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Computer scientists write global guide to virtual conferencing


Document covers technology requirements, planning, accessibility, social interaction and finances, says NZ contributor

Running a successful virtual conference requires a high level of organisation that goes beyond providing an online platform and telling participants “where to show up”, a guide developed by an international task force of computer scientists has said.

The group includes New Zealand academic Rob Lindeman, director of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The guide was compiled by a seven-member task force from the Association for Computing Machinery, a not-for-profit professional organisation based in New York.

It aims to help universities and research institutes switch to online meetings in response to Covid-19 travel restrictions and lockdowns that have caused widespread cancellation of conferences.

“With the pandemic making traditional face-to-face meetings impossible, conference organisers around the world are experiencing totally new challenges. They need to be able to quickly adapt the format of upcoming conferences and events,” Lindeman said in a university statement.

“It was a real sprint to pull together such a comprehensive document, and also to keep it focused enough to be useful for people under pressure to come up with conference alternatives.”

He said the guide offered advice for running virtual conferences of all sizes and covered topics such as technology requirements, planning, accessibility, social interaction and finances.

“My main contribution was on how various aspects and activities at academic conferences, such as paper sessions, panels, keynote addresses and poster sessions, differ, and how each might be supported by various different technologies.”

The guide also aims to encourage conference organisers to “think about reducing reliance on traditional face-to-face meetings in the future, with a very clear desire to reduce the impact on global climate change”.

It also explains that virtual conferences are not a minimalist version of physical conferences and will require a similar level of involvement and organisation.

“A virtual conference needs at least as many volunteers as a physical conference. Volunteers need to be present in each virtual meeting space, monitor the chat channels, greet participants, staff reception areas and help users test their audio, help train session chairs and speakers, help session chairs gather questions, and interface with the rest of the organising team when problems arise,” the guide says.

“Roughly, there should be one volunteer per meeting room and chat channel, plus a few in a ‘landing’ or reception space for newcomers…Just like in a physical conference, volunteers will need to be trained in advance and someone needs to oversee their activities during the conference.”