Thursday, 26 April 2012

Online Conferences - Give them a go!

Logo used with kind permission of FTS2012.
Earlier on in this month I signed up and attended Follow the Sun 2012 - an online conference billed as “a global e-learning festival”. Despite being a learning technologist I had not attended any conferences other than the traditional face-to-face type - and thought it was about time I gave them a go.

Follow the Sun 2012 seemed a truly international conference - not only because the delegates were located worldwide but because it was hosted globally too in Australia, UK and the USA.. This revealed one of the most appealing aspects of an online conference: effective use of time.

Making the most of the conference
Time: The conference had a wide range of areas, topics and presenters - but it was easy to choose sessions which sparked interest, without having to commit to attending a full day - which is often the case with face-to-face attendance. This also enabled juggling of a heavy workload with conference attendance.

Networking: This is often a prime reason for conference attendance - but in the past decade collaboration tools over the internet such as e-mail, Facebook, Blackboard Collaborate, LinkedIn and Google+ have opened up additional ways to network. Taking part in a conference is still a relevant place for this, and it was certainly possible to do this.

Ease of use
Most online conferences will use a suite of tools in order create a conference community. They will generally involve screencasting presentations and audio or text chat. Follow the Sun used Blackboard’s Collaborate suite.

Even if you’ve never used these tools before they have a small learning curve - and any good conference will provide you with lots of help, and guidance. All you need is an internet connection and a computer! If you computer has a webcam and microphone you could join in using audio and video should you wish.

Depending on what your motivations for conference attendance are there are a couple of downsides - you don’t get a nice trip out of the office or a visit to a nice sunny location!

The online world is creeping into offline conferences - think about the last one you attended - did they have a twitter feed for sharing ideas?

Give it a go!
I certainly found my first experience of an online conference to be beneficial as attendance at an ‘offline’ conference - in terms of interesting debates, variety of topics covered and ability to share ideas and network.

Next time an online conference comes to your attention don’t be afraid - give it a go!

James Little.


  1. Thanks for the kind comments, James. FTS is a huge organisational task as it's spread over three time zones (plenty of 11pm Skype conference calls), so it's nice to hear positive feedback from our delegates.

    I completely agree with your comments about networking - sometimes it's surprising just how powerful that little chat box is!

    Simon Kear
    Beyond Distance Research Alliance (FTS UK Anchor!)

    1. I also attended FTS and echo what James send - it's inspiring just to think that events like this can be pulled off let alone be dreamt up! Thanks for your hard work (and the rest of the team no doubt!) for putting this together.



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