Online Conference experiences and tools

Hi everyone,

While planning the Open edX online conference for 2021, we would like to hear from the community, about tools and online events experiences.

Which tools or platforms have you used or participated in that worked?

Which ones didn’t?

As in many other fields, experience matters in this case (tools don’t always work as promised in the demos!).

Please share your feedback in this post.
It will help us create a memorable event!


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Thanks for opening that discussion! :slight_smile: It’s useful to brainstorm on the online version of the conference this way, as a conference is a tricky thing to adapt to online imho. We have had some conversations at OpenCraft in the past about this - my post will be a recap of many points & links that came up during that conversation (thanks for those who have participated btw, you’ll recognize yourself :slight_smile: ).

But before mentioning what could work or be worth experimenting, it’s useful to mention what is unlikely to work: simply transposing the talks/workshops of the offline version in Zoom calls.

The main problem with online conferences is that the main thing we want to get out of conferences/retreats is precisely what online tools are still bad at – ie getting the full human contact offered by being in person, with all its nuances. We can already get a lot out of our written and video discussions, but packing more of that within a few days and calling it a conference won’t fill the gap. Until we do have a Ready Player One-like experience in VR, that will remain the case… (I can’t wait for that, though, it will be awesome :slight_smile: ).

Also, in-person conferences are good at making a group of people focus on a single set of events and interactions for several days - you get the (mostly) undivided attention of the community focused on one thing, the conference. Remotely, that is a lot harder to achieve, not to say impossible. Zoom fatigue comes up a lot faster, and the rest of the world has a much easier time competing for attention when the conference is just a window on the screen… Nobody wants to spend a full day in a Zoom call.

That said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in holding a conference online, especially when there is no possibility of an in-person alternative. But I think we need to keep those limitations and differences clearly in mind.

There is an article from the Loom blog that provides some good insights on this, taken from experience:

One key element imho is that the social aspect, which comes pretty much automatically with in-person conferences, from simply putting a bunch of people in the same conference hall for several days, is not a given at all in an online version, and needs to become one of the main (if not the main) elements to organize and foster.

I don’t know of a perfect solution for this, but a few approaches that come back on this topic are:

  • Setting up a shared space/virtual world where to hang out: many have mentioned Gather for this – or maybe a minecraft/minetest space?
  • Organize social events in that space – things like games (during our own regular social chats at OpenCraft, Among Us and Skribbl have been quite popular :slight_smile: ), group discussions on a topic, hackathons, etc. Where the explicit goal is to get all participants to engage (vs just “watching tv” with more traditional talks)
  • To try to get closer from the feeling of presence we have in person, we could also experiment with VR (not everyone has a VR headset, but that could replace the price of airplane tickets?) - see the way some conferences used VR for their online version, through tools/spaces like AltspaceVR
  • One advantage of being online is that we aren’t actually limited to a single space. We can also organize events all around the internet - for example, we could play things like the online version of Escape Games, or an Alternate Reality Game like Thickett
  • Using async videos, like mentioned in the Loom blog article, can be a surprisingly nice way to communicate - we now do all our standup this way, and it’s nice to see videos from others (in a timezone-agnostic way! :slight_smile: )

We can also still do some more traditional talks & workshops. But:

  • Taking into account the issue of focus, it should be much shorter, a smaller proportion of the time allocation, in smaller groups and efforts should be made to make it much more interactive than when it is held in person.
  • Having more of a forum/group discussion in each, where individual participants all talk at times, can help a lot too.
  • And for the cases where there are too many people to allow this, using live participation tools like Slido could be better than the usual one-way format of talks.
  • Maybe also do more AmAs than talks?

Hi Xavier,

Thank you for sharing such an extensive list of tools and insights in regards to online events.

I had to admit that the VR tools and experiences sound tempting, but maybe not all the audience is ready to jump in yet. In addition, VR headsets might be expensive or not easy to procure in some parts of the world.

From my perspective, we may need to start with a more traditional approach (talks & workshops), for which you provided very valuable ideas (AmAs being my favorite).

Thanks again for sharing your findings.