ReReRe:CCCC-ing, part 2 (Rethinking the CCCCs as an electronic/virtual conference)

Here’s the second (of three or four?) idea for a CCCCs proposal for “The Remix: Revisit, Rethink, Revise, Renew.” I’m just throwing stuff against the wall here to see if anything sticks, but about a title along the lines of this: “Online Presentations: Rethinking the CCCCs Program.” I brought this up a couple weeks ago in talking about Dan Anderson’s CCCCs presentation/video. Given that it’s possible– even easy– to record a presentation as a podcast or videocast that a) can be discussed online, and b) can exist pretty much forever as a document to reference/cite/link to, what’s the point of in-person/face-to-face conference presentations?

I thought about this again tonight as I came across the CHE article, “Economic Downturn Limits Conference Travel.” A couple of paragraphs:

Attendance is down at many academic and professional conferences in higher education this year, and next year’s numbers are expected to be far worse, as campus budgets take further beatings. With many colleges limiting travel to professors or administrators who are speaking at events they’re attending, will anyone be left in the audience?


It is difficult to say how much of a hit travel is taking, especially because some professors are still able to secure outside grants to cover trips to meetings. But travel budgets have been one of the first things cut on many campuses.

The University of California says it has reduced its travel costs by about 30 percent compared with last year, according to a report to the Board of Regents this month. The university has not banned travel, but it is forcing staff and faculty members to make a case for every trip.

The “outside travel grants” I’ve been able to secure over the years come from the Visa or Master Card foundations. Actually, I think I am still paying off some of the conferences I went to as a PhD student.

I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any “real time” CCCCs. A lot of the meetings that happen there would be tough to hold online, there are some presentations that would be tough to pull off online, and it’s fun to get away to the conference experience. But I think a pretty compelling argument could be made that a lot of the conference experience could be replicated online. Take the classic conference presentation CV entry, for example. I’ve never attended a conference where I didn’t give a presentation (why I wasn’t in SF this past year), and often enough, my presentations have been so poorly attended to be a bit of a waste of time.

Sure, it’s great to attend a “big time” panel with an invigorated and large audience. But given that most presentation audiences are small (out of about 30 or so presentations, I think I’ve had more than 20 people show up to less than 10 of the panels I’ve been on, though I have had 3 or 4 presentations with well over 100), is it really worth it? Couldn’t we all save a lot of money, travel resources, time away from family/friends/work/students/etc., greenhouse gases, and lord knows what else if we just made some simple videos and had online discussions?

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3 Responses to ReReRe:CCCC-ing, part 2 (Rethinking the CCCCs as an electronic/virtual conference)

  1. k8 says:

    Is it worth it? That’s what I wondered when only 2 people were at my session. It’s horribly frustrating to spend so much money to travel to expensive cities (next year won’t be as bad as this year) to go to these conferences because it is expected of us.

    I’m not quite sure how to frame what I do to go along with next year’s theme, though. I might just forget the theme and write what I want to write.

  2. Steve Krause says:

    This is what I’m saying, k8.

    The last time I gave a presentation at the CCCCs was in New York. It was on a Saturday morning, there were three people on the panel (and the theme of our panel seemed to be “miscellaneous”), and I think there were two audience members beyond the other speakers.

    Now, this was still useful. We did have a nice morning chat, and, more important, it justified my trip to New York City. If I wasn’t on the panel in even this small capacity, my department and university would not have given me any funding (and they don’t give me a lot to begin with). I wouldn’t have been able to attend any other conference panels nor would I have enjoyed New York City hijinks.

    Still, it does seem a bit of a waste, doesn’t it?

    Anticipating this poor attendance at 9 am on a Saturday and wanting to do something different in terms of a presentation, I decided to make a “comic” and put it up online. I linked to it here in this entry on my old academic blog. That post got 5 comments (kind of on the high end for my blog), and according to my server’s user stats for March 2007, my comic was hit 207 times. In April 2007, it was hit 190 times. Even this last month, that comic page was hit 12 times.

    Now, server stats always have to be taken with a brick’s worth of salt. I don’t have very good data on this site about who/what is viewing that page, how long they are staying, how many of those hits are ‘bots, etc., etc. But let’s say that just 10% of those hits are “real” in the sense of being individual users who actually stayed around that page long enough to find it interesting, etc.: That means that in March and April of 2007, about 40 people actually “got something” out of my presentation in its online format, and I would wager to say at least another 40 different people have also seen and “got something” out my presentation over the last 2 years.

    So, back to the “is it worth it” question in those too common situations when 2 people show up. In a crass and pragmatic way, yes, it is worth it, at least to me. I received funding to go on a fun trip, I got to add a line to my CV, I attended a number of fine sessions, and I “networked” with friends and colleagues. And at no point in this process did my institution or department say to me “Yeah, but only 2 people came to your presentation– this shouldn’t really count for anything meaningful, should it?”

    But in a more global/Global way, in a more intellectual, theoretical, and even moral way, no, it wasn’t worth it at all. This CV entry cost me and my university about $1500 or so, and it took me away from my work, home life, etc. It certainly caused more environmental damage to the planet than if I had done the same presentation online– a drop in the bucket, admittedly, but those drops add up. My online presentation had a much MUCH larger audience, and it’s still there, something that I can link to and that can be accessed two years after the event.

    So, what if. What if there was a mechanism to vet online presentations of this sort, have them online annually, link them via a web site of some sort? Since they would be digital, what if there was a way to search them, comment on them, link to them to others, create dialogues between presentations/presenters that would never happen in a face to face/analog conference? What if the CCCCs or MLA or whoever were to convince the profession that these too ought to “count” for something in the tenure/review process– sure, maybe not as much as an invited talk someplace or a publication, but maybe about the same as a conference presentation?

    The more I think about this….

  3. k8 says:

    It would be nice if we had some online conferences or portions of the conferences that are online. I see this sometimes in the world of Library and Information Science, another area I do some work in.

    The use of MLA as a place to interview people for jobs offends me more than the price of attending conferences at which I am presenting my work. The whole practice places a ridiculous monetary burden on grad students and adjuncts, especially when some SCs don’t set up interviews until the last minute. I can’t imagine that it’s all that frugal for the interviewing departments, either.

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