This was my first "attendance" at a virtual conference, and I was interested in both the experience and the content.
The conference was organised by the Institute for Distance Education and International University Consortium, these are administered by the University of Maryland University College. The core faculty discussants included experienced staff from a wide range of North American Universities. Participants were from all over the world.
I heard about this conference through several Internet mailing lists, and as a result visited the conference web site a few weeks before it was due to start. A description of the conference themes and intended participants was available. Once I had looked at these I went to the registration form. I filled in my details and used a credit card to pay for my registration. This was a first for me, I have always been anxious about giving my credit card details on line. I checked out that the web page was running on a secure web server and had appropriate security certificates. I then took the plunge. The next day I had an email with my registration details.
Thanks to my employer, the School of Nursing & Midwifery, University of Sheffield, for agreeing to pay this fee. Despite the method being a little unusual as far as paying for staff development at conferences etc.
The cost of $35 was possible as no accommodation or travelling costs are required. The Web-based asynchronous computer conference provided a two-week discussion of both the pedagogical and practical aspects of teacher/student and student/student online communications. The software chosen for the conference was Hypernews, although a lot of other software packages were discussed. Hypernews is quite easy to use to read and participate in discussions, and a comprehensive tutorial and help is available.
The organisers suggested accessing the conference for a hour a day (at a time that was convenient to the individual) and that this would be approximately equal to a two day full time traditional conference.
The first week covered a range of topics, each led by a contribution from a faculty member & followed by discussion by participants, sometimes as many as a hundred contributions in a day or two.
The first week topics included;
The contributions which each of these areas provoked were many and varied, form participants all over the world and with a range of background and experience. Some had already run their own online courses, for others they had very limited experience. All contributions were well thought out and generally well expressed. As well as discussions within the conference, it also generated several individual emails between participants with similar interests and experience.
The subject areas represented were also very broad, and included medics and other nurses.
The second week
In the second week of the conference a series of break-out sessions were established. Each participant was asked to join & contribute to 2 of these groups. The number of posts in these varied from approx. 50 to 150. Topics ranged from discussions of educational philosophy to practical issues related to the use of the Internet tools to teacher - student ratios. Generally a constructivist educational model was used around which to create an educational paradigm.
Towards the end of the second week, the break-out sessions were opened to all participants to read the discussions. The posts send are now available in archive form at:
The conference concluded with a comprehensive evaluation exercise.
Apart from the main conference themes a conference club and software discussion area were available for participants to chat about other related areas of interest.
Because of the number and range of contributions and participants, it was impossible to read everything, as it would be to join all face to face discussions at a more traditional conference, however, it was possible to pick up interesting threads, and initiate or join in with informal chats with others all around the world.
The range of approaches used in the conference was deliberate to ensure that participants had experienced a range of asynchronous discussion types.
Generally the conference was a useful educational experience, providing many insights into the thoughts of others in the field, including learning from each others experience. I would have liked some threads to start with a more structured opening paper, around which discussion could develop, without restricting the free flow of ideas - many of the tangents to the discussion provided useful insights.
It was also not always easy to find time to attend - in future I will set a deliberate period each day to attend. Midnight after a beer is not the most appropriate way to attend a conference, but perhaps it helped the relaxed working atmosphere created, particularly in the club area simulating some of the informal meetings & chats which occur at face to face conferences.
The conference was a cheaper and easier way to participate in a conference than travelling, and although, I'm sure traditional face to face meetings & conferences will not be replaced by these methods it will be an increasingly important way of communicating.
To discuss this report further mail me on;
Page Created: 17.11.97
Last Updated: 3.9.03