Global academic conferencing: A semi-virtual approach
Top 5 submission at VCÖ-Mobilitätspreis 2017 in Austria at national level in the category: Ideas and Concepts for Digitalization and web-based Mobility-Solutions
Considering the total environmental impact of aviation, a long-haul return flight can be compared with burning a ton of fossil carbon, or driving a car for a year. Flying to conferences can represent as much as a half of the total carbon footprint of an individual academic and (depending on assumptions made in calculations) as much as half of the total emissions of a university. Beyond promoting climate research--an area in which many universities are strong despite political opposition--solving this problem is one of the main ways in which universities can contribute to global sustainability.
To reduce flying, an international academic conference in the area of music psychology (ICMPC/ESCOM, 23-28 July 2018) will be distributed across nominally equal locations ("hubs") in Graz, Montreal, and Sydney. Most presentations will be live-streamed (using OBS software) to an internet cloud (YouTube, unlisted) and viewed at one or more other hubs, either in real time as a video. Content will be accessible only to participants (as URLs in Moodle). The technology was tested at a student-run trial conference (GAPS, 28 April 2017). Most participants will choose the closest hub, reducing travel expenses and probably halving total emissions relative to conventional conferences. Each hub will have a morning session for real-time communication toward the East and an evening session for the West. The internet cloud means the number of hubs is practically unlimited; future possibilities include hubs in South America, Africa and Asia, making the conference more accessible and multicultural.
A trial conference called Global Arts and Psychology Seminar (GAPS2017) was held on 28 April 2017 in five locations simultaneously: Boston (USA), La Plata (Argentina), Sheffield (UK), Graz (Austria) and Sydney (Australia). The unlisted videos of all presentations are available in YouTube via Moodle, for which a password is necessary. The videos show a ppt file with a talking head in the corner, created using software OBS. This aspect of the conference worked well, but communication during meetings was less satisfactory. Instead of Google Hangouts we plan to use WebEx or Blue Jeans. Skype-like software was used for informal communication during breaks; in the future, to avoid background noise, we plan to set up computers in booths in a quiet room with three headphone-microphone sets per computer. This is an important feature, because coffee breaks are widely regarded as a centrally important feature of academic conferences.
Concordia University Montreal, Canada: Organizing committee
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia: Organizing committee
ESCOM representative: University of Sheffield, UK: Organizing committee