring together 20 graduate students from around the world. The event will be held online using Skype, Flickr, YouTube, Wordpress and email. Students who would never have otherwise had an opportunity to meet in person will be able to do so without having to leave town. We've never done anything like this before, so there's a bit of that will anyone come to my party feeling, but I'm happy to report that with several weeks to go until the deadline we've already received applications from over a dozen students in four countries on three continents.

Distance travelled: 0km
Total distance not travelled: ~ 95 000km
Total cost: $400 (we're issuing headsets to all participants to ensure our cross-continental workshop has good sound quality).

The idea for the workshop came from a Canadian virtual reading group that graduate students have been running of their own initiative since September. Students from across Canada meet once a month - you should be catching on to the meeting venues by now - to critique dissertation chapters and draft articles. The tools of their trade are Skype, email and Google Groups. With them, these students have developed a long-lasting collegial rapport with one another, which no one-time event could achieve.

Distance travelled: 0km
Total distance not travelled: ~ 145 000km
Total cost: $400

The Canadian Historical Association's (CHA) annual meeting is being held next week in Montréal. This is the biggest annual historical conference in Canada with thousands of people attending to witness approximately 400 scholars present papers.

I've been trying to find an interested graduate student who plans to attend the conference, and who could audio record presentations that would then appear online. This would allow people who were unable to travel to Montréal to access the information that was shared at the conference. Unfortunately, so far every response I've received is, “sorry, I'm only going to my own session and then going home.”

Distance travelled: ~1000km / participant * 1000 = 1 000 000km?
Total distance not travelled: ~ 145 000km
Total cost: $Millions

Maybe it's time we followed the lead of these graduate student initiatives and started moving information, not people.

Adam Crymble lives in Vancouver where he works for a national network of researchers. His boss lives 3 368 km away.


Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

“Sorry, I'm only going to my own session and then going home.”

Doesn't this represent a pretty selfish attitude? Is there a legitimate reason someone might say this?

Sounds like the online people you're in touch with are much more collegial-- or perhaps that's your point.

Adam Crymble said...

The message I got from that comment was that students were going to the conference because the academy expects them to expand their C.V. by such activities, but that the students themselves did not feel it was anything more than an obligatory hoop to be jumped through.

Adam Crymble said...

It looks like this idea is gathering steam. @reyjunco has proposed a panel on #hackacad at an upcoming conference and @meg_stewart as well as @ernestopriego have suggested they would be interested if they could participate remotely.

I had the same thought.

Anonymous said...

The concerning thoughts would bring around all those possible objects and details for the students for which they must needed to understand in detail. how to use apostrophes with names