A recent post by Martin Weller exploring the impact of technology on conferences piqued my interest. From the number of comments, I could tell that I was not alone. The ability to participate remotely in conferences comes with the obvious pluses of:
- greater engagement through live blogging, tweeting and other technologies
- reduced carbon footprint
- economy during recessionary times
- better use of time due to the ability to pick and choose sessions with minimal disruption to regular routine
and the predictable negatives of:
- constant interruption if attempting to work and participate in remote sessions
- lack of reflection down time
- loss of face-to-face interaction
Recently, I have had the opportunity to reflect on these issues while remotely attending two conferences.
1) 7th Global Conference on Health Promotion, October 26-31 2009, Nairobi Kenya
I was impressed that pre-conference, the organizers set up a sophisticated portal on a Drupal platform aptly named: connect2change. The portal was a means of participation via blog posts and tweets. Particularly interesting for me was the ability to check the tweet option when posting a blog entry which made it possible for all participants to directly tweet as @connect2change, simply ingenious. To encourage participation, the organizers posted a “question of the day” and cartoons for people to vote for. As a remote participant [would have absolutely loved to be there in person:( ], I posted blog entries and comments at every opportunity. One great outcome was that my blog feed was linked to. Conference coverage was not live but the bloggers prompted posted some summaries and video clips of the content sessions. The absence of live streaming however made participation difficult as remote attendees had to wait to read the postings and then respond via the comment feature. At the conclusion of the conference, a few video clips were posted though not in their entirety. It was possible to get an overview of the conference content by browsing through the portal.
Pluses: Portal platform already in place prior to conference and for future reference; Ability to tweet posts; Ability to access the website at my convenience; Good efforts made to engage participants despite limited response: I really enjoyed voting for my favorite cartoon and the use of a Kenyan cartoonist’s work lent a fantastic local flavor to a global conference; Summaries are helpful for those lacking the time to listen to an entire 2 hour recording.
Minuses: The need to register so as to participate was an inconvenience; Impossible to follow in real time (however the 8 hour time difference would have made this problematic); No post-conference access to full presentation content as recordings or slides; Limited live tweeting and blogging – some may have preferred to blog on their personal blogs rather than the conference portal; While sophisticated, the portal may not have been intuitive for everyone as Drupal’s navigation can be confusing – the site may have been more advanced than was needed and proved intimidating.
2 ) Informatics for Consumer health Summit, November 5-6, Pontomac, Maryland, US
This was streamed live making it possible for remote participants to listen to and watch the presentations via videocast complete with a closed captioning option. Its singular strength was the ability to listen to the presenters live with excellent sound quality. The video quality was less than stellar but the streaming was pretty smooth with minimal glitches.
There were quite a few e-health enthusiasts live tweeting the conference using the #ich09 hash tag including: @elmenzies @arlyi @PRforPharma @kristinasummer @pharmiweb @odomlewis @kenrhines and @pjmachado. Seeing what others were tweeting lent an excellent interactive quality to my participation as a remote attendee.
Pluses: Listening to the conference in real time felt close to being there in person – I probably got more out of it because I could tweet undistracted; Excellent networking as via live tweeting I connected with people with similar interests to mine; Full recordings and transcripts will be made available – I will post the link.
Minuses: Some presenters did not provide their slides for streaming; Limitations of synchronous participation – I had to miss the first panel sessions which begun at my 5:00 am!; As I was still in the office, I had distractions, meetings…etc.
In some ways, comparing the two conferences is not entirely fair because the participants in the first conference are health promotion professionals with limited experience with these technologies. I even made a suggestion regarding hash tags but didn’t see a response. The culture was simply not there. The second conference on the other hand, attracted keen e-health enthusiasts who were natural and avid users of these technologies.
There is a lot of untapped potential in social media for engaging conference participants and providing post-conference access to the content. Tools range from slideshare for uploading presentations to sophisticated Twitter visualization as exemplified in @pfanderson’s post and “10 ways to archive your tweets“.
I used two tools to archive the Informatics for Consumer Health tweets with the #ich09 hash tag:
- Twapper Keeper: http://twapperkeeper.com/ich09/
- What the hash tag?! http://wthashtag.com/Ich09
To the extent I could, I was thrilled to participate in these conferences as physical attendance was impossible. My reflections on the fascinating content will be the subject of another post.