By Vitomir Kovanovic and Maren Scheffel
Besides a major shift towards online learning and teaching, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has also had a massive impact on the organisation of academic conferences. Most events have been cancelled or postponed; a few brave ones moved to cyberspace. As programme co-chairs for the Tenth International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge (LAK20), we were faced with the significant challenge of adjusting the whole conference program to on-line mode in less than two weeks.
The conference was a huge success with almost 600 attendees, 95 presentations and very positive feedback. We wanted to share some of our experience, which builds on sound online learning & teaching practices
First of all, communicate clearly with attendees and presenters and avoid last-minute changes to conference organisation.
If possible, keep the original conference dates, as attendees had already reserved them in their calendars. Postponing risks interference with other events and affecting the timeline for the next year
Spread out the program over longer hours (e.g., 12 hours), so everyone around the world can catch some live presentations.
Organise conference sessions around presenters’ timezones so that most authors can present live.
Have one place where all relevant information is available. (We used the conference’s WordPress website.)
Simplify timezone conversions. We listed session times in multiple time zones and provided an iCalendar with complete program information.
Provide training sessions for presenters and allow for 30 min preparation time before each session.
Ask presenters to pre-record their talks in case of connection problems.
Record all presentations and quickly post them online, so attendees can catch-up with the talks they missed.
Take time to know your conferencing platform and set appropriate attendee permissions. (We used Zoom.)
Have a backchannel for fast communication within the organising team. (We used Slack).
Have session chairs to facilitate sessions and moderate Q&As, and have technical support that deals with recording and technical matters.
Allow for discussions to continue after presentations finish. (We used WordPress discussion forums).
And finally, make it a fun and engaging experience, as much as possible. We used two always-open Zoom rooms (called Coffee Machine and Bench in the Sun) where we met between sessions to chat and take some group photos.
Dr Vitomir Kovanovic, The Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning (C3L), University of South Australia Vitomir.Kovanovic@unisa.edu.au
Dr. Maren Scheffel, Faculty Educational Science, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands firstname.lastname@example.org