Virtual Conferencing: Some Perspectives

Nicole R. Benquechea, MA Graduate Alumna, California State University, Los Angeles (nbenquechea@gmail.com)

Virtual conferencing has become the modal conferencing modality during the Covid-19 pandemic because it obviates the need for observing social distancing. Some organizations have been creative in using social media and other video technologies to provide an inclusive experience for everyone in their annual conventions. Most virtual conferences encourage attendees to communicate through live chats, hashtags, and other tools. On Twitter, people are encouraged to boost their social engagement during the meeting by sharing their publications or presentation posters in online groups. According to McLaughlin and Brame (2020), the best approach for a video conference setting is to use a service that allows people to share their screens, chat via text, communicate with digital whiteboards, and broadcast to large groups.

Inequities in online conferences

A virtual conference helps speakers and attendees save money on travel expenses and hotel reservations. However, a drawback of online meetings is the lack of free exchange between the speaker and the attendees about the presented research. Although remote opportunities seem like a significant convenience, many attendees have difficulty managing technology to network. Using unfamiliar technology can be challenging for many; the situation can be frustrating because it may cause attendees to miss introductory sessions of the conference program. Also, individuals may find online academic networking challenging during Covid times because of their caregiving responsibilities, health challenges, significant teaching duties, and fewer financial resources (Rissman & Jacobs, 2020). Attending online conferences over a few days can be extremely fatiguing. Students facing financial hardships may have difficulty attending the meeting because of registration fees. Also, many people probably found, as I did, uploading their presentations challenging because of restrictions on file size and not knowing what browser to use or simply the system was sometimes not responsive. How do we overcome inequities in online conferences? Sarabipour (2020) suggests, “Enabling presentations in multiple languages with captioning and translation will further encourage scientific exchange across nations. Providing closed captions and transcripts of virtual talks will further assist attendees with hearing and visual disabilities” (p. 2). Although virtual meetings provide benefits such as a reduction in cost and ideal access to those with disabilities, they come at a social cost. While various organizations have done an outstanding job to recreate an in-person experience, some virtual conferences are simply not the same for attendees, especially for those who may be computer challenged.

Promoting professional networking

Many professionals and students are interested in learning more about careers and graduate schools, but they may be unaware of such opportunities at virtual conferences. Networking is made difficult as attendees cannot ask questions when listening to pre-recorded or canceled sessions of interest. Each year prominent psychologists are invited to present the latest research findings at conferences, but in virtual conferences, there is little chance to meet and talk with them in person. During in-person conventions, universities and companies have booths where attendees can examine the latest books and technologies, speak to university representatives about graduate programs, and perhaps score prizes. It would be helpful if the organizers would compile and distribute relevant workshops and sessions, especially for student attendees. As long as the pandemic continues, attendees will need to continue attending virtual conferences; thus, researchers need to develop strategies to make virtual interactions successful for everyone.

References

McLaughlin, M., & Brame, D. (2020). The best video conferencing software for 2020. Retrieved from https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-video-conferencing-software

Rissman, L., & Jacobs, C. (2020). Responding to the Climate Crisis: The Importance of Virtual Conferencing Post-Pandemic. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1), 17966. https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.17966

Sarabipour S. (2020). Virtual conferences raise standards for accessibility and interactions. eLife, 9, e62668. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7641586/pdf/elife-62668.pdf

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