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Share Your Expertise! Present at a Virtual Conference

What’s working (or not working) in your online classroom? If you haven’t shared your experiences as an online instructor with a wider audience, consider taking the opportunity to do so in 2013. There are more diverse options available than you might realize, through both virtual conferences and on-ground conferences that have virtual attendance options.

While presenting a paper at a conference is not a new idea, the experience traditionally involves costly travel, lodging, and registration fees. Online options are typically much less expensive and allow you to not only share your presentation, but also participate in professional development activities and build your professional network anywhere you can access an Internet connection.

Some of my favorite education conferences are online and I return to them year after year for the opportunities they provide and to reconnect with members of my personal learning network. These are great, affordable alternatives for instructors and graduate students alike.

Answering the Call

Each event has its own set of guidelines for proposing a session, usually issued as a “call for papers” or “call for proposals” with a deadline well in advance of the conference. Think about your teaching practice and what you have to offer your peers in the way of lessons learned, successful strategies, and recommended approaches. Your questions and concerns are likely those experienced by many other online educators, as well.

Whether you already have an idea in mind or are looking for one, the process doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here are a few tips for preparing your submission:

  • Is there a central theme? Events that take place annually often have a different theme each year. Read the call carefully and consider how your contribution might relate to the specific topics listed. I’ve also had success directly addressing how my idea ties in with the overall theme. You can also use this guidance to inspire your session title.
  • Review last year’s program. Often available online, last year’s schedule can give you a good idea of the type of presentations that are accepted, the audience make-up, and the focus on research or practical application.
  • Look for format options. In addition to the usual lecture-based presentation event organizers are adding creative new formats, many of which seek more interaction with the online audience. For example, during our session at the 2012 TCC Online Conference, my co-presenter and I incorporated a live Twitter chat inviting attendees to experience first-hand how to use a hashtag.
  • Take a problem-solving approach. As a past reviewer of conference proposals for the American Educational Research Association some of the aspects we evaluated were related to relevance and advancing the field. How can your story contribute to solving common problems? As you sit down to write your proposal think about what gap you can help fill for the attendees.
  • Be specific. Present a short list of objectives for your session and describe what participants can expect to walk away with in terms of new information, resources, etc. Try using bullet points and action verbs to get the ball rolling. Not unlike my experience in course design, starting with learning objectives keeps my writing focused and subsequently guides the development of my presentation after the proposal is accepted.

Presenting in a Virtual Venue

At your next online conference presentation you may find yourself using some of the same technologies you are already using in your classes – synchronous meeting spaces such as Elluminate/Collaborate and WebEx – to meet in real-time with your session attendees. Many events provide some sort of training in the form of tutorials or live practice sessions to help you get ready. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities, especially if the conference software is new to you.

You may also be connected with a session facilitator to take care of the administrative tasks of virtual room set-up, assist with any technical issues you and your attendees may encounter, and provide an introduction and time keeping. This support was invaluable during 2012’s Social Learning Summit presentation in which a moderator made sure my slides were uploaded correctly and gave a brief overview of the interface to the attendees.

As a presenter you’ll also be a conference attendee, so do more than just log in for your presentation:

  • Attend other sessions (always a good idea to experience at least one virtual session at the event before you go live).
  • Look for other items on the conference schedule such large keynote and networking sessions.
  • Explore the conference platform, which may include discussion forums, social networking, digital badges, presenter profile pages, and document storage space where you can upload and download presentation materials.

Online conferences often record the presenters, allowing you to experience more of the conference even after the live dates and further extend the reach of your own presentation and materials. (Don’t forget to add these links to your websites, portfolios, etc.)

Mark Your Calendars

Whether you plan to submit a proposal or want to participate as an attendee, here is a short list of virtual education conferences currently scheduled for 2013:

Another way to participate is as an event volunteer. Your services may be in demand to review proposals in your area of expertise before the event, and if you are familiar with the virtual systems being used, to support your colleagues as a virtual room facilitator during the event.

Virtual conferences offer a convenient, but increasingly robust, learning experience. Check with your professional associations to find out more about what may available in the coming year and seek out other opportunities to share your expertise online.

Have you attended or presented at an online event? Share your recommendations with us here!

Image credit: sarahhgb(theoriginal), Flickr, CC:BY-NC-ND