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We recently had the pleasure of hosting a conference for the Association of Reaching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM 2020). Although originally planned as a physical conference in Norwegian city of Hamar, circumstances forced us to transition to a virtual format (read about that here). In our post-conference evaluation, we asked delegates to list any perceived advantages of virtual conferences.
Our conclusions now that the RaAM 2020 is over: While we LOVE our physical meet-ups with our fellow metaphor enthusiasts and experts, we find that that virtual conferences definitely have their benefits. Check it out:
To those with limited budgets, the conference allows us to stay plugged into the field without breaking the bank–!
Not everyone has funding allowing them to attend a scientific conference in Norway! Our virtual conference fee was less than 1/10 of that for the physical version & delegates had no transportation, accomodation, extra food costs or other travel costs. And in addition to saving money, the delegates also saved time, not having a day’s travelling time on either end (or more).
The fact that people from all over the world can access it so easily is wonderful.
We had expected at least 150 people to attend RaAM 2020 in Hamar. Instead, we ended up with 300 people at RaAM 2020Virtual. Of the 12 previous RaAM conferences, our conference had by far the greatest number of delegates.
People clearly cannot attend conferences if they cannot afford to, so lower costs certainly result in greater accessibility. But money is not the only consideration preventing people from attending conferences.
- Family commitments: More doable for a mother with kids like me.
- Work commitments: I am working in the summer and travelling was not an option for me.
- Health considerations: having access to the conference via my own set up in the comfort of home made it possible for me to take good notes and not be disrupted by any mental health issues.
- Geopolitical barriers: people who are living in (politically) sanctioned countries may be able to show themselves
- Bureacratic barriers: avoid the complex procedure to apply for the visa
- Institutional policies: very convenient for those who are not presenting papers but still are interested in participating in the event
- Geographical considerations: I thank so much you made participation from the Global South possible.
At RaAM 2020Virtual, we held live papers (20 minutes plus 5-10 minutes of questioning) from 9am – 1pm and from 5pm – 10pm (more or less) each day. These papers boasted audiences ranging between 20-90 people, with most hovering around 30-40 delegates- respectable attendance at all times for all papers!
Oddly, for having more virtuality, made people seem more human, seeing them lying on their couches, etc.
Delegates noted that the virtual format levelled the playing field, at least to some extent, as Zoom does not distinguish between the academic superstars and the newcomers to the field: everyone is in the same size little box on the screen, the order of which you cannot choose, unless you speak.
The virtual format promoted greater inclusion as students or entire research groups were able to attend, to a degree that would not have been possible had the conference been held physically. We hear more diverse voices at a virtual conference:
Self-described non-experts: As I am not an expert on the topic, I would have felt intimidated and not gone to the conference
Introverts: I am usually rather shy at big conference and do not dare asking a question in a huge room full of people but with the virtual conference I had the feeling that I was much less nervous and it was easier to directly engage with people.
It is easier to transfer from one panel to another, as virtual “sneaking out” is less embarrassing than physical sneaking out.
While at the conference, people found it simple to quickly sessions, as the virtual room were accessible with a click of their mouse. In addition, the slides were always clearly visible, as were people’s names: easier than trying to read a conference badge
You can just sit on your sofa and enjoy linguistics. 🙂
Delegates noted that a virtual conference entails:
- No jet lag or travel sickness
- No concerns about transportation or safety in a new place
- No formal clothes (or even shoes)
- Less guilt at not attending all the sessions (due to the minimal cost)
- Being able to easily take a break (even a nap!) when needed
- Not having to wear glasses (for at least one person)!
I LOVED the chat features. It gives the opportunity to get different kinds of feedback on your work from people who may not have raised their hands, if for example they are introverted or they just loved the talk and want to connect.
The written chat function provided an new dimension to conferences. Some people reported that they feel more comfortable writing ideas than say them aloud, making the chat ideal. They also appreciated the ability to save the chat, thereby retaining a written record of the feedback there.
I was surprised positively by how good the virtual chats are compared to in-person coffee breaks/ wine reception. For introverts it’s much better – easier to speak in small groups.
People were pleased by the possibilities offered by the virtual meet-ups in Zoom meeting rooms. Early Career Researchers were given a great chance to chat with established scholars. Alternatively, they could just ‘hang’ there & listen, without feeling like they were eavesdroppers.
It allows for a slower, and therefore tastier processing of what is being said. So much information is passed up on in favor of general understanding while watching in real time! And then on to the next session! Next topic! Next!!!
A decided advantage of virtual conferences is the papers can be recorded for posterity (given the presenters’ permission), offering delegates the opportunity to rewatch papers they attended, see papers they missed, and even freeze the recording in order to more closely study a particular slide.
More environmentally friendly, with no planes to take. A smaller carbon footprint!
A typical 3-day conference in Europe generates 455 tons of CO2 or ½ ton per attendee, while the world average is 4 tons per person per year (for more info, check out this panel disussion on sustainable academia).
While we realize that those connections at coffee breaks during physical conferences are meaningful, they are prohibitively costly in terms of the environment. It is long past time to follow through with sustainable alternatives rather than just repeat our old patterns and habits.
WANT TO HOLD YOUR OWN VIRTUAL EVENT?
…but maybe feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought? Then check out this Resources page for practical advice!
Credit for ‘Time is money’ image: http://taxcredits.net/; ‘Equality/Equity’ image: Community Eye Health; Eavesdropping image: By Adolphe Henri Laissement – Hampel Fine Art Auctions, Public Domain; Carbon footprint image: Notnarayan / CC BY-SA