What is Virtual ALT.NET (VAN)? In this blog I’m going to explain the purpose of VAN. The history of VAN is very short. Another alt.netter Chad Myers and I started meeting once a week to do some pair programming. I had met Chad at the Austin Code Camp 2008 conference and he offered to help anyone willing to learn about .Net. After the meeting, I went up to him and introduced myself and said I would love to pair program with him. Since I live in the great state of Arkansas, it is hard to pair up with any alt.netters. There really isn’t any here. My plan was to attend the Code Camp and learn as much as I could. Being able to pair program with someone like Chad was a wonderful thing.
What started out as two people pair programming, then turned into just a few alt.netters talking about alt.net. Now we have 40 to 50 people from all over the world attending our VAN meetings. We typically meet once a week and announce the meeting via twitter or by a blog post by Chad or myself. We have had various influential alt.netters speak to at our meetings. For example, Jeremy D Miller and Scott Bellware have both spoken.
Since technology has improved so much, it is really easy to hold virtual meetings. With this ease, meetings can bring together all kinds of people from all over the world. These people can include influencers, learners and speakers. As these people come together, a social aspect evolves and as a result people start learning. Through this virtual environment for learning a learning philosophy is created call social constructionist. This basically means that people can learn from each other socially and knowledge is constructed. Part of what makes these meetings so amazing is that people can ask questions in real time. I would say that the alt.net community is pretty small compared to others. If you are reading and learning on your own, sometimes it would be nice just to ask your questions. In my case the closest people I know that understand alt.net are hundreds of miles away. To connect to these people it really requires traveling around to different metro area. The really cool part about all this is that people in other countries trying to learn about alt.net, who may never have the chance to ask the difficult questions, can. Really the purpose of these VAN meetings is to provide anyone in the world the opportunity to learn more about alt.net virtually.
The VAN meeting
The requirements for hosting a virtual alt.net meeting are really simple. It just requires two people talking about alt.net virtually. It could be just a basic Skype call. We have used Skype and Shareview before. The second piece is the ability for screen sharing. This is needed to review and share code.
For bigger groups, we have been using a LiveMeeting account that is provided to us from INETA. We have had a really good experience with this tool. One cool feature is that it gives us the ability to record the meetings. One thing I think that it is missing is a group chat function.
The format for the meetings have mostly been the Open Space Technology method. Using this method, the agenda is created at the start of the meeting. Within LiveMeeting you can use the whiteboard to post the item or items you want to talk about. Also, it is a good idea to appoint a facilitator.
To find more information about VAN go to the following Google Group. http://groups.google.com/group/virtualaltnet