I’ve been lucky to have had some recent involvement with two online conference models — one that recently happened and one that will be happening soon. I’m really pleased to see more organized professional development opportunities being offered online in light of the current economic situation and, selfishly, the fact that I personally won’t be doing much in the way of travel for the near future.
The online conference that’s coming up is the ACRL Virtual Conference. This is the virtual component of ACRL’s National Conference which takes place next month in Seattle. I’m on the ACRL Virtual Conference committee, though I can’t take any credit for the coolness of this online conference. ACRL has had a virtual conference component for many years, though in the past, it didn’t offer a lot of bang for the buck — usually a few virtual talks and access to the conference community for networking and conference handouts. This time it’s very different. ACRL has contracted with a company that will be capturing the audio and slides of every presentation, and offering them as a movie at nearly the same time that the live session is going on (with just a tiny delay). This means that people registered for the virtual conference will be able to access every single presentation at the live conference. In addition, there will be live virtual presentations that are completely unique to the Virtual Conference, organized chat discussions, events in Second Life and more!
Attending the ACRL Virtual Conference will only set you back $165 (if you’re an ACRL member); a lot less than the physical conference, especially when you factor in travel expenses. And if you’re already registered for the National Conference, it’s FREE! For those who would love to attend ACRL but just don’t have the funds, this is a terrific opportunity to benefit from the knowledge being shared in Seattle without leaving your office.
The ACRL Virtual Conference committee is actually offering a Webcast kickoff event this week that anyone interested in social software, research and education should definitely be interested in:
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 – 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. CST
(11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. PST | 12:00 – 1:15 p.m. MST | 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. EST)
The Virtual Conference kicks into high gear with a new feature for 2009 – the Kick-Off Webcast! On Tuesday, February 17, the Virtual Conference presents Jean-Claude Bradley, Associate Professor of Chemistry and E-Learning Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University, giving an invited presentation that can be seen as part of the Virtual Conference. Take advantage of this opportunity to interact in real-time with this expert in e-learning and “open science.”
Jean-Claude is someone who has really inspired me with his use of social technologies and gaming in the classroom as well as his research on the potential of social software in improving research. More information about registering and the features of the Virtual Conference are available on the ACRL Conference website.
The other awesome online conference I was involved in was the Iowa Small Libraries Online Conference. In places like Iowa, small library can take on a meaning totally different from ALA’s definition of what a small library is. The libraries targeted by this conference tend to be really small and without the resources to send its library staff across the state to attend a conference. So, instead of having a conference that only libraries with sufficient funding could afford to send staff to, the regional library associations in Iowa created an online conference that any interested librarian could participate in. They capitalized on their WebJunction membership and used the Wimba web conferencing platform. It was just like any normal conference with live scheduled presentations. They even had a virtual exhibit hall where attendees could chat with vendors!
I had the pleasure of giving the keynote presentation at the conference. As someone who has done gazillions of webcasts using just about every platform imaginable, I was really impressed with how well the conference organizers supported attendees and speakers technologically. Things went extremely smoothly and given the professionalism and preparedness of the organizers, I would assume that it continued that way throughout the day. I was absolutely touched that they sent me a little care package with chocolates, socks, a mug and hot cocoa so I’d be cozy and comfortable during my talk (that has to be the most adorable speaker’s gift I’ve ever received). But much more than that, I was so proud to be part of a conference that made professional development accessible to people who may never have been able to get to a national or even state conference. Associations that have lots of rural or small library members should definitely take a lesson from the wonderful people in Iowa who made this possible.
I’d originally wanted to make the ALA Unconference a hybrid f2f/online experience, but most people on Jim Rettig’s advisory committee felt that we should focus on the in-person element. In hindsight, I think they were right. As it turns out, the Unconference is going to be located in a hotel that may or may not offer wireless Internet access (or Internet access at all — I have no idea since we don’t even know what hotel it’ll be in). Given how difficult it can be to get really reliable wireless access at an ALA Conference we could have ended up creating expectations for an online component that we simply could not deliver on. And while the online/offline balance for the Top Tech Trends meeting at Midwinter was brilliantly executed to allow for maximum participation from all (kudos to the tireless organizers of that!), the online components integrated into that same panel actually ended up being a distraction at Annual. While I’d love to do a hybrid Unconference in the future, I’m glad other folks talked us out of it this time around. I’d hate to have created something that would have served to show ALA that Unconferences are not a good model for them.
I feel much more optimistic this year about the growth of online conference opportunities than I did last year. And as budgets shrink and professional development funds become scarce, I hope more organizations will consider creating online conferences — if not as the main event, at least as a component of a F2F conference like ACRL. Because it’s likely that far fewer of us will be able to jet off to Seattle or Chicago or Boston or DC next year and conference organizers will have to be creative to keep their own revenues up.
Meredith, thanks for highlighting these online conferences. They are particularly appealing to me because I work in Egypt. I’m American, and I work at an American university, but the distance and expense makes it even more difficult for me to get to conferences in the US–yet I do want to keep up with trends in the field (I did get to go to Internet Librarian International in London–a great conference and even better opportunity).
Even though I’m on twitter and read blogs regularly, I’ve missed a lot of press about the ACRL virtual conference. I’d like to see ACRL promote it more creatively, or perhaps I mean more aggressively. I am a member, so it’s disappointing that I haven’t heard much about it (but maybe I just missed something).
Also, the price seems a bit steep for only four sessions.
Another disappointment for me with ACRL is that with the exception of the conference keynotes, the sessions are being offered live only, and not asynchronously. The time difference (6 or 7 hours depending on daylight savings) makes it a challenge to do any live webcasts from the US. I realize most ACRL members are in the States, but surely there are others who can’t take time away during the scheduled sessions, but would appreciate catching up later. This would be a great development.
Let’s hope this is just the beginning of online opportunities and things will get better down the road.
Joan, I’m totally with you on the publicity thing. My guess is that ACRL doesn’t want the virtual conference to overshadow the physical one (which is the big money-maker), but in the end, it may lose them money since people who would not have gone to ACRL anyways won’t register for it because they’ll not have heard about it. However, you’re not just paying for 4 sessions with the Virtual Conference registration, nor is everything only offered synchronously. You’ll be able to watch all of the presentations from the ACRL conference nearly live, and can access them later on as well. That actually gives you better access in some ways than someone physically at the conference because there are so many concurrent sessions that one never gets to everything they’d like.
Thanks, Meredith for your kind words about ISLOC! We were very pleased to have you doing the keynote this year, and happy with the response and enthusiasm you generated. This was the second annual ISLOC conference, and attendance is growing. Thanks for helping us make it a success! The ISLOC Team
Meredith – thanks for the plug! I look forward to the talk tomorrow. Indeed technology enables more conferences to happen – without really removing the need to attend some face to face events.
I am currently participating in the free virtual conference event with jean claude bradley. As an acrl member i want to support these events. I think it’s a great idea to offer a free webcast but given that this webcast experience is so different from the real Learning Times Network webcast I am concerned that it will actually turn off potential virtual conference/webcast attendees. There is some interesting content, but there is no participation. You can’t use a mic to talk to the speakers, you can’t chat with other attendees, there are no polls, etc. Those are all important parts of the webcast experience. If ACRL wants to use this free webcast as a “taste” to get people interested in registering I am afraid it might backfire. If someone is new to the webcast presentation, this could give them a completely incorrect view of what it is and what happens. Since you are on the virtual conference committee I think you might want to share this with the group. I think if ACRL wants to offer a free webcast they should make it as much like what will actually happen at the conference so that potential attendees will get a realistic picture of what it will be like. That, I think, is much more likely to get people excited about attending a virtual conference.
What would I need technically to have an online conference?
Well, it depends on what you want to do. For the conferences I described that are primarily synchronous, you’d at least need web conferencing/webinar software. If you’re interested in replicating what a specific conference has done, the best thing you could do is email the organizers of that conference and ask them how they did it.
Lady, the ISLOC team is putting together a wiki in which we share our experiences and describe how we have done the conference. It’s still in the works, but if you want to check it out…
As Meredith said we use Wimba, but there are other online webconferencing systems out there. I’ve looked a bit a DimDim, which has a free version that seems to work pretty well, at least in the limited “trying” that I’ve done. It has limits on the number of people who can participate, but the pay version would allow more. (I haven’t checked out the costs of the pay version.)
Congrats on your LITA award! YAY!!!
Lady & Karen-
Dimdim free web conferencing allows up to 20 people in the room at a time. You can share slides, whiteboard, screen, web pages, along with audio and the host’s video — and record the sessions.
To see our other plans, just visit:
Pricing for Dimdim Pro can be seen by clicking More Plans in the center column.
Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions.
Kevin Micalizzi, Community Manager
Dimdim Web Conferencing
Online conferences gives comfort to a lot of people. I kmow a lot of famous people doing it now, some even for free.