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February 25, 2020

A Glimpse at the Future of Online Events: The Educators in VR 2020 Summit

An online, week-long feast of presentations, networking, provocations, and exploration was a sign of things to come in the online event space.
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I had the pleasure and privilege to give a talk at the Educators in VR 2020 Virtual Summit last week about the immersive web, WebXR, and the implications of this stuff for teachers and students. Because I'm shameless, I also talked a bit about the browser-based immersive meeting + presentation tool I'm helping to build called Frame.

The Educators in VR group, in their words, is "an open, global, cross-platform community of educators, researchers, and trainers exploring and collaborating with and in virtual and augmented reality." I've known one of their organizers, Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, for some time now, and it was astonishing to witness the scope and execution of what he and his colleagues put together with this online summit - a week-long feast of presentations, networking, provocations, and exploration. A clip from my presentation:

I've been reflecting a bit on this event, and I'm convinced that it was a real harbinger for the future of events - and one that comes at a particularly timely juncture in human history.

Beyond that, the Summit was a real testament to the power of sheer human will, collaborative organizational effort, and collective passion among the organizers and audience for exploring the relationship between education and frontier technology. At my presentation, I had volunteers handling the live stream, Q + A facilitation, tech support, and more. Kudos and thanks to all involved.

I appreciated that the Summit presentations were held in a variety of online immersive platforms. Mine was held in Altspace VR, although looking back I wish I had picked Mozilla Hubs. Hubs is built with WebXR and in my humble opinion is currently one of the best immersive collaboration platforms out there. I imagine that part of the challenge for the organizers was finding the balance between using the conference itself as a means to explore immersive event platforms , but also needing to have a certain amount of reliability and functionality in order for the summit to unfold smoothly.

It's clear that some of the platforms began to buckle a bit when the number of participants went up. Considering the in-person events that have been cancelled this year like Mobile World Congress, I think we're going to see increasing demand from here on out for immersive, online event platforms that can handle real scale. Tools like Go2Webinar (which I love for certain things) are simply not suited for an online "trade show" type event, and in my opinion, interacting with others as avatars with a sense of shared space and togetherness is qualitatively superior to being a name on a list or being one tiny video square in a crowded, laggy video chat hellscape.

Did I mention that I'm shameless? Given that fact, I'd be remiss not to mention that the company I work for, VirBELA, creates platforms for immersive events/meetings/remote work, and we put a particular emphasis on super scalable events with hundreds or thousands of simultaneous users. One of our clients, eXp Realty, uses a VirBELA Campus as their core collaboration hub (you can read more on that here). eXp is a fully distributed, remote company with more than 25K staff and agents. This is immersive collaboration at scale.

We're hoping to have VirBELA be among the platforms people can choose from next year for the Educators in VR 2021 Summit. Here's a pic of an event happening inside an auditorium in VirBELA.

Another thing I appreciated about the Summit generally, and Daniel Dyboski-Bryant specifically, was that it's never about simple promotion of immersive tech or particular products. I ran into people who balanced their excitement with a healthy, critical skepticism and keen interest in research that went beyond hype and novelty. Here's a clip of me during my talk relating strongly with skepticism coming from teachers about VR:

It's not about the immersive tech. It's about the teachers and students.

And, in closing: it's not just that this Summit took place using cool new immersive platforms. It's that an online event took place that didn't require expensive travel, fostered a real sense of togetherness between participants, and provided an inspiring model for how powerful, provocative online events can be held in the future.

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