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New Book on Online Conferences

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By Terry Anderson November 9, 2010 - 9:22am

After a long gestation, Lynn Anderson and myself have finally seen the images of our new book Online Conferences: Professional Development for a Networked Era. The book is available from IAPpublishers for $39 and for a free preview at Google Books. For some reason the book can also be ordered from Amazon.UK, but not yet from Amazon .com or .ca  We still haven’t held it in our hot little hands, but maybe that is appropriate for a book on online conferences. Supposedly a copy is on its way for Lynn  and I to drool over!image

I’ve long had an interest in online conferences- likely because I’m so cheap and resent paying high conference fees. But more recently, we are all becoming aware of the green and opportunity costs of attending face-to-face conferences. My one (and ONLY) internet claim to fame, is that I think I organized the first ever online conference. This was done in connection with 1992 International Congress of Distance Education conference held in Bangkok. I was a poor grad student in those days and was not able to fly to Bangkok, so I organized a two week conference that (virtually) sat on top of the F2F conference. This was in the days before the Internet was ubiquitous, so a variety of networks including FidoNet, NetNorth, BitNet, UseNet and mailing lists were used to support the text presentations and interaction. The conference was quite a success and Robin Mason and I wrote an article evaluating the outcomes. For more of this historical account see a book  chapter here.

During a sabbatical a couple of years ago, Lynn Anderson (a Grad student in the MDE Program at Athabasca) and I decided to write a longer history and analysis of online conference. The book is a guidebook for organizers, with enough scholarly and theoretical content to interest academics and teachers. We also  interviewed organizers of the longest standing and largest online conferences to determine best practices and suggestions for those new to the game.

Let me say right off that online conferences aren’t as fun as face-to-face ones. But the environmental, accommodation, transportation and opportunity costs are typically less than 10% (and often totally free) of the costs of an equivalent face-to-face conference. So do they have to be as much fun, to be effective and worthwhile events?  While gathering data for the book, Lynn and I published an article in Canadian Journal of Learning Technologies in which we calculated the number of tonnes of carbon emission saved by an online conference organized from London England. The results were quite staggering -the savings per person from this one event, were equal to 50% of the average annual global production of CO2/person.

My astute readers will wonder why I’ve chosen a commercial publisher rather than my usual open access publishers. Lynn and I made this decsion with some reluctance – nobody likes to be a  hypocrite!!, but AUPress, our favorite Open Access publisher, doesn’t really promote or sell into the ‘trade world’. We thought that the biggest market for this text would be trainers, conference organizers and learning designers, none of whom are generally exposed to academic presses. In any case it is a bit on an experiment (our first with IAP), and we will follow results and sales data with interest.

I’ve copied the back cover bumph and the  table of contents below so you can see what you are missing (as you reach for your credit card :-)



  1. Continuing Professional Education: An Historical Overview.
  2. What is an Online CPE Conference?
  3. Technologies: From Text to Immersion.
  4. Synchronous versus Asynchronous Conferencing Technologies.
  5. Conference Components, Formats, and Design.
  6. Online Conference Evaluation.
  7. Emergence of Infrastructure and Commercial Support for Online Conferences.
  8. Organizer Perspectives.
  9. Summary of Best Practices and Making Change Happen.
  10. References

From the back cover:

The professional conference has been, for many years, the primary tool for continuing education and networking in many professions. Now, however, the economic and environmental costs associated with travel, and the opportunity costs associated with absence from the workplace, compel organizers, trainers and executives to weigh the costs versus the benefits of this form of professional development. Online conferences offer an effective alternative that is economical, environmentally friendly and convenient. These factors position online professional conferences as poised to emerge as a mainstream form of lifelong learning in all professions.

This book looks at the elements of effective continuing professional education, the affordances of interactive technologies, and the lessons learned by experienced online conference organizers. It is designed to provide guidance and advice to those wishing to coordinate, sponsor or participate effectively in an online professional development conference. The text describes various ways in which a variety of networking technologies are being used to support successful online professional development events. Resources for conference organizers are given in the form of links to commercial and open source software, and companies providing platforms and comprehensive support for the organization of online conferences. The text contains the results of interviews with 12 organizers of the most successful online conferences to date. Finally, a list of best practices, based on the research literature, experiences of the authors and experienced online conference organizers, is presented in the final chapter.



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