Feature Article of Saturday, 6 April 2013
Columnist: Badoe. Adwoa
When I first migrated to Canada, immigrants ran up high phone bills talking to their relatives on different continents.
In the intervening years, specialized phone cards, and then the internet and cellphones, have levelled what used to be a very uneven playing field controlled by the big telecom networks.
It has been a delight to see these changes, which have reduced the cost of communication to immigrants. On any given day, I can communicate easily with family and old friends from my native Ghana on Facebook and Skype or by several other applications.
While these changes have vastly influenced developing countries in Africa, telecom services as we know them here are far from adequate in those places. Therefore, I was very surprised when Prof. Dorothy Odartey-Wellington invited me to be a panellist on her 2013 International Virtual Conference: Afro-Hispanic Studies in Africa/Africa in Afro-Hispanic Studies at the University of Guelph last month.
It’s a trail-blazing conference that was to occur by Adobe Connect, launched on the internet and supported by the U of G’s open learning and educational support centre (OpenEd). Hitherto, all such international conferences I have attended have meant travel for people who do not reside in the host country.
Over the weeks leading up to the conference, I received instructions by email from the conference technology team, directing me on how to launch Screenr and record my presentation. I was also given a tutorial on launching Adobe Connect, the platform on which the conference was hosted, with instructions on managing my microphone.
Because my presentation was a performance, I ended up having a video recording made prior to the day. This was then sent to the technology team and launched at the time of my presentation.
On March 5, Odartey-Wellington, a professor in the U of G’s school of languages and literatures, launched the international Afro-Hispanic conference, which connected Guelph to participants in 12 countries, on four continents, in real-time conversations.
Because of my learned anxiety around technology, I logged in early to make sure my equipment was functional. I joined the ongoing chat, exchanging greetings with several participants in Guelph and around the world. There were three different languages represented and I did not want to miss anything.
At 9:30 a.m., we observed the opening remarks from U of G by video. Conference dignitaries — Prof. Donald Bruce, dean of the college of art, and Prof. Clive Thomson, director of the school of languages and literatures — spoke from a simple table and a laptop to welcome the world to this academic and cultural event. Thereafter, the conference opening keynote address was delivered by Prof. Kwesi Yankah, from Ghana, in real-time by video. From our various locations, we were able to pose questions at the end of the session.
The conference ran for four days, ending on March 8. I was away in Windsor on business, but I was still able to participate on my panel.
I am always intrigued about any forum that is able to bring in many voices from around the world, especially voices from Africa. I can imagine the significant savings on airfare, hotels and food made by using the virtual approach, although I have no idea how much the technology arrangements cost. I salute the U of G, its technology team at OpenEd and Odartey-Wellington, for bringing the world to a conversation in Guelph.
This kind of internet conference is a first for the University of Guelph, but it is also a first for the University Ghana, Odartey-Wellington’s alma mater, and probably for some of the other institutions across the world that participated in this event.
It has certainly expanded the vision of all who participated and even those who watched from the sidelines. The world has become smaller indeed.
Adwoa Badoe is a local educator, storyteller, historian and a past member of the Guelph Mercury’s Community Editorial Board.