By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education
For a conference to run smoothly and professionally, a large amount of work happens “behind the curtains” without the conference attendees being necessarily aware of it. The Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) was founded in 1981 and has been organizing international conferences since the 1990s. However, bringing a conference online requires new approaches from the program committee. Theo Bastiaens, program chair of the 2011 and 2012 Global TIME conference, talks about lessons learned, the quality of online talks, and the online experience from an attendee’s point of view.
SP: What makes or breaks a successful online conference?
TB: As the online conference Global TIME was organized for the second time we certainly fine-tuned the format, schedule, and technical platform. Since an online conference is somewhat different from a face-to-face conference we had to make sure that people had a virtual space to contact each other. For that reason, AACE developed “Academic Experts.” In my opinion, a great new platform to organize these online conferences. A very important aspect of this platform is that it integrates participants’ social profile with discussion features and the paper presentations. Little things that we learned from the online conference last year, like the automatic adaption of the program to the time zone of the participant, are very important for a smooth organization.
Another difference with traditional conferences is the backup of presentations. The technical staff records all presentations before the conference starts. Although most presentations are live, one is prepared that if there are technical troubles the “canned” recording of that same presentation can be played. But of course Q&A sessions and discussions can never be prepared in advance.
SP: In a scholarly climate that views print journals with a high citation index as the gold standard for publication, online conferences may be perceived as a “second class” event. How do you judge the overall quality of AACE Global TIME’s program?
TB: From a quality perspective the peer-review process and selection is the same as with other traditional conference formats. However I think that speakers are better prepared in the online format. From their personal comfort zone, at home, they present in general a well timed session — and they already trained this talk during the prerecording session that we use as backup. It is not easy to improvise in these sessions. So, I personally like these sessions better because they are more to-the-point.
SP: What aspects of the online format did you find particularly challenging or engaging?
TB: I like the fact that after the conference I am able to take a look at all sessions. So there is no need any more to make a choice between the talks. Everything is available, together with the paper in PDF format and the slides. I like that with these resources all together I have a better and clearer understanding of the research presented.
In the end I also need this option to look at the resources afterwards because attending an online conference — sitting in front of the computer screen — is much more exhausting than participating in a traditional conference format. Maybe it’s because we are not acquainted yet with these new technologically mediated events. But it might also be true that it is just more intensive to attend online. Future experiences will tell if this is a typical characteristic of online conferences.
In general, I think, with this Global Time online conference, AACE takes a brave step in a new direction. An innovative step, with an innovative platform, to serve the educational technology community.
Theo Bastiaens is a full-time professor in educational technology and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Fernuniversität Hagen, Germany. His focus is on the teaching of new media. He is also part-time professor at the Ruud de Moor Center of the Open University of The Netherlands where he deals with new media in teacher training. In addition, his interests center on themes such as instructional design and human resource development.
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