Conferencing in a Pandemic: Spreading Our (Virtual) Wings!

04 Jun 2021 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

As many of us enter a break from teaching, conferences beckon – with new and old friends, cutting-edge research, and exciting pedagogical ideas. Since widespread lockdowns in March of 2020, some conferences were canceled but many others were held virtually for the first time ever. Some live conferences are returning, such as STP’s Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT) in October which will have virtual components, but also live ones in Louisville, KY! But many conferences in upcoming months remain fully virtual. And many of us will experience the perhaps-unexpected benefits of remotely learning from and connecting with each other!

First, it’s exciting that geography need not constrain our conference-going. Depending on where you live, you may have to log on at odd hours to attend the fully virtual European Society for Psychology Learning and Teaching conference (ESPLAT) in early September, the fully virtual Australian Psychology Learning and Teaching conference (AusPLAT) conference in mid-September, or the virtual parts of the ACT in October. I plan to attend all three (and there will be panel discussions among leaders from all three organizations at all three conferences), but I could not possibly travel to Australia, Germany, and then Louisville over the course of a month and a half – unless someone wants to loan me their private jet. I’ll be at ACT in Louisville for sure, but am grateful for the virtual option for the others!

Or consider the STP-sponsored Global Citizenship Education professional development workshop series for educators this July, conducted by the Center for Executive Education at the University for Peace (UPEACE), established by the General Assembly of the United Nations. I participated in last year’s virtual workshop series, and found it exhilarating to engage with educators from around the world as I workshopped one of my courses to integrate the lessons from the session leaders and my colleagues. The series is typically held in Costa Rica, so jump at this opportunity to join in from your home! [I should add that the reduction in conference travel is more environmentally friendly, too (Price, 2020).]

Conference organizers and the folks who design online conference platforms have learned so many lessons from their experiences over the past year, and virtual conferences are increasingly engaging. [For more info, read the helpful review of best practices for online conferences by a Canadian and UK team headed by Luc Rubinger (2020).] Perhaps because of these innovations, there’s evidence that attendees can forge new social connections virtually (Dunn et al., 2021). In recent months, I’ve enjoyed connections with new colleagues in various online social settings, the opportunity to watch talks after the conference on my own time, and even the fun of bantering in the chat with audience members during my own prerecorded talk.

I’ve also witnessed increasing accessibility with subtitles and transcripts of talks or live sign language translation. And I’ve heard about folks with hearing impairments using their own specialized headphones. In line with this, a review of best practices for online conferences recommended designating an Accessibility Chair and emphasized the importance of “auditory, visual, economic and technological accessibility” (Rubinger et al., 2020). I’ve also witnessed increasing diversity at some conferences because speakers can present regardless of geographical location, childcare or other duties, or travel funds. Indeed, one article noted that virtual meetings can offer “[a] high-quality conference experience that is often more egalitarian, equitable, and diverse than inperson [sic] conferences” (Price, 2020). 

I’m hopeful that these innovations will lead to similar changes when in-person conferences resume. Can we have more creative social events that foster new collaborations? Can we increase accessibility in inventive ways? Can we keep some virtual elements to allow people more flexibility in presenting and attending talks? Can we increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging through these measures?

These questions lead to the latest in my ongoing series of introductions of the Vice Presidents of STP. Meet Angela Legg, our VP for Programming! The resourceful work of Angela and her dedicated team is addressing many of these questions as we look to make ACT and our other programming more inclusive and engaging in a range of ways. Here, Angela discusses her role within STP, the opportunities within her area, and why she so values her involvement in STP. As always, check out STP’s Get Involved page to see where you might fit within our organization!

What would you like STP members to know about your position?

There’s a common narrative when you start asking people why they became involved with STP – many will tell you it was because they had a positive experience at one of the many conferences, preconferences, or teaching institutes organized by STP! I’m one of those people who “found my community” of like-minded teacher-scholars at an STP conference and now I am honored to be the VP of Programming, a position that facilitates continued excellence in teaching programming. The Programming division in STP currently houses nine conference directors and programming chairs who work tirelessly year-round to plan numerous conferences and programming events. Programming is unique in that we have our flagship, standalone conference – the Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT) – but we also collaborate with other organizations such as the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society for Research on Child Development to offer top notch teaching programming at discipline-specific conferences. Our programming directors also plan STP content for our largest psychology conferences such as the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Sciences and also support regional conferences across the US and internationally to promote the very best in teaching of psychology programming.

The VP of Programming supports the existing teaching programming outlets while also working to develop new programming partnerships across other psychology organizations. The position also assists with the needs of the directors within the ever-changing landscape of conference planning. During the pandemic, our directors went above and beyond to quickly pivot into the world of virtual conferencing. Many of them have been programming in-person conferences for years but in 2020 they were suddenly challenged with the task of reimagining teaching programming in a virtual format. For anyone who attended the 2020 Virtual ACT, APA, and other conferences, you may have seen the incredible work of STP’s programming division. If 2020 taught us anything, STP’s programming can extend far beyond just traditional, in-person mediums and I look forward to seeing the future programming innovations yet to come in our amazing society.  

What do you most value about STP?

The members! My first exposure to STP was during grad school in 2008 when I first attended the Best Practices conference (now the Annual Conference for Teaching) in Atlanta, GA. Even as a newcomer to the conference, I immediately felt included in the community and loved the genuine passion so many attendees had for honing their teaching craft. What I learned about STP is that there are always opportunities for people to get involved, become connected, meet new people, and learn new teaching tricks. ​

References

Dunn, E., Lok, I., & Zhao, J. (2021). Can virtual conferences promote social connection? https://psyarxiv.com/37n6u/

Price, M. (2020). Scientists discover upsides of virtual meetings. Science, 368(6490), 457-458. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.368.6490.457

Rubinger, L., Gazendam, A., Ekhtiari, S., Nucci, N., Payne, A., Johal, H., Khanduja, V., & Bhandari, M. (2020). Maximizing virtual meetings and conferences: A review of best practices. International Orthopaedics, 44, 1461-1466. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00264-020-04615-9

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