Academic Communities and Remote Collaboration During COVID19
Among the cultural upheavals of the Covid-19 era was a rapid transformation of collaboration and networking. Academic conferences went from in-person gatherings to streamed events. What takes place between the presentations and keynotes of these conferences is often said to be more important than the sessions themselves. But without hallways, how can conference organizers bring conversation back to the center of these conferences? Meanwhile, how might these reimagined conversations cultivate inclusion and center equity, accessibility and responsibility.
In February 2021, Convocation Research + Design was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to conduct ethnographic and human centered design research to surface and analyze the needs of different academic communities in the context of digital events and spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. We observed seven virtual academic conferences with an eye toward assessing emerging norms, the event organizers’ needs, and attendee preferences. The project collaborators and fiscal sponsor, Simply Secure, provided thought-leadership, editing and project management.
Our report outlines 16 major insights across 3 focus areas, with 10 recommendations. These focused on two conflicting themes: remote events are much more accessible to attend, and yet, they compete with external life circumstances. We found that new norms had yet to be established, and that strategies for managing and transmitting expectations and knowledge needed to be adapted for online events. For example, if a camera is off, does it mean someone is disengaged? How do you clearly communicate a schedule across time zones? Finally, we highlight that rethinking in-person events for digital spaces is an opportunity to bring equity, accessibility, and responsibility to the center, rather than reproducing well-known inequities of the in-person academic conference.