27 March 2007


Alex Reid [State University of New York (Cortland)] really got me to thinking when I read this post on his blog, Digital digs: an archaeology of the future. Should we continue to have people “read” a paper at a conference? The Writing Program Administration electronic list discussed this issue and decided that “it depends—”on the subject matter, on who is doing the presenting, the length of the presentation, etc. For example, you can easily spend over US$1000 to go to a conference, where you might present your paper to less than 25 people. He asks, “why should I spend a grand out of my own pocket to tell a dozen people what is on my mind? That’s what a blog is for.

Yes, I know that the real purpose of conferences is networking—getting to meet people—and to do the organization’s business in committees. However, could we put all the presentations on the web as text or PowerPoint (using SlideShare or even YouTube) and allow for comments? We could even set up a forum for questions and discussion. Or even do a virtual conference in a synchronous online space like Second Life. (Some people are already doing virtual conferences, but not for the big meeting.

What would we gain? Presentations could be as long as they wanted to be. There could be an accessible record of presentations that would be easy to reference. One could extend the conversation coming out of a presentation and easily make connections between presentations. He even suggests that “the quality of the presentations might improve overall as they would lose their ephemeral quality.” Not only would you save the travel time to and from conferences, but you would not have to sit through a poor presentation or one that turned out to be something other than what you thought it would be. Time at the actual conference could be saved for featured speakers, although these could be podcast or vidcast on a secure website, again making it unnecessary to travel.

Disadvantages: The organization would lose its main (or one of its main) sources of revenue—the annual conference. But this could easily be made up by charging a nominal fee to access a presentation or speech. Those on small budgets—like most of us—could afford to hear more presentations since they would not be paying hotel and air costs. The sum of many smaller payments could equal the few larger conference fees—and many more people would receive the information and participate in the organization.

It sounds like a win-win to me. What do you think?

URL: http://alexreid.typepad.com/digital_digs/2007/03/conferences_in_.html

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