The Future of Online Conferences in Philosophy

The Future of Online Conferences in Philosophy


The following is a guest post* by the organizers of the recent online philosophy conference, Minds Online, Cameron Buckner (Houston), Nick Byrd (Florida State), and John Schwenkler (Florida State). They lay out some of the advantages of online conferences and compare them to some of the advantages of in-person conferences, share some data about their conference, and raise some questions about how to best organize online conferences. As budgets tighten, as the environmental of impact of travel is taken more seriously, and as the philosophy profession seeks to be more inclusive—including geographically—more online conferences might more more sense. Feedback at this early stage, as practices and norms for them are emerging, is crucial, so please take a moment to share your thoughts.


The Future of Online Conferences in Philosophy

We—Cameron Buckner, Nick Byrd, and John Schwenkler, organizers of the recent Minds Online conference held at the Brains Blog—hope to start a broader conversation about the role of online conferences in the profession.  Our opinion is that the online format has many clear advantages, and there should probably be a lot more of them.  However, whether online conferences should supplement or supplant traditional conferences—and exactly how—is the question we hope to here open for discussion.

1. Advantages:  conference experience

One of the obvious advantages we saw in Minds Online was the excellent quality of the posts and the commentary. The quality of the papers is determined by the submission pool and selection process, so one might expect traditional and online conferences to here be on par. However, the lack of constraints on the location of the speakers freed us to invite and accept a broader range of papers. Moreover, busier participants are more likely to accept if they themselves do not have to produce any travel money and only minimally disrupt their regular professional or domestic schedule. It is unlikely that the quality of the talks at the conference would have been as high had it been in traditional, in-person format.

The quality of the commentaries was a clear win for the online format, generally superior to the comments offered at an average traditional conference. Though we can all probably think of some exceptions, excellent comments do not seem to be the norm at traditional conferences. By contrast, the online conference format effectively work in favor of better commentary. Among other things, since there are fewer temporal constraints on scheduling rooms and parallel sessions, organizers can also commission several commentaries for each paper, whereas only a select few papers can enjoy this level of attention at traditional conferences. There are also few constraints on whom one can commission as a commentator; in many cases, our invited commentators were of the kind of caliber that you might have expected them to be giving keynotes themselves, rather than commenting on papers written by graduate students and postdocs. We were also much better able to match up papers and commentators by subspecialty; whereas in a traditional conference often has to awkwardly match up commentators and papers by drawing from a much smaller pool of candidates—namely, those already planning to attend the conference—we could invite anyone, and could focus on people who had published on that very topic. This close match between expertise and paper topic probably also explains how we were able to get so many established philosophers to comment. The experience thus approaches that of exchanges in journals that invite short comments  and responses on a longer piece, but without the time lag between submission and publication that can stifle the exchange.

Another clear advantage is the slower pace of online conference discussion. We had the ability to spread each session out over a week and space the conference out over a whole month, permitting plenty of time for reflection and allowing people to leisurely tune in and out according to their interests and schedule. As a result, the comment threads were as good as the invited commentaries, sometimes going back and forth for dozens of thoughtful posts. Instead of focusing on remembering and articulating a complex question while simultaneously following other questions on different topics, participants could really take their time to think about the philosophical issues, re-read the post and other comments, and get the point right. The traditional Q&A by contrast tends to favor being confident and quick on one’s feet, skills that probably do not correlate with philosophical quality. Though the fast pace of a good Q&A can be exhilarating to some, as far as the quality of philosophy is concerned, the online format again seems to have clear advantages.

Finally, we have to mention how great it is that conference participants are not at the mercy of the dark gods of travel. For an online conference, one can be anywhere, dressed anyhow, participating in high quality philosophical discussion at one’s convenience. With traditional conferences, it has always been typical to spend as much time in cramped, loud conditions as one gets to spend actually attending the conference—not even counting the cases when weather or mechanical failure causes the kind of travel disruption that leaves one weeping into an overpriced drink at the airport Chili’s, dejectedly weighing the utility of being in one’s own bed against the terror of an interstate taxi fare.  True, there is a breed of philosopher who claims to get their best work done in airplanes and airports—but we wonder if this is a sign of remarkable adaptive powers and/or the need to forcibly remove them from office and Internet, rather than a natural advantage of airports and airplanes as such. Importantly, the burdens of travel and disruption of domestic life fall unequally on the genders in even the most progressive households, so there is also reason to think that freeing participants from travel disruptions removes some barriers to gender equity.

2. Data

Just to quantify some of these claims, we’d also like to share some data about the conference. We would be anxious to see comparisons to traditional conferences, if any such data are available.

First an overview of conference participation at Minds Online:

Minds Online - data table

Also, a world map representing the locations of keynotes’, presenters’, and commenters’ institutions
(blue marker = keynote paper / red = contributed paper  / yellow = commentary):

Minds Online Map

And gender distribution:

Minds Online gender

Though we would have liked to have done better, gender statistics here are better than the 16.6% female of full-time philosophy faculty from the APA’s 2011 report on the status of women in philosophy. Our number of submissions from women roughly matched the 21% of postsecondary philosophy instructors, but a higher rate of women than men were selected for presentations (on the basis of double-blind peer review). We did not implement triple-blind procedures for the first year of the conference largely due to a lack of adequate personnel, but we would be happy to hear arguments to the effect that this should be standard in the future. We would be interested to more rigorously compare our statistics to those of traditional conferences, but we did not find places where they were easily accessible. Suggestions from commentators with more experience in this area would be greatly appreciated.

3. Advantages for the traditional conference

Clearly, abandoning the traditional conference completely would come at a cost. Speaking for ourselves, some of our most serendipitous moments in the profession have resulted from chance encounters at traditional conferences: meeting one’s philosophical heroes (and finding that they are as lovely in person as they are in prose), catching up with old friends from graduate school or previous jobs, making new friends who share one’s interests, and learning surprising things about the climate or trends in the profession that would not normally be discussed in sessions themselves. These are things that one simply cannot accomplish in an online setting, and they make a powerful argument for retaining at least some traditional conferences.

Another model is of the specialty workshop. We believe that there will remain an important niche for this kind of event, because it allows for an intense, free-floating, exhaustive exchange of ideas among a group of very highly-focused specialists on some emerging topic. Often the ideas discussed in these workshops are too preliminary for a polished conference presentation, evolve too freely and quickly for recorded online discussion, and are best discussed at a level of detail that would not be accessible to those outside the specialty. There is little doubt that these kinds of workshops can be of substantial professional benefits to participants, especially those at earlier stages of their career who are still working out their “big ideas” and benefiting a large amount of targeted, informal feedback. To be clear, though, this kind of event raises significant concerns about “cliquishness”, specifically that niche workshops can form exclusive clubs that are preconditions for publication in certain areas but which can be difficult for outsiders to attend. Thus while we think such workshops will continue to play an important role that is distinct from that of large disciplinary conferences, organizers of such workshops should work hard to determine participation through open-submission, properly-conducted peer review processes rather than by invitation only, and should work hard to allow selection to be determined by quality and publicly-defined topical boundaries, rather than by friendship networks alone. Such workshops might also do more to make their materials and products more accessible to a wider audience, even if only after the fact.

A further, difficult-to-quantify variable that many of our colleagues have mentioned is the “energy” or “community” that they sometimes enjoy in traditional conference gatherings. Whereas following a long comment thread in an online discussion can be taxing and isolating, often ending after an hour or so with a yawn and a visit to Netflix, many report fond memories of conference discussions spilling out into dinner and continuing excitedly in unexpected directions until 2:00 AM. Even independently of “networking” and its benefits, some people find this kind of informal community of like-minded peers to significantly brighten their experience in the profession as a whole. Others, however—those who are not well-connected, or happen to be naturally less social—can find this kind of climate enervating, especially when perceived as a prerequisite for professional success. Even for the socially-inclined, this kind of experience can quickly turn from a dream into a nightmare with one inappropriate comment or unwelcome sexual advance. We are not sure how to strike the right balance with the community variable here, except to note that this factor can be a big plus for some and a big minus for others.

Another advantage for at least some traditional conferences is prestige. Though it is not a benefit of traditional conferences as such, having a paper accepted to a well-established traditional conference might be of a much bigger benefit to early career philosophers than a new online conference. Many such established conferences can also boast of lower acceptance rates, which can be taken as a proxy for prestige. We hoped to mitigate this concern a bit by trying to invite well-established commentators for all accepted papers, in the hope that it might boost the credibility of a “Minds Online” line on one’s CV. And, hopefully, broader prestige will come with time.

4. Questions for the future

Since the format of the online conference is itself still in flux, we are also curious how to best design it in the future. We focus on a few specific questions, but we would be happy to receive any kind of advice.

  1. In Minds Online, we closed comments on each session after a week, when the new session began. In several cases, we received excellent comments after the period had closed that we would have liked to have posted, but did not want to get in the practice of making special exceptions. Our reasoning for closing comments after a period of time was so that previous sessions did not detract attention from the next one. Was this worry well-founded? Should we have left comments open for a longer time?
  2. An innovation of our conference was the decision to space out sessions over four weeks, with one session per week (rather than posting all the papers and commentary simultaneously). Was this a good decision? Was the pacing and number of sessions about right?
  3. Is there more we could have done to bring in philosophers from other areas of the world?
  4. Is there more we could have done to be more equitable?
  5. We chose to have short introductory videos for each paper; the idea was that they were to provide a brief introduction that could help participants decide if they wanted to attend to that session. Were the videos helpful? Could they have been done better?

Acknowledgements: One feature in common between traditional and online conferences is that they are only possible with the help of lots of volunteer reviewers and organizers. Our deepest thanks go out to those who helped us organize Minds Online, especially the session coordinators Brett Castellanos, Jorge Morales, Mirja Pérez De Calleja, and Brandon Tinklenberg.

(image: detail of “Technological Mandala 2” by Leonardo Ulian)

Ulian - technological_mandala_02_the_beginning

guest
20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John Schwenkler
5 years ago

Thank you, Justin, for posting this. One thing I want to add is that Minds Online was modeled, very obviously and intentionally, after the excellent Online Consciousness Conference that Richard Brown organized for many years. He is the real ground-breaker here, and we’re very much indebted to him.Report

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

I thought the Minds Online Conference had an impressive lineup of talks and commenters and many of the discussions went really well. I do think there were too many talks, such that most of them did not seem to garner enough attention (perhaps I’m focusing too much on the session I was in, which garnered few comments). Of course, that’s a problem at most in-person conferences too. I think you could leave open the comment threads, since anyone still interested should be allowed to continue the discussion, and because someone may even come to the conference papers much later (they are still up I presume?).

Finally, I should point out that Richard Brown’s conferences were great, but he was not the ground-breaker. It was Thomas Nadelhoffer’s Online Philosophy Conference (OPC) back in 2006 that was the first, as far as I know: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/xphi/2006/04/opc.htmlReport

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Thanks, Eddy, for your feedback, and for reminding us of the original OPC. Can you suggest a different number of talks, or a different way of organizing them, that might do more to encourage discussion? It’s notable that the OPC and Consciousness Online conferences had more talks going on at once than ours did.

One thing I wanted to add, which I’ve only just been able to formulate, is that I think one significant disadvantage of the online format is the way it makes it easier to judge that one has no time to participate. (To be clear, this happened very often to me in this case!) At a real conference, once you are there your schedule is usually mostly clear, and so it’s easy to find the time to make it to talks, etc. But with a virtual conference, participants have to find time within their daily routines and in home and office environments that invite doing many other things instead.

Obviously there’s no way to “solve” this problem. But it seems to me that to the extent that one is persuaded by considerations like those we outlined above in favor of online conferences as inexpensive, accessible, ecologically friendly, diverse alternatives to their offline counterparts, it’s important to do what one can to find (and make) the time to participate in, and when possible help to organize, events like these.Report

Richard Brown
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Thanks John and Eddy! I was going to point out the same thing , my only contribution was to narrow the focus from philosophy generally to science/philosophy of consciousnessReport

Pete Mandik
Reply to  Richard Brown
5 years ago

Richard is being modest; that wasn’t his only contribution. One of the many fine touches he added to Consciousness Online was his framing posts at the beginning and end of the conference. I especially enjoyed the opening videos he produced for each year. But he also closed things with a virtual wine & cheese session. These additions added a warmth and humor to the whole thing that I’m sure I’m not alone in having really enjoyed!Report

Richard Brown
Reply to  Pete Mandik
5 years ago

By the way thanks for this Pete…I wasn’t sure whether or not anyone noticed those things so its nice to know that someone did!Report

Cameron Buckner
5 years ago

Hi Eddy,
Thanks for helping us get the history right; we’re certainly indebted to everybody who came before, especially Thomas (and you). I think there have been a few other precedents that we also didn’t mention (apologies for not being more familiar with these, but I was just a pup back then). Is it right, though, that there were only two OPCs? And Consciousness Online has been discontinued too? Maybe we should have added to the question list why the online conferences don’t seem to take hold and become self-sustaining like traditional conferences, and whether the newcomers like us can learn anything from the reasons why the others were discontinued (perhaps they were too attached to individuals rather than organizations?). I hope Thomas and Richard will also weigh in on their experiences. Speaking for myself, I got much more out of Minds Online for my own research than I have out of traditional conferences that I have attended or organized, and it was so much easier to put together, that I’m currently full of enthusiasm to continue.Report

Richard Brown
Reply to  Cameron Buckner
5 years ago

Hi Cameron, thanks for helping to raise these important questions and for your work on Minds Online, which I thought was great. Speaking for myself September is perhaps my busiest time of the year (beginning of the fall semester) and so I had no time to participate (plus I have a new 7 month old son who is taking up a lot of my time :)) but I did check out the papers and presentations and thought they were fantastic. I held Conscious Online in February mostly because that was in between semesters for me and so I could devote my full attention to the conference. This was the first time I had experienced it from the other side and it is very difficult to find the time to devote oneself in the way that would allow thoughtful engagement.

I don’t know if Consciousness Online is discontinued or on hiatus but it definitely became to much for me to manage. I started it when I was a grad student and then ran that actual conferences while teaching a 5/4 load. As the years went by and the committee work and professional commitments grew I just became overwhelmed. I really did enjoy organizing it, and like you I got a tremendous amount of help from engaging in the discussions. I did apply for a couple of grant hoping for some teaching release so I could keep it up but I ended up not getting them and I never did know how to associate the conference with an organization. I think it would be great if ASSC, SPP, Tucson, etc, invested in online conferences, but would they then remain free and open access as they are now? I really wanted the material to be available without any kind of fee or charge and that might be harder to do with backing, though maybe a modest fee would not discourage people? I don’t know but I am certainly open to the idea and to discussing it.

I would also add, just for the record, that I found it hard to know how to moderate the comments. At first there was no problem, and though I had a policy of moderating comments I never actually felt the need to. Later I received private emails asking why I let this or that ‘low quality’ comment through. I got enough of those that Id decided to moderate comments but then when I did I received emails complain about my strict moderation. I really did not enjoy that role and I think maybe to would be better to have a group of people deciding about moderation or no moderation at all.Report

Cameron Buckner
Reply to  Richard Brown
5 years ago

Thanks for the information Richard; it is extremely valuable!

What do other people think about optimal scheduling month? I specifically advocated for September since it is one of the only times for me that is not already taken up by conferences or dedicated writing time. I assumed that September would be the only time when people are 1) definitely not participating in a traditional conference 2) too busy with busy work like spooling up teaching to be blocking off dedicated writing time, but 3) could squeeze in blogging. Maybe I overestimated on 3, but we got pretty good numbers all around, I think. It would be interesting to try it out lots of different months and compare stats.Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

Thanks for your feedback, Eddy! And thanks for your great commentary! And to answer your question: yes. The papers are still up: http://mindsonline.philosophyofbrains.com/2015program/

Oh, and thanks for the reminder about the Online Philosophy Conference. We’re grateful to Thomas Nadelhoffer (and you) for being an early adopter of online conferences!Report

Markos Valaris
Markos Valaris
5 years ago

Thanks to all of you for organizing this conference. It was a really good experience and, as a participant, I found the quality of the comments wonderful. I also really appreciated the pacing of the ensuing discussion, as well as the ability to dip in to different topics at will. In regular conferences, especially big ones such as the AAP here in Australia, just attending the talks you want to attend can be extremely exhausting — and you always feel like you missed the most interesting talks at the end anyway.

For this reason, I think not posting all papers in one go was the right decision. And I would consider leaving the comments open for longer than a week, though that would require a level of commitment from the OP that might be too much in some cases.Report

Pete Mandik
5 years ago

A big congrats to Cameron, Nick, and John on a job well done! I thought the whole thing was terrific and you provided a huge service to the profession.

Here are some remarks addressing your questions 1, 2 and 5.

1 & 2. I thought the comments policy overall was quite good. Knowing that I had a deadline if I wanted to comment really helped me focus as an audience member. It also helped make it feel more like a “real” conference. The amount of time allotted and overall pace was good.
5. I like having the videos there. It’s nice especially when I get to see and hear the author; it humanizes the whole process. I find myself not watching the entire videos, though, and rely on the actual papers to get the philosophical content. Doing philosophy on video is really hard and I’m not sure we have anyone among us who has mastered it yet. However, I think it is worth continuing to strive toward. My own thinking is that it’s probably better to make the video an abstract instead of an entire presentation, if you’re going to make only one video to go along with your paper. A nice topic for further discussion would be best practices in making philosophy videos. I’d love to learn more about that.Report

Richard Brown
Reply to  Pete Mandik
5 years ago

Again I would second Pete’s congratulations on a job well done!

I would just add that the downside of it feeling like a real conference is that those who are busy really can’t attend. In my case had comments in other sessions remained open I may have been able to participate…but even so I did get a lot out of just ‘lurking’ and observing the various exchanges.

I would also second Pete’s comment about the videos. Overall it is probably ideal to have a short intro video, a longer fuller conference style presentation video and the paper (though I think paper only is fine too) but if one is going to just make one video then the short abstract one is best. Most people get the argument from the paper but as Pete said it makes it feel more like you are engaging with a person when there is the video and you can at least track their tone and inflection a little. One other thing on this topic is whether there should be more attention to having the exchanges, or at least some, aimed at a broader non-technical audience. And finally I would add that online conferences are great for undergraduate conferences as well. I have been involved with one (that I think Pete was as well)….Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 years ago

First, thanks to everyone for their kind words about OPC1 and OPC 2 (which were run in the spring semesters of 2006 and 2007, respectively). OPC1 was a month-long conference with 28 “speakers” and 28 official commentators. It was divided into four week-long sessions. While I have moved the conference homepage when I migrated all of my blogs a few years back, you can find the skeleton here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/opc1/page/4/ All told, it was more successful than I had envisioned–with over 30,000 page views. Unfortunately, since I migrated the page, I don’t much more than data on page views available. It was also an awful lot of work putting it together. Since it was the first online philosophy conference, I had to do a bit more cajoling than it likely needed now to get philosophers to play along (and the more senior the philosophers, usually the more cajoling was needed). At the time, I was fresh out of grad school and midway through my first year as a Visiting Instructor at FSU. For OPC 2, I was midway through my first year as an Assistant Professor at Dickinson College. So, I opted to cut the number of “speakers” down to 10 (with two commentators per paper rather than one (as had been the case with OPC1), which meant there were 20 commentators in all for OPC 2). I also added a new feature–namely, two video taped keynote addresses (one by Ernest Sosa and one by Jeff McMahon). With 14,000+ page views, OPC2 was a success as well. You can find the skeleton here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/opc2/page/2/

At the time, I had goals and aspirations to continue hosting OPCs annually or bi-annually. But several things changed my mind. First, as a junior philosopher, I had a number of other things that had to take precedence–namely, research and teaching. Given that I was already spending time and energy running and trying to build and audience for two other blogs (the experimental philosophy blog and the free will blog Flickers of Freedom), it seemed like I was stretched thin enough as things were. One problem that hasn’t been given enough attention in this present thread is that colleagues, department chairs, and administrators don’t know how to credit someone who runs blogs. Is it research? Is it community service? How much should it count towards one tenure and promotion? As someone who has my tenure review panel this upcoming Thursday–nearly a decade after the first OPC–I can tell you these questions are still pertinent to graduate students and junior philosophers. Unless and until blogging–which includes organizing online conferences–is better appreciated by the people who control promotions, etc., it will continue to play second (or even third) fiddle when it comes to junior philosophers. It was a pretty simple cost-benefit analysis for me at the time. Given how much time and energy it took to line up 38 speakers and 48 commentators over two years, moderate comments, advertise the conferences, etc. and given how little it seemed to count towards my tenure file, it was a time drain I could not afford. At a minimum, I would have needed far more people helping me than I had at the time (namely, Eddy Nahmias and Adam Feltz).

Assuming I get tenure in the coming weeks, fingers crossed, I plan on turning the online philosophy conference model into an online journal. See here for details: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/philosophical_exchanges/
I started thinking about this back in 2013, but I was discouraged by some senior colleagues to work on the project ahead of tenure–which further verified the sense I had all along that blogging wasn’t given much weight when it comes to tenure and promotion. So, I put Philosophical Exchanges on the back burner and worked on projects that are more straightforwardly important to tenure. Perhaps all of my experiences–stretched out over nearly 10 years–is as much a historical artifact as anything. As the entire world moves towards digital forms of communication, perhaps one day blogging will be viewed with the respect it deserves. But because I ran the first online conferences when blogging was fairly new, it was clear to me that the effort required wasn’t especially timely or beneficial. Hopefully, the tides are slowing changing!

p.s. Here is another problem I had: All of the papers for the conferences needed to be uploaded to external servers (FSU and Dickinson, respectively). But once I moved on, they were “lost”, so to speak. By finding a publisher willing to sponsor the conference or by hosting it via a system that guarantees the papers and official commentaries will be permanently saved/available, this problem can be (and has been) addressed. Of course, this, too, takes time and energy. As such, I applaud everyone who has built on the early work Eddy and I did to try to make online conferences part of how we do philosophy (which is often a fairly thankless task). Not only do I think they are interesting and important, but they are more egalitarian for the reasons Cameron, Nick, and John mentioned. That’s partly why I want an open-access online journal built around the same ideal. If and when I have tenure, it will be more prudent for me to try to turn my idea into reality. So, stay tuned! In the meantime, continue to support those who put these conferences together. They are trying to make philosophy accessible more widely available in an age when philosophy (like many fields in the humanities) is having to prove its relevance.Report

Cameron Buckner
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 years ago

Thanks, Thomas, this is all also extremely valuable.

I wonder if people think that chairing an online conference gets less respect in P&T than chairing a traditional conference. My sense is that probably neither of them are worth much at a research institution; so this might not be an argument against online so much as an argument against young folks organizing conferences at all. (Though of course they probably have other indirect benefits like getting your name out there for possible tenure reviewers, giving you ideas for papers,…and not having your soul sucked out by becoming a pure publication drone.)

I think that organizing using a WordPress theme and plugins is probably much easier than it was back when you first started up the online conference. The mechanics of it really don’t take much time at all once you’re used to it; and we managed most of the reviewing online too so the overhead and sending out papers was really minimal.

Other people have worried about keeping online conferences free if they become attached to a professional organization; one thing to note is that the online ads we included with the site more than paid for the additional hosting fees. So at least it’s not clear that taking on an online conference would cost an organization anything other than some additional organization hours (that are now at least an order of magnitude less than organizing a traditional conference).Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 years ago

Sorry for all the typos, I wrote this in a hurry! Hopefully, the content was clear enough nevertheless.Report

Richard Brown
5 years ago

Thanks to Thomas for his thoughts, and good luck on tenure! As someone who just became tenured (a promoted to full professor) effective Sept. 1 2015 I can say it is a huge relief to get over that hump!

Just speaking from my experience I found that I had to cajole people a lot less. Perhaps that is the difference between 2006 and 2009? Most of the people I approached were very enthusiastic about the project. As we see more and more examples of successful conferences like this perhaps senior folk will want to present. It is the best way to get your current work out there and receive feedback very quickly. Many people are already doing this kind of thing, privately via email or listservs, but this is a nice way to make it part of the public record.

I also think it helped that we were able to publish papers as a result of the conference. One of the ideas I had explicitly in mind when I started the conference was to view the conference as part of the peer-review process. I then asked people to rewrite their papers in light of the discussion at the conference, which for most was a natural thing to do given the constructive discussion. The final versions of the papers were peer reviewed one last time before being published but I think the papers that came from the conference were stronger because of the discussion/rewrite. This way, even if the conference itself is regarded merely as ‘blogging’ (which doesn’t count for much as far as I know), participants will have a publication as a result. One other online conference had this format as well, it was for the New Waves in Philosophy of Mind and took place in 2012. It was done via Google Groups (https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/new-waves-in-philosophy-of-mind ) and I thought it very successful, though maybe someone who was in it more than I was would like to chime in?

By the way it occurs to me that someone should get a list of all of this online material somewhere!Report

Madeleine Ransom
Madeleine Ransom
5 years ago

I loved the Minds Online format: there was no need to travel, I had time to think about how to respond to questions, and received really helpful commentary from commentators who likely would have declined to comment on our paper at a traditional conference due to travel and timing issues.

Beyond these benefits, my experience was that our paper received more exposure than it would have had at a traditional conference. When you give a talk, only the people in the audience know about it. In the online case, my co-author and I had lots of people comment to us about the paper (outside of the conference comments) or mention that someone else had posted a link to it somewhere or was discussing it on twitter or another blog. The online format seems to work better at getting your work in progress to those who are truly interested in it. Needless to say, this can be really valuable for junior people in the field.

A potential drawback of the online format, though, is that it raises the stakes for audience members in asking questions. At a traditional conference if you ask a stupid question then no one will remember. If you post it online with your real name (was that a prerequisite for this conference? not sure) then it’s there forever for all to see. We didn’t receive many questions or comments from people other than our commentators – perhaps this was part of the reason (another reason, I suspect, was that the paper was on predictive coding, a relatively new and unfamiliar topic to philosophy).

That said, I found the back and forth with our commentators to be immensely helpful and productive. This is one of the biggest benefits of the online format in my opinion. In a traditional conference there is the paper, then perhaps a commentary and the author’s response to that, but with the online format we could continue to discuss issues in a more extended and fluid way. That these discussion threads remain available will also likely benefit others working on the same issues, even if they are unable to participate directly in the discussion.

Finally, it occurs to me that online conferences should be able to organize a sort of virtual meet and greet for participants, perhaps in the format of a short profile that others can view at their leisure, or by matching participants working in the same sub-field. It would be neat to be able to informally chat with other participants with similar interests.

Thank you all for organizing such an amazing conference!Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

Thanks for your feedback, Madeleine! And thanks for the idea about getting to know each other better before the conference gets going! As an organizer, I often found myself wanting to express my appreciation of each participant in a more personal way. I was very impressed by the papers and the commentaries, but I found that I struggled to convey this appreciation in emails and the like. Perhaps your meet and greet idea would allow for this kind of communication. I’m imagining something like a Google hangout where everyone has a chance to introduce themselves and their work. And maybe the organizers could take the opportunity to share their excitement and appreciation of everyone who is participating. And maybe once the ice is broken in the meet and greet, people could initiate follow up correspondence with whomever they like. I imagine there might be scheduling snags given all the time zones involved, but it’s certainly worth exploring. So, again, thanks for the idea!Report

Nick Byrd
1 year ago

Update: Now the full methods, results, and benefits of all three years of the Minds Online conference are forthcoming in a chapter about online conferences for a collection on sustainable academic practices. Find it at the links below:

My website: https://byrdnick.com/archives/15924/online-conferences-vs-traditional-conferences-some-history-methods-data
U Alberta’s repository: https://era.library.ualberta.ca/items/f2978faa-6950-40d0-9738-62ec8e63182cReport