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The Digital Researcher 2012—Agency & Conference Participation


Agency in Virtual Conference Participation

When I told my husband this morning that I was all excited to follow the Digital Researcher 2012 conference by Vitae he asked:

But how do you get the conference experience then; of the middle aged man with the scruffy beard who corners you at the coffee and biscuit table to ask some pedantic silly question, while dropping crumbs down his shirt when all you really want is a spot of tea with milk?

I told him I would Google a picture of said stereotype—incidentally Google came up with a picture of Donald Trump—go figure!

Mr Trump was really not what I had in mind but Google had different ideas

Anyhow, throughout the day I popped into the conference (virtually), via Twitter, and followed the proceedings. While doing so—and admittedly missing out on the ‘real life experience’ along the coffee table—I came to realize that it was not always clear who of the participants was physically or virtually-only involved. This realization led to wondering about agency within a conference environment, and how the adding of a virtual dimension changes agency.

For instance one of the tweeters was rather upset that s/he came to a conference to be told several times the function of hash-tag in Twitter. Would I have been at the conference I would have been rather upset as well. However, no one seemed to answer this person—voice in the wilderness, amongst all these tweets popping up. Had said participant asked or complained about the repetitive nature of a basic social media function during a seminar or tea break, people would have had to answer. Within the virtual strand of the conference the comment got simply lost in the ether.

As a virtual participant I did not have access to the information about the hash-tags or I did not have to have access. I am not sure if this was my prerogative or involuntary exclusion, because I had no time to listen to some of the life streams. The issues of agency, such as access to content as “participant’s choice” or “being chosen for the participant”, certainly deserve further exploration [hint hint research funds].

However, one really misses said coffee table conversations and crucial “getting to know” situations. Having met fellow academics at conferences, during my postgraduate degree, led to friendships, exchange and encouragement during my PhD, help with academic writing and collaboration—the impact of my new “peeps” on Twitter remains to be seen.


Categories: Teaching

Tagged as:

Nathalie Sheridan

2 replies

  1. Hi Nathalie,
    Thanks for raising some interesting points about your virtual attendance experience on the Digital Researcher event. We tried to answer all of the queries posed on Twitter, but due to the amount of traffic we received during the event it was sometimes difficult to respond to all the quesions. Our objective was to bring something to the people that weren’t able to attend, and we hope you enjoyed listening into the main sessions and meeting other researchers on Twitter. The podcasts from the main plenary will soon be made available on

    If you would like to be notified when bookings become available for any future Digital researcher workshops or other Vitae courses for researchers, please register your Interest at:



  2. Hi Beata Vitae*,

    I am aware that it is hard if not impossible to answer all the comments made on twitter, exactly this is how I became aware of the issue of agency—because this one comment stood out of the crowd. It triggered my curiosity about agency during virtual conferences. Raising questions such as:
    If conversation remains unanswered—is it really unanswered (referring here to interaction with text etc)?
    How much of a conference can possibly be conveyed virtually?
    What aspects is a “virtual” participant missing out? (Thus, the coffee table example)
    There is value in face-to-face interaction, but can trust be established virtually—tweet-to-tweet?
    How are choices made about the virtual accessibility, e.g. the talks are accessible, the workshop not?
    What can and what should be shared?
    Can a virtual participant have an “in-depth” conference experience? etc …

    Thank you for the links. I am looking forward to catching up on the bits I missed out and will sign up for the notification.

    Thank you for your response and I am looking forward to further events.

    Have a nice evening

    *Beautiful name—Is it in reference to Seneca or simply life affirmation?


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