Alexandra Schiffmann
Project Manager + Writer
Bosch Alumni Network
Virtual Reality BarCamp: Online Skill Sharing - Bosch Alumni Network
Vision: To be a global community that tackles challenges for societies and for our planet. To create and inspire equal and sustainable ways of living and working together.
50,000 / year for 18 regional groups

Picture this: you open software on your computer and an island unfolds in front of you. In Sims-like computer game fashion, you get to walk around, change your physical appearance and outfit, and talk to others. It is not actually a computer game but a learning exchange offer from the Bosch Alumni Network. 

Network members from the US to Indonesia met in this kind of online environment for the first edition of a virtual BarCamp in October 2018. Using an online venue allowed people to connect across the globe without the hustle, costs or environmental impact of travelling.

The Bosch Alumni Network brings together former and current fellows, grantees, and staff members of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and its partners. By connecting network members with common interests but different backgrounds, cross-sectoral exchange and international collaborations are fostered. The Bosch Alumni Network is a cooperation between Robert Bosch Stiftung and the iac Berlin, a think and do tank for networks with social impact.

Why did you decide to host a BarCamp using virtual reality?

The decentralization strategy of the Bosch Alumni Networks put focus on expanding digital opportunities and reducing the pressure to conduct face-to-face events. Therefore, we decided to test 1-2 new formats which would strengthen the network as a whole, as well as the quality of network exchanges. We wanted to do something other than a standard webinar on a given topic. We started by looking at the offline formats that are popular within our network, such as BarCamps, and decided to transfer the methodological design into a virtual context. Given that the success of a BarCamp relies on human interactions in smaller group sessions, we were intrigued to see how this would play out.

How did you make it happen?

We worked together with e-learning consultants who provided us with the knowledge and technology to plan the virtual BarCamp. Once we decided on the technology (3D Avatar conference system AULA), and on the maximum number of participants (30), we put out a call for applications on our online platform to see who would like to a) participate and b) host a session. 

We selected 25 network members, set up a group on our community platform, and then asked those individuals interested in hosting sessions to introduce themselves and their topics. Participants were then able to vote and four sessions were selected, ranging from topics such as learning, working internationally, urban gardening, and network management.

What did the event itself look like?

On the day of the event people logged on and got to choose an outfit for our virtual avatar. It was possible to show emotions or take actions such as raising a hand, clapping, sitting down. After some final technical checks the moderator started by introducing some guidelines for the BarCamp on a virtual flip chart. The different speakers introduced their sessions and we were able to move around the virtual island to join their rooms. 

During the sessions it was possible to show powerpoint presentations and we were able to write on and organise Post-its. At the end of two rounds of sessions we came back to the main room and people summarised their sessions using the created flip charts which were all present in the room. There was also a break in which it was possible for people to chat in one-on-one conversations and the organisers had prepared a photo gallery which participants could walk through. 

Get an impression of the Online BarCamp environment by clicking this link.

What were the benefits and challenges?

It was a unique experience, significantly different and more engaging than a virtual call. The whole process was gamified and we got to choose a persona and walked around a virtual island. The features that aren’t usually present in communication tools and platforms made the learning more playful and fun. All participants enjoyed it because it was fun, new, and different. 

But we also experienced some difficulties, specifically concerning using VR technology for the first time. It was new to us and the members. This led to the need for several technical checks for each participant to ensure that the software would run smoothly. Technical required high-levels of commitment from participants. The software needed to be downloaded and some participants had to purchase specific headsets. This complexity led to a few people dropping out during the preparation process. 

We also noted a higher no-show rate and a lower sense of accountability after signing up to the event. This offer was free and people did not really know what to expect. Of course there were also costs connected to the event but it was still much more affordable than an in-person event. 

All in all, it would be interesting to further test this format and others such as whole day AR- or VR-assisted working groups or conferences. We do not believe that those formats will replace in-person meetings but they could be a way to bridge the time between those rare opportunities and work towards the purpose of the community.