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Changing nature of conferences

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Martin Weller
28 October 2009

One of the things I am interested in is the subtle ways in which new technology begins to alter standard practice over time, and without these changes being planned. In the academic world I think the conference is one such area. The academic conference can be seen as one of the core practices in higher education. It achieves many vital functions in academic practice, including:

  • Knowledge sharing - you get to present and listen to other talks
  • Validation - by sharing research and ideas within a subject community you get validation
  • Networking - you establish a network of peers
  • Recognition - publishing conference papers is often a first step for researchers to publishing papers and are recognised outputs
  • Socialising - slightly different from networking, there is a social element to conferences which make them enjoyable

Over the past few years remote participation has become more commonplace. By remote participation I don't mean solely online conferences, but rather the sort of vicarious, casual participation many of us undertake. This type of participation is often unofficial, and uses low key, free technology. It is often a hybrid of the following examples:

  • Twitter hashtags
  • Live streaming (whether official or via an individual)
  • Blogging
  • Live-blogging
  • Video/audio updates
  • Flickr streams
  • Slideshare presentations
  • Cloudworks/Friendfeed aggregations

There are a few things that interest me about this. The first is how does it change the nature of the conference to have this broader participation? Secondly, how can conference organisers and presenters best take advantage of it and incorporate it into the conference? Thirdly, what is the experience like for the remote participant compared with the 'real thing'? For this last question, I have created a quick 5 question survey to get a feeling for how remote participation compares with real attendance.

In this debate I'd really like to get opinions and views from people on how conferences have changed and, perhaps more importantly, ideas for how they could change in the future.

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conference   debate   participation   web2


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