In the contemporary world, the great increase in the use of technology, with the resulting social and scientific implications, also has consequences for academic/scientific conferences and for the dissemination of knowledge itself. Our world is more and more linked in an increasingly digital future, in which "activities, information and results in data that can be compiled, analyzed and shared"


There are several proposals on how to organise a conference. Yet, it is interesting to note that the literature on the actual study of academic conferences is rather scarce. However, we will try to make a comparative analysis of two models of academic conferences, putting forth their advantages, limitations and potentialities. Likewise, we will seek to reasonably envision the importance and challenges to face in the near future in this blog article.

Why Do We Attend Academic Conferences?


Academic conferences have always been privileged spaces and moments for the dissemination of new scientific knowledge and for social interaction and the establishment/development of networks among scientists, as well as between them and novice researchers. This interaction is, to some extent, vital to science. However, academic conferences can also be an instance of surplus (profit attainment), and also more or less formal instruments for assessing institutions. Academic conferences also work as spaces and moments of academic socialization processes. Each and every time we attend a conference, we are simultaneously constructing our own identities as academics: the things we do, the sessions we attend, the questions we ask (and refrain from asking), the connections we develop, and the ensuing research we work on are all part of making us into the selves that we experience and others see.


Thus, the importance of conferences and participating in them in the visibility, consolidation and expectations is undeniable both at the professional, institutional and personal levels. As a way of illustrating the importance of actively participating in conferences, one of the participant's personal testimonies is given below, which unequivocally demonstrates the personal and professional learning and development that his regular participation in conferences provided him:

"At that moment I realized that due to the confidence developed from the first conference, I was able to smartly deal with the questions, and therefore look forward to presenting in similar conferences. Since then, I have been continuously participating in different conferences. Now I feel that I can present confidently and can learn so many things in conferences. The participation in different conferences has provided me with ideas and knowledge useful for my academic career. "


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Conferences can and should be sites and moments that foster the active building of knowledge among participants. Then, and to some extent, academic conferences may also be seen as spaces and moments of collective learning.


Summing up, conferences are information-sharing situations, but also, and preferably, essentially learning sites. The promotion of conditions for free participation is not only morally correct but also the best means for conferences to fulfil their goal of fostering communication and a moment of scientific learning, in the sense of stimulating learning for all in diversity.

Motivations For Attending An Academic Conference


Notwithstanding the existence of several motivations for the participation in conferences, in an interesting study, highlights the following ones:

  • Socializing with colleagues from other universities,
     
  • Trip to a possibly exotic location,
     
  • Experience famous keynote speakers and/or researchers,
     
  • Attend presentations by peers,
     
  • Present yourself so you become visible in the field, and
     
  • Converse and discuss with other researchers.

Key Points For Organizing A Virtual Conference

  • Address time zone differences: timing is everything. 
  • Test the available resources: to ensure that you are able to host the conference. 
  • Manage bandwidth usage: to safeguard against conference interruptions. 
  • The concept of virtual hubs: makes registration and participation simpler. 
  • Pre-Recorded presentations: to gear-up if streaming video fails for any reason. 
  • Allocate time for presenter orientation: to ensure glitch-free schedule compliance. 
  • Establish dedicated virtual interaction rooms (e-lobbies): to ensure a practical platform for participant Q&A and networking. 
  • Troubleshoot technical glitches: to equip yourself for any foreseeable challenges. 
  • Get motivated: It's the key to your success. 
  • Participant feedback: useful for future reference
     


Virtual conferences, unlike face-to-face conferences, allow that a large number of participants benefit from being able to follow the main important aspects of these events. Many of these participating delegates would be prevented from attending in the case of face-to-face conferences, mainly due to a lack of funding to cover the conference costs (travel and accommodation) and to the lack of time for travelling to distant countries.


A virtual conference may be an opportunity for social learning. For the author, the main principles that virtual conferences develop are the following:

1) The importance of social design and facilitation in promoting the development of a vibrant conference community,


2) The benefits of providing spaces and time for reflective conversation,


3) The need for multiple modes of engagement for a very diverse group of participants and


4) The customization of a stable yet versatile technological platform supported by a highly experienced team
 

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Virtual conferences allow benefitting from the different technologies of digital communication available to academics and highlights, such as; communication across time and space, scope for reflective engagement and access to a widely dispersed network with international and regional peers and experts. Thus, virtual conferences are excellent opportunities for the professional development of actors located all over the globe.


Virtual communication, specifically in the context of virtual academic conferences herewith discussed, is a dynamic construct that is dependent on a variety of factors, such as "time and experience, social influence, and appropriation. The authors characterize individuals who use virtual communication as active users who use the new media in their favor, advocating that the academic community (or others) no longer need to be physically in the same place at the same time.

Potentials and Challenges of Virtual Conferences


In addition to the many potential advantages that virtual conferences have, as demonstrated above, they also pose some challenges that must be carefully considered when choosing the format of a conference or scientific meeting. Online conferences can be considered as necessarily complex socio-technical systems, which raises deep and specific implications.


Online conference designers can face some challenges in supporting informal and social interaction among participants, however these forms of interaction may be essential to develop the safety and trust required for effective engagement in formal conference activities, as well as the formation of professional relationships that last longer than the conference. The social design parameters available to conference organizers include boundaries, facilitation, modes of interaction, the balance between synchronous and asynchronous events, relevant modes of knowledge, the duration of the conference, and the conference outputs.

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The use of technology, also by the participants, such as computer applications (apps) and online social networks, entails that their digital literacy is enough, so that this digital literacy interaction is fruitful. However, it can raise ethical questions and issues related to intellectual property rights, on the online dissemination of new data, such as, for instance, slide shows by non-presenting participants that were being presented for the first time at the conference.


If carefully and correctly planned, conferences and other virtual scientific events can be highly interactive. It is possible to emulate, in a significant way, face-to-face conferences, and the principles of inclusion, participation and collaboration are respected and developed. Our learning from our evaluation has three core aspects; first, a need for practice developers to grasp skills in technology associated with virtual space; secondly, the need to embrace virtual space itself as another means by which creative and communicative spaces can be established for active learning and practice development activities and finally, further exploration of the potential that international virtual engagement has over face to face national or international engagement.


Table below offers the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the face-to-face and virtual conferences

Comparison of Virtual and Live Academic Conferences

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According to the table above, virtual conferences enable participants to obtain much of the benefits of in-person (face-to-face) conferences, with the advantages of reducing the financial and environmental costs involved in travelling to other countries. The authors, who are visibly favorable to this conference format, maintain that "Virtual conferencing opens the door for researchers from poorly funded countries or institutions to more easily participate in the international research discussion.


It also provides a genuine alternative to those who choose to limit their carbon footprint by not traveling. Although virtual conferences are not expected to completely replace face-to-face conferences in the near future, one of their major advantages is that the use of virtual tools enables researchers and even students, especially those with financial difficulties, to participate in a higher number of scientific events.


On the other hand, any of the conference formats may be associated with predatory journals, in an academic world where the pressure to publish is enormous. However, the fact that virtual conferences are certified helps to promote their quality, while respecting the ethical code of conduct appropriate to each specific conference.

Conclusion


It may be ascertained that virtual conferences play an increasingly central role in this type of scientific dissemination, but without totally relegating the conference mode with face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, a hybrid between that uses the best features of the two types of conferences starts to emerge and gain increasing relevance and supporters from the academic community. Such a comparison between face-to-face and virtual conferences, concludes that there is a gap between these two conference formats, where hybrids are possible. However, there is the need to deepen the studies in this field that allow, with growing scientific intentionality, the understanding of this academic and social phenomenon. On the other hand, the conferences' online dimension tends to take on an increasingly central role, but without totally relegating the physically present dimension.


It may be concluded that virtual conferences play an increasingly central role in this type of scientific dissemination, but without totally relegating the conference mode with face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, a hybrid between that uses the best features of the two types of conferences starts to emerge and gain increasing relevance and supporters from the academic community. Such a comparison between face-to-face and virtual conferences, concludes that there is a gap between these two conference formats, where hybrids are possible. However, there is the need to deepen the studies in this field that allow, with growing scientific intentionality, the understanding of this academic and social phenomenon. On the other hand, it seems that the conferences' online dimension tends to take on an increasingly central role, but without totally relegating the physically present dimension.

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If you are feeling dubious about your academic conference format yet, you should check Meetinghand's versatile conference management solutions providing user friendly and easy to use interfaces both for organizers and attendees. Meetinghand was totally designed to support live and virtual events in all aspects. By using MeetingHand, you can collect abstracts from the authors online and assign them to your reviewers for evaluation, then collect their evaluation results easily. MeetingHand, with its comprehensive virtual event module, allows academic organizers to plan and manage their events as an online conference securely. It allows you to provide meaningful engagement opportunities among your participants or between your sponsors and attendees. 

As an all-in-one event management software, MeetingHand provides so many solutions for event planners such as event registration management, abstract management, virtual event management, online payment collection or event mobile app. For more details please visit our website or request demo.

Reference: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333342205...

Journal of Educational and Social Research 9(2):35-47 - May 2019

Virtual and Face-To-Face Academic Conferences: Comparison and Potentials

Special thanks to,

Dr. Maria José Sá CIPES
Centre for Research in Higher Education Policies Matosinhos, Portugal Corresponding Author 

Dr. Carlos Miguel Ferreira
Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences – CICS.NOVA Lisboa, Portugal Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco 

Dr. Sandro Serpa
University of the Azores,Faculty of Social and Human Sciences,Department of Sociology; Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences – CICS.UAc/CICS.NOVA.UAc; Interdisciplinary Centre for Childhood and Adolescence – NICA – UAc Ponta Delgada, Portugal