(No, this is not a post about the Apple keynote meltdown.)
When I started organizing live webcast events for the first time in 2006, they required extensive technical preparation, specialized software and hardware, and – most important – a group of really smart people gifted with more than a little bit of luck to pull off each event. Even as recently as 2011, I remember a time in Budapest when my young cameraman (one of a team of four) announced to me that his fancy P2 broadcast-quality camera could not connect to his equally-fancy webcasting software. I ended up hacking our MacBook Pro’s webcam, piloted remotely from another laptop using VNC… It was exciting to transform what had been a local, 19th Century-style lecture series into a series of global participatory learning events, but so much energy had to be expended on the technical issues that many people missed the point about the amazing affordances of technology to fundamentally transform how we teach and learn.
Participants in today’s blended learning event (a “15-Minute Global Health Practicum”) still experienced the technology mediation as interference. However, the blurry video and mediocre sound came from the crappy hotel wifi of our presenter, and nothing else. We were nevertheless able to focus on the substance (games for health) and the learning process (a 5-minute Ignite presentation). I spent little more time testing and checking the Google Hangouts than I did visiting the meeting room where we gathered for the event in Geneva. Hence my effort went into reimagining how to solve some of the learning problems, not the technical ones.
For future events, the lesson for me is that figuring out how much of a burden technology is likely to be (as it remains across the Digital Divide, for example) should really be a first diagnostic step when planning such events. Then you can determine where to focus your efforts.
Having said that, note to self: Crappy hotel wifi may be a rich people problem, but it really sucks. Sorry, Ben.