Monday, 22 March 2021

Notes on virtual conferences

Last year I attended four conferences. This is much more than I would normally attend, and they only became available to me because of Covid-19: the conferences went virtual, and - therefore - became accessible.

I attended two North American conferences, one Australian conference, and one New Zealand conference. The differences between the conferences was interesting. Some sessions were recorded, and so if I missed that particular conference session because I was attending another strand, I could go back and tap in to the presentation later. There were differences in the time that the sessions were live past the conference having taken place. One conference got the sessions live within a week or so, and kept the sessions live for three months. The other took about a fortnight, and will keep the sessions live for a year. One sent us a live link, but, because that conference required you to register for the sessions you wanted to attend, sent out a link to a recording that could be downloaded.

First of all, session times were tricky. With the two North American conferences, much of the programme was scheduled for quite awkward times. 4am is not a good time when you have a full day of teaching ahead, so I found that I was unable to attend many of the live sessions I wanted to. The Australian conference sessions were all in the evening, which make it very easy to attend.

Secondly, because I was not 'at' a conference, the time was not carved out of my calendar to attend: my teaching life carried on. I had quite a different mindset to the conferences themselves. I found there was a difference in how I approached the conference sessions: I knew I could go asynchronously. Usually we are forced to carve out the time, because we are out of the office. It was the fact that I knew that I could tap into the sessions later that made registering viable (though it was still quite expensive). Attending the conference was not a break from work: it was alongside - on top of - work. I am wondering if I need to take a different time orientation towards them, and take leave to attend... or whether it is OK to not take that break. 

Thirdly, normally when attending a conference we pick the sessions in the streams we think we will enjoy. We make some poor decisions, we make some spectacular decisions, but we cannot be in many places at once. Choices are forced upon us. The virtual conference allows us to attend ALL sessions, over time. However, I can relate that three months is not long enough to see all the sessions I wanted to see. I fitted in viewing all the extra sessions around work. Some were great, some were rubbish. But I packed in as many as I could, to get my 'money's worth', and still ran out of time to see everything. I was interested in why I wanted my 'money's worth', too: that value became a key driver.

Fourthly, the synchronous/asynchronous nature of virtual conferences means we  are less overloaded: we can digest in smaller segments. We can also take the time to think more critically. I suspect we will absorb more.

Lastly, I found that I like to be able to download the video and slide decks. Some video was downloadable from all conferences, but the sessions that I had to watch again in only on PC without downloadable or supporting material annoyed me. I still am not quite sure why: perhaps collecting the conference materials is part of the perceived value? 

While virtual conferences have made attending much more accessible, they remain expensive. In deciding to attend, I think we need to consider our time zone; consider leave; consider our length of access; and to consider what materials we walk away with at the end.


Sam

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