Originally published May 2015.
This year’s Around The World conference brought together 49 speakers from 11 countries on six continents. Instead of bringing them all to Edmonton, though, they came together online.
Everyone presented conference papers, as usual. But some gave panel presentations in a special video conferencing room. Others used the webcam on their laptops. Presenters further afield provided pre-taped presentations in case their internet connections failed.
Live streaming allowed participants across the world to watch the presentations and then chime-in and ask questions. It would have been impossible a decade ago, but this entire eleven hour, international conference took place without anyone leaving home.
Greatly reduced environmental impact
An equivalent on-site conference would have required over 40 flights in and out of Edmonton from cities as far away as Sydney, Kyoto, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro. All of that air travel would have released hundreds of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change.
According to two different calculators, a round-trip flight from Edmonton to London, UK, emits about 3 tonnes of CO2 per passenger (including non-CO2 related effects). That would have been one of the shorter flights.
The magnitude of this climate impact is one reason Geoffrey Rockwell started Around The World three years ago. He wanted to see if the Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) could reduce its carbon footprint while still organizing enriching, international scholarly interactions.
“We wanted to see what it would cost in terms of support, organization, and coordination. Many of my colleagues now skype routinely — it isn’t that big of a step up to organize a more formal conference,” said Rockwell.
They’ve learned many lessons over three years; namely, to take the preparation very seriously to be ready for all sorts of logistical and technological hiccups. The preparation is considerable, but the pay-off is bigger too.
“It allows for much more international participation. Many colleagues outside North America can’t afford the time to go to conferences in Edmonton or the costs. This lets us hear from people who we typically cannot,” said Rockwell.
IT professionals like Clare Peters have been key to the conference’s success. Peters works in the Arts Resource Centre, one of several units on campus with an expertise in video conferencing. (Others include the School of Public Health, Rehabilitation Medicine, and Information Services & Technology.)
These days, it only takes him 10 minutes to set up a videoconferencing call. As technology improves, demand is rising. Peters says that ARC is being asked to do over 50 calls per semester.
He’s been doing this for almost a decade and he’s seen incredible improvement in just the last couple years. “The tradeoff between real life and videoconferencing is very small,” said Peters.
“I would say it’s 90 per cent close to an in-person conversation. People can forget they’re not in the same room,” said Peters.
Videoconferencing vs. Skype
According to Clare Peters, Arts Resource Centre, you’ll get a much higher quality presentation from a professional videoconferencing solution compared to using Skype. The advantages ARC provides include:
- Dedicated, wired bandwidth means you won’t suffer from WiFi dropouts or interference from neighbouring computers.
- ARC will do a test call and optimize the video settings accordingly.
- Professional microphones use echo cancelling and minimize room noise.
- High quality, external camera can zoom or go widescreen, depending on the size of your group.
ARC will share etiquette with the remote presenter to help optimize the sound and picture. For instance, they recommend:
- Using a headset instead of built-in microphone
- Placing the camera below the screen instead of above the screen
- Turning off Q&A microphones until they are needed
- A live-audience on both sides of the webcam will help a presenter feel more natural, give a more engaging presentation.
Learn what Around The World is planning for this year’s conference at aroundtheworld.ualberta.ca
Written by Trevor Chow-Fraser for the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability.