Stuff we learned at Collision

The North American version of Collision took place in Toronto at the end of June 2023. From their website, it drew over 36,000 attendees - today we're sharing the reflections of 6 ETO staff who attended one of the world's biggest tech conferences. Spoiler: only 2 of the 6 of us would attend again.

When Inga saw that Collision was offering discounted 2-for-1 tickets for Women in Tech, the ETO team jumped on the chance to attend a world-famous conference (you can read about the conferences we attended last year, too). As a team, we usually lean more towads engineering education or media production conferences and were curious if a tech conference could inspire new ideas and connections to the academic work we typically do.

Before you read about our experiences, let me describe the conference. It is BIG. Taking over the Enercare Convention Centre at the CNE, the sessions are spread across multiple buildings, with the convention centre hosting a huge (and busy) vendor showcase (one had a rowing machine where your output won you donuts!). On the road separating the buildings were a few dozen food trucks, where you could purchase (expensive) lunch items. Everywhere you looked were people networking, on video calls, or typing emails. 

Who should should attend this conference?

In our opinion, you should go to Collision in June 2024 if you are:

  • up for bite-sized talks (good for a general audience who are not as familiar on the different discussions on tech topics/trends)
  • interested in learning about emerging technologies)
  • curious about the future of technology (and its impact on different industries)
  • looking to connect with startups and leaders in tech (for the purposes of networking, investing, or getting inspiration for their own companies)
  • looking for a job in the tech industry

You might want to skip it if you're:

  • not looking to network
  • not up for sorting through a lot of sessions/vendors to find the right ones for you
  • not looking for new tools/applications to implement into your work

What sessions are we still thinking about?

Design for community, not doomscrolling
Speaker(s): Tom Verrilli, Chief Product Officer, Twitch
Session in brief: The social media platforms that we know of today do not foster real community engagement.  Twitch’s chief product officer discusses the importance of prioritizing connection, community and continuity, through "tribal media." Verrilli began with an overview of the evolution of social media and how it was originally created to facilitate connection, communication and interaction between individuals and groups. However, over the years doomscrolling has evolved and a lot of us now spend less time connecting with each other and more time scrolling through negative or distressing content that can harm our mental well-being. Instead of just focusing on user engagement and time spent on platforms, Verrilli suggests that designers should prioritize building online communities that foster positive connections and meaningful interactions. He argues that platforms should be designed in a way that encourages users to engage with uplifting and inspiring content, not just negative stuff.  
From Inga: "Social Media" is misleading because within these platforms, you are mathematically chosen to be a part of a group of people that think like you. Which is not like real-life socializing.  Tom Verrilli addressed the importance of enabling creators to create better community content.  This really conencted with me because it supports the idea that you can still have a meaningful connection with an audience, human-to-human.  I was already familiar with Twitch, but I'm interested in exploring more content and seeing how their creators engage with their communities.
From Marisa: I am very guilty of doomscrolling! I’ve been making an active effort to be more mindful when I do it, and it was why I was curious to check out Tom Verrilli’s talk on Design for community, not doomscrolling.  An interesting point that he strongly emphasized is the need for accountability in the tech industry. Designers should take responsibility for the potential harm caused by their creations. Metrics like user well-being and community building should be given more importance than just focusing on user engagement and time spent on platforms. By the end, it was clear that Verrilli is a strong advocate for a shift in design philosophy and I agree with his belief that we should focus on building community-centric platforms that promote positive interactions and well-being, rather than perpetuating the harmful effects of doomscrolling. It was really refreshing and inspiring to hear someone talking about making a positive change in the tech industry. His perspective encouraged a lot of self-reflection about my own social media usage and how I can promote a more positive and community-centered online experience for myself and my fellow online community members. 
Penny Oleksiak: Just keep swimming
Speakers: Penny Oleksiak (swimmer, 4 time Canadian Olympic champion) interviewed by Andi Petrillo (sportscaster at CBC)
Session in Brief: Your work does not need to define everything that you are- to be a well-rounded person, it's important to explore personal interests outside of work.
From Anna: This is not a new lesson for me, but it was a timely reminder that it’s important to cultivate and invest in personal interests- not only do they make life more enjoyable, they can result in creativity that then benefits your work. For me, this reminder led to more reading for pleasure, specifically more fiction. Not only does it make me happy to lose myself in a story, it's also led me to learn more about the role of storytelling in teaching and learning.
AI is here to stay—harness its power or get left behind
Speakers: Joshua Xu, Co-founder and CEO of HeyGen
Session in Brief: The AI technology (HeyGen) presented in the “No crew? No camera? No problem! The potential of generative video” was definitely the most jaw-dropping tech I came across at the conference. HeyGen is able to create a 1-to-1 avatar of you (not the cartoon kind) and you can create videos where you talk to the camera just by feeding text to it. Additionally, HeyGen offers the functionality to translate the text into various languages, allowing your avatar to speak in the desired language while synchronizing the mouth movements accordingly. 
From James: I could see this being incredibly useful for ETO. Just envision the convenience of capturing an instructor's avatar and utilizing it to effortlessly produce instructional videos, eliminating the need for them to visit the studio for every module/lesson. Before the conference, I wasn’t sure if AI was like NFT and crypto, where it would become insanely popular for a while, and then die down completely. After the conference, it’s clear to me that AI is here to stay, and it would most likely revolutionize our personal and work lives the way the internet did. I can see a tool like this to help ETO produce projects like the ESRR videos much faster, much easier and at a much higher quality. With generative AI video tools, ETO could have much more control over the video quality even if the instructor can’t come in to record, and it could eliminate the need to have recording sessions that take up so much of ETO’s resources, which would in turn allow ETO to do more.
Generative AI--The next evolution in media
Speakers: Nick Thompson & David Ewalt
Session in Brief: Brace yourself for the tides of change by immersing yourself with experiments!
From Cheryl: Generative AI will have (and already has) a huge implication in media and will change the ways that the internet works. As search engines become more chat-based (vs. query list), you will not get that traffic from the search engine anymore. The nature of advertising will also change as how the ads are being created will inevitably change – soon you and won’t be looking at the same advertisement for a product anymore, it will be individually generated by AI according to your personal profile.   How can you brace yourself for this new world? Nick really stresses investing time to experiment with these tools. Don’t just do a couple of queries of chatGPT to say that you looked into it – spend a week to use different AI tools to create content for yourself. Really understanding how they work, and where they lack (for now), will put you in a better position vs. just fearing it. 

What's up next for the ETO?

We're looking forward to the Digital Pedagogy Institute. This free virtual conference is hosted by the University of Waterloo and University of Toronto Scarborough on August 16 & 17, 2023.

Article Category: General Information