What a week! As extreme weather conditions brought the country to a standstill, I was forced to cancel my trip to the FLiT 2010 Conference in Nicosia. This is the second time this year that I find myself stranded at home instead of delivering an invited talk abroad. Last April, the ash cloud closed the airport for a week, and I never made it to Barcelona. Last Wednesday, snow and ice prevented me from leaving Dublin for Heathrow, where I was due to catch a flight to Cyprus the following morning.
My android phone proved to be invaluable during the 8 eight hours I spent trying to leave the country. During the 3 hour taxi ride to the airport (it usually takes 45 minutes…!!), I was able to keep an eye on the latest updates from Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus. As soon as my initial flight to Heathrow was cancelled, I used my phone to get a later flight that same evening and decided to continue the journey to the airport. Once there, still hopeful that I would be able to get away, I voiced my frustrations and hopes on Twitter, conversed with a friend whom I was hoping to meet later on in London for a drink, checked my email and the Internet for more updates. But it was not to be. One hour after having finally boarded the plane, we were asked to disembark, collect our luggage and make our way back to… wherever! I would never make it to Heathrow, I would never catch the flight to Cyprus, and I would not attend the conference. Instead, I barely made it home.
I did however deliver my plenary. Within 24 hours, and with the amazing support of the Techspectations team, a session was set on Webex, I was expertedly coached on the system functionalities and shown how to make the most of them. We ran a test with the FLiT Conference organisers and technical team, and I slightly revised my presentation to make it easier to deliver online as opposed to face-to-face. At 7.30am on Saturday, I was giving my talk, from my kitchen. During those four days, stranded in my neighbourhood, I remained connected to the very people I was supposed to meet face-to-face, and to many more.
But I also felt disconnected. I was missing a great opportunity to catch up with friends from various parts of the world and to make new ones. During my talk, as no camera had been set up on the Cyprus side, I had absolutely no idea of what was going on out there. Interaction between myself and the audience was mainly one way. Given the very short time available to convert a face-to-face presentation into an online one, we kept things very simple. In the Webex session, there were only two participants: the conference organiser who was liaising with me and projecting his laptop screen onto the big one, and myself as session host and presenter. Being the host and the presenter at the same time is not something I would recommend, especially if it is your first time using a particular platform! Even though I did not have to manage attendees, I did find the whole experience a bit stressful (to say the least…). So much so that I forgot to record the session, despite all the reminders on post-its surrounding my laptop! I also forgot to watch the time. With nobody to alert me, I went overtime and deprived my audience and myself of the interaction that makes conferences so valuable. And to make the disconnect feeling even worse, as everybody in Cyprus went for a well deserved coffee break after listening to my blabbering, I was left in my kitchen, still dark outside and freezing cold…
And then, just as I was getting ready to go to the airport on December 1st, there was Gavin’s blog entry, “Bullied, Blackmailed, Defamed, Threatened…“. This must be the most moving and distressing post I have ever read. I don’t know Gavin very well, but I feel privileged to have met him at the EUROCALL 2009 Conference in Gandia, to have been taught by him about Second Life. His generosity, sense of humour, and above all his professionalism, are second to none and all contribute to making the online life of language educators interesting, fun, exciting and connected. Yet, for over a year, Gavin has been the victim of unacceptable vicious cyber attacks from a person who bullied him, blackmailed him, defamed him, and threatened him. Like the hundreds of people who manifested their support to him, reading his post triggered in me many emotions such as sadness, anger, shock, incredulity, and fear. Old memories came back, I know what bullying can do to you. I know what it did to me, and I know what it did to friends or colleagues of mine. Each story is different, but none of them should have ever happened. Nobody deserves to be bullied, online or offline, Gavin certainly does not.
By the way, December 17th is anti-bullying day. What are we going to do?