OU conference – areas for improvement

In my last post I set out how we organised the conference, in this one I'll suggest (with input from Karen) some things we might do differently next time.

  • Ensure that speakers have good mic and earphones and have practiced in
    Elluminate beforehand. Unless they are experienced with presenting online, it is probably a good idea to insist on
    practice session.
  • If speakers are based in the same location then it might be better
    for them to be in the same or nearby room. 
    The same applies for any standby speaker ready to step in if there are
    problems with the advertised speaker.
  • If speakers are in other locations, we need to have a way to
    contact them outside of the platform in use, if they have not got their sound
    on or are having problems connecting.
  • We need an agreed signal to bring to a close – the online
    equivalent of the 5 minute warning or card held up at conferences. (This
    could be achieved by placing a countdown over the top of their slides)
  • It is worth including regular breaks in the programme for informal
    chat and a chance for ‘comfort breaks’. This should be good practice anyway in
    relation to looking at the screen for long periods and also the issue around comfort when wearing headphones for
    prolonged periods.
  • Run more open, discussion based sessions, not just purely
    presentation based ones. As it was experimental this year, we were trying a number of different things so experimenting with the format seemed like a tweak too far, but we could do more than straightforward presentations.
  • Make better use of the ‘Your contributions’ strand and provide
    support for this, such as video and technical teams who will help projects
    produce a video in the run-up to the conference. The conference becomes a means to generate
    content and create engagement around new technologies.
  • Have a specified technical support team with clearly defined
    roles. As this was an experiment this year, much of the knowledge resided with
    the two central organisers, but as it becomes accepted practice, readily
    defined roles can be allocated.
  • Have back up equipment ready, with several laptops.
  • If bandwidth and technology allow include video and/or pictures of
    the presenters (and audience) as it makes the experience feel more
    personal.
  • Presenting virtually requires slides to be more engaging than with
    a live audience and for the speaker to encourage interaction. We will produce a
    set of guidelines for virtual presentations to aid presenters. Also insist on
    receiving slides beforehand as uploading was not always straightforward.
  • Run some hybrid sessions – for example have a number of rooms on campus where the conference is presented on a screen, with refreshments available so people can drop in. This would give some of the physical presence a traditional conference benefits from and may overcome some of the issues in people allocating time to it.

I'd welcome any other suggestions for either practical changes or more radical approaches.

3 Comments

  1. You could buy decent microphones and headsets and send them to presenters. My decent is someone else’s too expensive!
    Another idea that comes to mind is where does it say at an online conference that the presenters have to be remote and online?
    You could bring the presenters in and thus ensure higher quality video and audio. It would also allow for a greater variety of formats such as discussions and interviews.
    Don’t forget the power of text based discussion too.
    James
    James

  2. Hi James, yes exactly – we should have given a headset to all speakers, they’re not expensive but even this simple bit of kit makes a big difference. I’ll definitely do that next time.
    Re bringing presenters together, I think it is a possibility and I might do some of that, so we know we can give people a good set up. On the other hand though part of the appeal is that you can get people to talk without overly disrupting them, so for instance Tony H didn’t have to come to MK to talk but could do it from home. I’d be reluctant to lose that flexibility as it’s one of the benefits of online, but we could offer an expanded conferene HQ I think.
    The text window was important and lots of people commented how much they liked having that channel, and we tried to combine it with asynchronous discussion in Cloudworks, so yes I agree text is great for lots of stuff, but I think it helps to have an event in the middle also. I’d like to work more on structuring pre and post discussion next time.
    Thanks for your comments
    Martin

  3. Thanks Martin,
    Most useful. We are trying to organize a one day conference/webinar event at Salford using Elluminate in November with both remote and campus-based speakers. Will definitely feedback all your top tips back to the project team.
    Pete Whitton

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