Second Virtual Visit to the Media Lab

Opens up the doors of the Media Lab to people from all around the world

On August 28, the Learning Over Education Initiative hosted the second virtual visit to the Media Lab. We have spent much of this year testing Unhangout in a variety of scenarios and better understanding how the tool can accommodate more participants in large-scale events online. After receiving positive feedback from our first virtual visit in March, we decided to run another one.

Like the March event, participants had varied motivations. Some wanted to learn about the current research and projects, while others were interested in the Media Lab’s approach to executing ideas. In general, the visit was a great way for prospective students and collaborators to figure out if their research interests correspond with the projects being developed here. For researchers at the Lab it was an opportunity to share their work with the outside world and learn how other people are involved in similar fields.

For the second visit, we reached out to a bunch of tech-oriented communities on Google Plus (e.g. MakerFair, Connected Learning, LCL etc.) and other mailing lists. Monica Orta, from Diversity Initiatives and Inclusion at the Media Lab, helped us spread the word to diverse groups and promote the event through MIT Office of Minority Education. About 180 people registered for the event and 90 joined us live. We used the mass mailing tool Mailchimp to send emails containing discussion guidelines and event reminders.

We learned a lot from the previous event and made changes accordingly. We created facilitator handouts containing tips and tricks (to use the platform) and discussion guidelines (to follow while in a breakout room). We also wanted to avoid the hassle of broadcasting the event live and thus used pre-recorded videos for the kickoff webinar and to explain logistics. For the event kickoff, we played a compiled version of introduction videos from the speakers that highlighted their background information and their topic of discussion to make it easier for the participants to choose a room. We noted that participants joined breakout rooms by topic, rather than chronologically filling the sessions. This conveyed that people had a true sense of which group they wanted to join.

We passed on the message that this place is driven by ideas, and making connections around projects and research groups is a better way to know about the Lab. Thus, we explicitly recommended in the videos to not ask admissions-related queries. Depending on the nature of the research discussed in breakout rooms, the conversations varied.

In some, the projects were shown through a presentation, while in others they were showcased virtually. We were really pleased to see how people were deeply immersed in interactive discussions. After the event, we received a lot of thank-you emails, suggestions to make the next event better, a few responses from prospective students, and messages from hackers telling us that they want to fork our project on GitHub.

Surprisingly, people who were visiting Cambridge in subsequent weeks expressed their interest in meeting us and sharing about their respective pursuits.

Some of the tweets we received:

The biggest challenge right now is that we allow participation in these rooms on first-come first-serve basis and it’s challenging to accommodate people for the most popular session. We have received a lot of suggestions about that, and we’ll hopefully be able to take that into consideration for the next event. We are also researching ways by which we could give these online gatherings and conversations the liveliness of events in the physical world. Through these events, we want to help people build strong and lasting friendships and we are investigating means to incorporate features into the platform that could support this.

If you wish to participate in the next visit, signup here. We would like to thank all the participants for joining us for the event and we wish to keep you in the loop for the next one. We hope that you had a good time.

A huge shout to Mohammad, Alisha, Savannah, Lisa, William, Ermal, Julie, Artem, Cindy for making this event happen.

Originally published at