Zoom discussion on 28th July 2020

Here are some of the issues that have arisen for me during the conference that I thought might form the basis for an interesting discussion about the Pros and Cons of online conferencing and some other related issues that have arisen from this specific instance and set of circumstances. [Simon Zagorski-Thomas, July 2020]

Accelerated pace

  1. Was it the right call to make something happen early in the pandemic? I had seen several events cancelled at short notice and thought it would be good for morale to just make something happen that wasn’t purely about firefighting Covid and maintaining the student experience.
  2. However, it did force quite a few people to drop out because they couldn’t produce a paper that was designed for September so much earlier. As I said in the emails at the time – “you have been accepted for a conference you didn’t apply for”
  3. Should we think about a ‘second wave’ session in September? Offering anyone who was originally accepted the chance to submit?

Lengthened timescale

  1. Given my prior experience of running two DIY online conferences based on research projects and my expectations about the increased workload of running teaching online, it seemed clear that requiring an intense period of engagement that was analogous to ‘attending’ for a few days was not the right approach.
  2. The serious worry is that this approach furthers the implicit agenda of pushing research activity outside the workload and into personal time


  1. What does it mean when we convert the normally ephemeral activities of conference presentation into permanent audio-visual artefacts?
    • They become, in effect, a form of publication and, if we decide to embrace that, maybe we should formalise that and consider approaches to peer review and citation.
    • What does this also say for keynotes, panels, book launches and even Zoom session Q&As as ‘publications’?
    • This removes the idea of the conference presentation as a way to try out ideas and to develop a project towards publication rather than it being a form of publication
  2. Who is going to take on the responsibility of maintaining the archive? UWL or IASPM? Should the comments section remain open after the conference?


  1. Nothing is cost-neutral but this form of conference is obviously more environmentally sustainable in terms of reduced travel.
  2. This is not an all or nothing choice – for example, “ICMPC15/ESCOM10 was an innovative, multi-location, semi-virtual academic conference that took place in July 2018” (https://music-psychology-conference2018.uni-graz.at/en/about/) which created a series of hub conferences that were connected online.  
  3. The other criteria for sustainability is the level on benefit that accrues from the costs. Given the problematic nature of travelling around the globe to speak for 20 minutes to a half empty room, what can we be doing to make whatever travel we do undertake into a more valuable activity?


  1. Obviously a free conference that also doesn’t involve travel, accommodation and subsistence costs increases access and several people have contacted me to let me know that were happy to be attending a conference that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
  2. There were contributions that secured some logistical and administrative support from Stefan Lalchev, Caroline Russell and Agata Kubiak-Kenworthy – from UWL in the form of PhD scholarship hours and IASPM in the form of a small grant. The rest of the team did this all in their own time.
  3. The website is hosted on a domain package that I was already paying for and which has spare capacity. I paid for the domain name. The website is WordPress and the ‘ticketing’ and messaging was done through Eventbrite, both of which are free. Given that neither I nor any other staff at UWL were provided with any remission from our other workloads for these conference activities, one might be forgiven for asking in what sense UWL ‘hosted’ the conference.


  1. Generally we are using technologies that were designed for something else because we don’t have the resources to design something ourselves or to stimulate a market that provides a suitably affordable solution. The money in conferencing technologies is more focused on industrial training which requires different social structures and dynamics.
  2. Online technologies currently ‘flatten’ the experiences of social interaction – complex spatial phenomena are rendered into a single point-source experience (a screen or a speaker). The technologies of VR – both aural and visual – are currently being driven by the economics and ergonomics of computer games. In terms of the social construction of technology, we should be considering the technological frame: the meta-question of “what should the research question be?” – what affordances do we want the technology to provide?

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