If you are like me, you like to attend educational conferences. And there are a lot of reasons that I like to go, from learning about new ideas to getting out of town to another location, to seeing the friends that I have made over the years. So when schools were shut down back in March and conferences were canceled, I wondered when I would be attending a conference again.
Shortly after the shutdown, Spring CUE was forced to go virtual. The annual conference in Palms Springs in the middle of March would be held entirely online, and months later, I am still in awe of how quickly the CUE team was able to shift the conference into a virtual format. But if I am going to be honest, I did not participate much in sessions. Spring CUE took place about a week after schools shut down. At the time, I was very busy figuring out how to shift lessons and activities from in-person to online and by the time the days were done, I was exhausted. But I guess the disappointment of not getting to go to Palm Springs also had a factor in my non-participation.
As the weeks turned into months and spring turned into summer and then fall, a lot of conferences went virtual. But I still wasn't into a mindset that allowed me to want to participate in a virtual conference. I completed a couple of webinar type courses over the summer, the Pear Deck Summar Academy for Pear Deck Coaches and TCEA's Canvas educator course, but that's it. I even spent $15 on a CUE of Nevada event that I didn't do. I had heard people say that they were learning a lot from virtual conferences, but I still wasn't a believer.
Fast forward to FallCUE. This event that has been held in Northern California for many years as an in-person conference would be going virtual this year as well. I had submitted sessions for the event back when it was going to be an in-person event, so I had a free registration for it. I was also asked to participate in a Google Educator workshop and the Meet the Authors and Meet the Podcasters event. Instead of a Friday-Sunday format, the conference would kick off on a Thursday and last through the following Monday. Sessions for school days would not begin until after 3:00 PM when most teachers are out of school for the day. Since I was going to be participating as a presenter, I figured this time around, I would make a conscious effort to participate as an attendee and see how a virtual conference would go.
While I must admit that an in-person is a better option, at least for me, I must also admit that I was not disappointed in the virtual event. The live sessions that I attended were very well done, with very engaging speakers. Because I was in the comfort of my own home, I didn't have to contend with others for a seat, wifi, and I could control the temperature of the room. I did not leave any sessions that I attended, but I had the option to go to another session much more quickly if I chose to do so. And the best part? Sessions that I couldn't attend were made available to watch at a later time (in the case of FallCUE, until November 30). I still had the opportunity to interact with a handful of friends before and after sessions, but I missed the opportunity for the long conversations, meals, and drinks with those friends like we are able to have at an in-person event.
As for presenting at a virtual event, much like teaching virtually, it was a struggle. I couldn't read the room like I can when I am in person. Questions from attendees were different to address and fewer in number. Having a partner to present in Corey was helpful, as we could monitor questions from the chat and from those that unmuted more easily. I like to move about the room to mill about with attendees, which also gives me a better read for the room, but obviously, that was not possible.
As I am writing this, the situation with COVID is getting worse in many places. Positive cases have been on the rise, with more people needing hospitalization, intensive care, and deaths have also been increasing. Schools that were in-person or in a hybrid format have had to resort to distance education as the rise in cases amongst students and school staff has forced schools to shut down. With that, it only delays that ability for conferences to return to an in-person format. The success of virtual conferences and the cost-effective format for attendees and for schools seeking to send educators to conferences also contributes to delaying the return. I envision future conferences as having an in-person and virtual option that will allow attendees to choose. Money normally spent on hotels, food, and travel to conferences will be saved, allowing for more to attend.
In conclusion, while I had a positive experience with Virtual FallCUE, I definitely missed the in-person format. I feel that I am more focused when I am in attendance, I have the chance to catch up with friends, and I enjoy the traveling part, going to places that I typically would not go. But at the same time, the virtual format has a lot of perks, like a more inexpensive experience, flexibility in sessions, and more. Whichever way you choose, you cannot go wrong. I look forward to my next conference experience, whenever and wherever that may be.
Until next time...