Or rather, how we (which is Karen Cropper and I) organised the OU online conference this year. You might like to take this as a template to use if you're thinking of running a similar event, although obviously you may want to vary the technologies, structure, etc.
This is the first in a series of posts on the conference which will cover organisation, suggestions for improvement and evaluation.
The Cloudworks site acted as the main web site and the asynchronous discussion forum. We set it up as an ‘event’, which adds in a button ‘Mark as attending’, so we had a means of recording who intended to come to the conference (although as Cloudworks is separate from Elluminate, we don’t know if they actually did). You can also send emails to all those who have marked as attending, which was useful (see Communications below).
Within cloudworks we created the conference as a ‘cloudscape’, which essentially is an aggregation of separate elements, known as clouds. We created a number of clouds, including ones for Programme, one for each of the sessions (see Structure below), Your Contributions and Post-conference feedback.
Cloudworks allows you to embed content from other sites such as Flickr, YouTube, Slideshare, etc. We added in the talks that people gave us, contributions, and interviews.
Elluminate: Although the OU has an Elluminate licence, we cannot use this for open events (because access is via the VLE requiring and OU account). Elluminate hosted it for us, setting up a different Elluminate url for each session. In the Elluminate session we recorded the event, and were then given a URL to use for playback, so people could access it after the event had finished.
Other technologies: These included Twitter (we used the hashtag #OUConf10 to track conversations), twapperkeeper which archives tweets (for the hashtag), SurveyMonkey for the post-conference questionnaire, blogs for promotion, YouTube, Slideshare, Animoto & Xtranormal (all for creating content).
The theme of the conference was ‘Learning in an open world’.
There were four live (Elluminate) conference sessions spread over two days. Each session had the same structure of three OU speakers talking for around 20 minutes each, a 40 minute discussion session, and then an external speaker (you can see the actual programme here: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2994
The OU speakers were invited to talk as they were projects that fitted the overall theme of openness in education (eg iTunes U, SocialLearn, etc). So papers were not invited in the traditional conference manner. Instead we asked people to create multimedia contributions, such as YouTube videos and embed them in the Cloudworks space.
External speakers were invited through personal contacts, and gave their presentations from their own locations. Only one speaker was given a fee, the other talked for no cost.
Each session had 3-5 nominated ‘moderators’. These were usually ALs with experience of Elluminate. The moderators handled questions, picking up questions from the text chat window, or asking people if they wanted to ask a question over audio.
We set up some breakout rooms within Elluminate for the discussion session, but moving to these was problematic and so were only used for the first session.
There was pre and post conference activity in Cloudworks, with interviews filmed with the Vice Chancellor and others on the themes of the conference (see http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/3959) and a ‘multi-media poster’ session around the Your Contributions theme on the Friday after the conference (see http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2012
News of the conference was posted on the OU intranet site announcing the date of the conference and inviting contributions, then four follow ups with reminders and additional news. It was also listed as an 'event' in the OU calendar.
It was also announced on the TutorHome site in May and June and I did an audio interview which was published on the OU student environment, Platform
In addition, an email announcement was sent to all Deans and Directors, to the elearning community mailing list and two announcements made on the monthly elearning email news digest. Emails were also sent to contacts in the faculties who could promote the event and to faculty/unit contacts. The event was also advertised on the OU screensaver and IET internet and intranet pages and Knowledge Network.
Prior to the conference four separate blog posts were also put out here, announcing the conference, asking for contributions, announcing the agenda, and a final reminder on the eve of the conference. This was in addition to numerous messages about the conference on Twitter both prior and during the conference, using the hashtag #OUConf10. After the conference further posts were written evaluating and reflecting on the conference itself.
Within Cloudworks there is the function to email all those who have marked as attending an event. This was used to send five separate emails to attendees: detailing the agenda; asking for contributions; a reminder of the conference with practical advice on getting the most from it; a message on the morning of each day, giving the agenda and URLs again. After the conference an email was sent asking attendees to fill out the Surveymonkey questionnaire.
Two Stakeholder meetings were conducted featuring those who had an interest in the conference including some faculty representatives, communications, IT support, student services and related projects.
An open practice session in Elluminate was held the week prior to the conference, so that all speakers and moderators could check their settings, upload their presentations and discuss the practicalities of running the sessions. While all moderators joined in, only a few speakers ‘attended’.
The conference was mainly organised by one academic and one project manager (with some administrative support), with initial meetings starting in January, action review meetings every 2-3 week, and the final conference on 22-23 June 2010.
On the day the organisers set up a ‘Conference HQ’ so they were both physically located in the same room, and thus one could resolve any issues ‘in the background’ while the other continued in the virtual space.
- There were some access issues around Elluminate, particularly on campus where the proxy settings on some machines meant it wouldn’t load. The resolution was simple enough, but may have put some people off from accessing (see http://olnet.org/sites/default/files/EllumFix.pdf)
- Some speakers had poor microphone quality, which soon detracts from a purely online presentation.
- Some attendees commented that they found it difficult to isolate time and space when at work, as people assumed if they were in, they were interruptible.
- Communication could have been better and more joined up in various committees.