EDUCause Virtual Conference 2020: A Recap
N2N Services recently attended the 2020 EDUCause Annual Conference, showcasing the best thinking in higher ed IT.
However, this year’s EDUCause was very different from past years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead of physical booths at an in-person conference, N2N and other presenters operated “virtual booths” and the entire conference was held remotely.
Two of those in attendance for N2N were CTO Joel Dunn and VP of Business Development Danielle Whitney. Both gave some insight into what went well this year, as well as the areas where they felt the virtual event fell short of a live, in-person conference.
The implementation of technology was an area where both agreed EDUCause did an excellent job. “We thought that the virtual booth and the framework around that was very well done and EDUCause provided nice tools to support the interaction,” reported Joel.
Danielle concurred—with one caveat. “The virtual booths and the tech that supported them worked well, but you just can’t replicate candid conversation with any kind of technology.”
That points to the largest issue that anyone manning a virtual booth faces: the difficulty in creating easy, spontaneous conversation through video and chat. The amount of interaction that happens when attendees are physically present and moving from booth to booth just wasn’t there this year.
And part of that, according to Joel, is simply due to the social dynamics of attending an event instead of calling in from home. At an in-person conference, 5:00 p.m. generally signals more conversation—often with a drink in hand. But when attendees are virtual, five o’clock means dinner time with the family.
There were bright spots, however. “At one point, I was talking with someone in the live chat and we switched over to a phone call to make things a little easier and build a better connection,” Joel recalled.
For Danielle, one of the disadvantages to the virtual setup was that most people considered this a one-off event—and that everything would go back to normal next year. So, adoption of the necessary tech by attendees was a little slower than everyone had hoped. She noted, “The people at this conference are at the executive level, they don’t really have time to invest in going through all these online booths. So there isn’t the same level of organic conversation.”
Still, the conference overall was a success and given the constraints, and there were a lot of innovative ideas and technology to keep everyone engaged. Danielle thought one thing the organizers did well was create the “Passport to Prizes” initiative to keep attendees moving from booth to booth. “Conference attendees had to go to booths and watch videos, download information, etc. in order to win swag that would then be mailed to them.”
While this year was different for everyone, it was a good learning opportunity and the team at EDUCause did a great job making sure the best and most innovative voices in higher ed IT could still be heard.
And in case you were wondering, we have reserved a booth for the 2021 EDUCause conference in Philadelphia—in person! Come visit us next year or, if you missed us at this year’s EDUCause, call us today for a free demo.