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.”
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.