Friday, 25 April 2014

Webinars: The Future of Conferences? (I vote, "Yes")

"The webinar will begin shortly, please remain on the line."

Alright, maybe I was a bit eager- signing in to the UKSG webinar roughly ten minutes before the starting time.
You can't hold it against me though, I was very excited.
I'd been sitting behind my computer plugging away at coursework all day-unable to physical attend the conference in Harrogate due to financial and time constraints. Being a post-graduate student in LIS gives you this incredible thirst for knowledge and a desire to interact with others in every spectrum of the field. Unfortunately many of us, myself included, are simply unable to make the trek to conferences but our willingness and desire to be a part of them is incredibly high.

Which is exactly what brought me to my laptop at 15:55 on Tuesday the 15th. I'd been interacting and tracking #uksglive on twitter since Sunday evening. Following live tweets of talks, speakers, and networking does little more than make one stir crazy-especially after I found out there were bursaries and sponsorships available to allow students to attend the conference. I'll admit, head definitely met desk after I discovered that tid-bit.

"The webinar will begin shortly, please remain on the line."

'Wait.....will they be able to see me? Should I put on make-up?'

"The webinar will begin shortly, please remain on the line."

Part of me starts to wonder how many other people are hearing the exact same thing right at that moment? The UKSG website stated that the webinar could be attended by around 500 people worldwide.

That thought made me realise the consequences that successful webinars could have at conferences globally. It's not just about students, it's about expanding the privilege of knowledge to individuals and groups unable to attend in person. I was reminded of the format of TED talks and the newer platform of TEDx which brings TED to smaller communities and stages but still shares the knowledge and lectures globally. I don't even want to fathom how many hours I spent watching TED talks during my undergrad years, but unlike many other hours spent on line, I do not consider those to be "wasted". From my little flat in Milledgeville, Georgia I was able to watch TED talks taking place in New York, London, and San Francisco. The lectures I watched inspired my research, motivated me in topics for papers and speeches, and helped me realise that despite the sour economy- times are not terrible for dreamers.

I had been following #uksglive on twitter for days and seen highlights and quotes from many lectures and speeches that I terribly wished I could have seen. Would it be that terrible if academic conferences made their content available? It seems particularly hypocritical especially in the realm of LIS. It should be our mission to spread knowledge, literacy, and higher education. Denying individuals access to lectures at conferences because they cannot afford to attend or simply cannot make the trek seems to inherently conflict with our mission in LIS. With such focus now especially on open access research and now open source software for library databases, it is entirely wrong to only allow sessions and lectures at conferences to be open to only those who can afford the luxury.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of internal conflict, the webinar began. Maria Campbell chimed in, like a technical angel, to tell the attendees the format of the talk and how to work the controls and ask questions. Then she introduced Andrew Barker, head of academic liaisons at University of Liverpool, as our leader of the panel for the webinar.

The next 45 minutes were spent with Andrew leading a group as they tried to give a general overview of the whole conference. If anything the webinar just made me even more depressed that I wasn't actually attending. Obviously summarising sessions for a webinar will never actually replace attending the conference. You cannot network, visit booths, or meet-up for drinks by watching videos of lectures. I thought I was about to be let-down by the content but then conversation began about some of the actual content being addressed at the conference. Open access, the future of library cataloguing, interactive data, and how to remain relevant in an alarmingly paperless society.

I was later informed by Maria Campbell that the webinar was attended by 50 individuals but 142 registered and were sent the video to watch at a later time. That's a potential to spread and share knowledge from any conference, session, lecture, or panel with anyone in the world. In this blogger's humble opinion, webinars and videos of sessions should become open to those unable to physically attend conferences. I fully believe that UKSG is leading the way in instituting this new transition and look forward to seeing what is available for the world to see in 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment