Words of wisdom from a virtual student and a virtual employee.

For those who do not know me I have been isolated by poverty and distance since childhood. Technology has freed me from those bounds. I have been a virtual student since 2001 and have been a virtual employee for almost as long. I am forever surprised at the fear of technology that exists in our schools and in our professions. I worked for five years as a teacher and was daily faced with having to defend technology and argue its value and importance. Even as a Masters student I am still shocked at how slow educators and professionals are to accept technology due to misconceptions and fear. So here are my thoughts on the benefit of hybrid meetings using technology to facilitate networking and engagement.

While students and employees continue to benefit from face to face networking in a function room, new technologies are increasingly advancing with the ability to draw in participants who would otherwise be isolated. New technologies, not subject to physical boundaries are becoming increasingly more accessible.

This can be accomplished through personal mobile devices or virtual meeting environments, technology is the key to expanding outreach and the way content is communicated, both in conjunction with and separate from face to face communication. Not only are people who are limited by distance or other boundaries drawn into the discussion where they would otherwise be excluded, but those within the physical environment have access to a more engaged degree of interaction.

Overcoming fear of new technologies as taboo has always been a challenge. From the onset of telephonic conferences, rejected as impersonal, to video conferences rejected as intrusive, the taboo of having any electronic device in a classroom or meeting, all these taboos have been overcome and can now be looked back upon as the fear of change that slowed networking progress. 3D environments is the current taboo that professionals face in all fields that require networking and collaboration.

Mobile technology and social media are the current most active trends. 3D environments are quickly catching on, from virtual worlds to the development of walk in 3D web pages. The use of 3D environments are proving to increase engagement with the ability to learn and collaborate in meeting spaces. It is becoming common place to see layered meetings, even with face to face interaction, combined with distance communication and participants, live streaming, recording, gamification within the presentations, and multiple levels of interaction with links, slide shows, and even independent exploration of all of these options inside virtual environments.

Virtual meeting technology is efficient and cost effective. It eliminates travel, saves time, reduces expenditures, and increases convenience for the participant. It is also more environmentally friendly and quickly being adopted in the business fields, even as an alternative to the brick and mortar work space for all of the reasons mentioned above.

Companies have virtual employees using adobe rooms, Skype, Zoom, messenger, virtual networks and remote desktops because it is cost effective and convenient on a global scale. Colleges are needing to help students embrace virtual technology not only as a social and educational venue, but in career preparation in order to encourage future success.

Hybrid or blended meetings are the bridge for those still uncertain when it comes to improvements that require open mindedness towards newer technologies. Hybrid meetings have real time face to face components as well as virtual components, such as live streaming a conference or meeting with a group to experience a 3D immersive tour and discussion. Back channel conversations on social media, twitter, Facebook, or even meeting platforms such as Zoom, can work in conjunction with live events or live virtual immersive events.

Virtual meetings and immersive environments will never replace face to face interaction but they can greatly enhance them. We are social beings and physical proximity will always be a major aspect of networking and engagement. Emerging technologies merely enhance the experience and remove the boundaries that prevent many from participating. Those individuals who would otherwise feel isolated due to financial, physical, distance or other challenges, through blended environments are able to contribute and collaborate. The exploration of these interactive and immersive formats challenge us to become more relevant and more engaging. What a great opportunity to continue developing relationships that may start at a college or business event and be able to be nurtured and continued through the use of virtual and immersive technology.

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