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Going Green with a Paperless Conference Session

December 23, 2011

For anyone who has participated in a traditional conference poster session, you know that they can be a little awkward. From the perspective of the presenter, it’s a little like a junior high science fair with students standing by their projects hoping someone will stop and ask a question. From the attendee’s perspective, browsing the poster tables leaves you feeling bad about walking by some tables (while avoiding eye contact with the eager presenters) and a little frustrated trying to locate the few posters that are of interest to you based on the descriptions provided in the program.

Last month I was fortunate enough to present a paperless poster session, entitled Online Career Services: Blogs as ePortfolios, at the Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando. This was a great opportunity to further explore my interest in blog formats and ePortfolios, and to rethink the traditional conference poster format. Sloan-C’s challenge to us was to “go green” and conduct these sessions “electronically rather than utilizing printed poster materials tacked to display boards.”

Session Logistics

The conference’s poster session venue included high tables where participants and presenters could stand and talk in a reception-like atmosphere in the exhibit hall. The wireless Internet access worked well, and power strips were available for all presenters. The “go green” challenge also allowed for a little experimentation.

  • Blog: Since my presentation was focused on bringing awareness to the flexibility of blog formats, it made sense to create a blog to illustrate the point. I created a WordPress.com blog, Blog Your Portfolio, to display the content of the presentation via pages and widgets. I used an iPad during the presentation to walk attendees through the navigation of the site and answer their questions about blogs and ePortfolios. The blog continues to remain “live” online and I hope to add content and encourage reader comments as well. The Examples page has gotten the most attention so far, linking to five career ePortfolios built using blog platforms. (Please let me know if you have one to add to the list!)
  • Live Chat: I moderate a weekly live Twitter chat (#IOLchat) in my role as an education writer/blogger with OnlineCollege.org. We decided to try conducting the event from the poster session. This was a little chaotic for me, talking with people in person at the session while contributing to the chat participants via Twitter, but it was a success and a lot of fun to do. (You can review the conversation here.)
  • QR Codes: Sloan-C provided QR codes for all conference sessions, including the posters. This turned out to be a great way for people to stop by a table quickly, gather info from the QR code, and keep moving. The codes took the user back to the presenter’s session page on the conference’s website. Each page included an abstract, session description, and additional resources (e.g. links and PDFs) uploaded by the presenters.
  • Slideshow: Wanting to be prepared in case of limited wireless access or slow connections during the session, I created a PowerPoint file as a backup. As it turned out, the wireless access worked well and I didn’t need the slides, but I ended up uploading the file to Slideshare. This made it easy to add the presentation to my LinkedIn profile and hopefully reach a few more people with the content.

Going Green is Good

Overall, this was a great experience and an opportunity to experiment a bit with a traditional conference format. The one complaint seemed to be that there just wasn’t enough room for people to move around comfortably, but this was addressed in the morning announcements the following day as the conference organizers recognized the problem and vowed to allow for more space in 2012.

The primary benefit I see, beyond the positive environmental impact, is that the digital materials last longer. The links, files, and codes can all be shared and referenced well after the conference ends. They can also be used in advance of the event to promote sessions via social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Have you presented or participated in a paperless conference session? If so, please consider sharing your feedback and suggestions here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2011 11:49 am

    This is a very interesting topic for the always evolving poster presentations. I understand your presentation relied on new technologies: Blogs, smart phones, QR codes, social media, etc., however, Do you think you would have a similar experience presenting your data if the topic was completely different?

    For instance, say you were doing months or years worth of research on the rain forest and possible keeping a blog/ social media sites updated. Now comes time for your presentation. I suppose you could create a ppt slide with all the “vital” data that you discovered and display it on an ipad or have a link to a site where the info is stored. However, as you said, people are walking by, glancing over, and sometimes stopping. The majority of people are skimming over information you have highlighting the research in hopes they want to listen. How are people going to read the header of your info if all your information is on an ipad? If you have a nicely printed, clearly defined header on your scientific research poster people can easily read this as they are walking by these over crowded poster sessions.

    That said, I do believe we are headed down the road of integrating more technologies into these research presentations. For now I feel people will have to find a happy balance between old technologies and new.

    I am interested on hearing your thoughts on the matter.

    Thanks for your time.

    • December 29, 2011 4:36 pm

      Hi Mike – You have identified one of the challenges of this tech-based session, which was in a face-to-face setting. Attendees had difficulty, and voiced frustration, with finding the posters they wanted to visit. While all of the poster presentations were described in the conference program, once you entered the room it wasn’t easy to locate specific presenters. Each table was supplied with a sign and QR code (pictured above), but they were small and in no particular order. More visible signage would have improved this event for the face-to-face conference attendees. Thanks for your comment!

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