Our aim with this conference was to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted a conference that was accessible to as many people as possible, which meant that we needed to keep costs low and have scholarships available for those who could not afford it. This meant that we could not use an “off the shelf” conference package, we researched and found technologies, usually free or cheap, that catered for our needs. Our registration cost was $60 AU.
We did not have thorough instructions for running an online conference. Having a document on how to do it would have been very useful. We hope that others find our notes on how we ran our online conference useful for planning their own conferences.
Our conference ran online from 5-9th December. There were 286 people from 43 different countries registered for the conference. We considered this a success.
We started planning in April 2021, with weekly meetings on zoom all through 2022. In order to make these meetings as productive as possible we sent out an agenda before each meeting, this was pasted in chat at the start of the meeting. The weekly emails included a summary of what had been agreed so that everyone had a record of it. These meetings were attended by the organising committee and the technical committee.
We developed a Gantt chart as an overview of what needed to be done when: Gantt chart ICPE2022.xlsx .
When designing our conference program we wanted to cater for people from different professional backgrounds: physics academics teaching physics, school teachers and academics teaching school teachers. We also wanted to make it as accessible as possible to people in different timezones, but especially the timezones of the host and co-host countries.
With this in mind we placed all plenary talks, panels, poster sessions and submitted talks in the part of the day that overlapped with business hours in these three timezones. We put the smaller, interactive workshops at the beginning and end of the days. We set up the program in excel initially.
Finding the right tools for each of the tasks was vital to the success of the conference. Below is a list of the technological tools we used, a description of what we used it for, and an explanation of why we chose it.
WordPress – We used wordpress because it was a cheap and easy way to set up a website. Some people on our technical committee had prior experience with it but it was fairly easy for us all to pick up. We purchased a Premium subscription ($120 AUD billed annually), along with a Professional Email upgrade. The subscription allowed for a free domain name and we registered icpe2022physicseducation.com
Virtual Poster Session – We used the “Virtual Poster Session” platform for hosting our posters and also to provide recordings of the sessions to participants who were not able to attend synchronously. We found this software very reasonably priced and easy to use. It let us include zoom links next to each of the posters that were accessible during the poster sessions. We only supplied links to this to people who had registered.
Proceedings – We created an open-access journal account via The University of Sydney’s ‘Sydney Open Journals’. This platform allowed for abstract submission, recording of the review process, and the final preparation of accepted abstracts for publication. The conference proceedings were published on the ‘Sydney Open Journals’ platform, providing open-access to downloadable abstracts in perpetuity.
OneDrive – We tried several different ways to share files between people at different institutes and people in different countries. We found that for us Microsoft OneDrive was the one everyone was able to get into and edit.
Email – An administration email address was purchased for $5 AUD per month, via the wordpress website. We used Microsoft word and Outlook to mail merge from this email address to all participants. Clear communication is absolutely vital in an online conference. We have details about the emails sent out below. By mail merging to the participants we were able to email each person their individual “zoom name” to ensure that only registered people were attending the conference and keep track of attendance, which we used for issuing participation certificates. The email address was limited to 200 outgoing emails per hour, so the emails were sent in batches.
Zoom – We elected to use Zoom for live events during the conference. For the largest events, the opening ceremony, plenary addresses and panel sessions we used a zoom webinar format to avoid unwanted interruptions. For the parallel submitted talk sessions we used zoom meetings where participants were able to unmute to ask questions. We had a business subscription which enabled 10 associated individual accounts. This was important as we required overlapping Zoom sessions, these needed to be created with different Zoom accounts. This also allowed us to have each of our technicians their own Zoom account, enabling them to function as alternate hosts for meetings and begin in them in absence of the executive staff.
Zoom business allows each account to hold two simultaneous meetings, which allowed us to cover any overlapping sessions. We also used the automatic recording to cloud feature on Zoom allowing the timely recording, editing and upload of each session for post conference viewing. We purchased a single webinar licence for our Zoom account, to allow us to host webinars of up to 500 participants. Importantly, we found that a single zoom account could NOT host a webinar AND a normal meeting simultaneously: this was discovered during the conference (day 1) and required us to re-create some Zoom links under a different individual account.
YouTube – We uploaded recordings from Zoom to YouTube and then made these accessible through the poster platform at the end of each day so that people who were unable to attend the synchronous event could catch up on what they had missed.
Eventbrite – We used Eventbrite for registrations. There were some challenges with using this, it was chosen as it was supported by the host institute UNSW. We also used Eventbrite to keep track of enrolments for the workshops, and email out the access links to people who had enrolled in these. There were fees associated with the use of Eventbrite based on the number of tickets sold. It was possible to set up complimentary tickets in Eventbrite for invited speakers and people who received scholarships. When setting up tickets in Eventbrite it is important to include taxes at the very start – we needed to reissue a few tickets due to this. There were a few people who could not use Eventbrite to pay as it required a credit card, this was not a problem for most people.
Microsoft forms – We found Microsoft forms were accessible to everyone and was an effective way to collect information for: Recommendations for invited speakers, complimentary registrations, scholarships, poster submissions and talk submissions.
Discord – We used discord for communication between members of the technical team in the lead up to and during the conference. We found it was a fast and effective way to stay in touch.
The organising committee first established a timeline for the submission of abstracts, proceedings preparation, and publication processes. The next stage was to prepare the proceedings platform and submissions portal, including the back-office functions. An application for an international standard book number (ISBN, for single online publication) was submitted via Sydney University Press.
Information about the submission process was provided on the conference website, including an abstract template, submission preparation guidelines, and a guide on how to complete the submission process. Contributors were given the option to submit their abstracts either via the the Proceedings of the IUPAP International Conference on Physics Education 2022 platform or via email. We initially intended for all abstracts to be submitted via the proceedings platform, however, due to a ‘Sydney Open Journals’ system-wide upgrade at the time of the submission due date, and concurrent down-time, we needed to give contributors the alternative option to submit via email.
The proceedings manager uploaded all submitted abstracts and a spreadsheet listing submission metadata to the OneDrive shared folders, for the program committee’s review (see next section). Following the program committee review and allocations to talk/poster presentations, the proceedings manager contacted contributors via the proceedings platform, advising them of the committee’s decision, revision requests, and a link to the ICPE website pages containing information about poster or talk preparation. Submission of revised abstracts was monitored, and final accepted versions were copyedited and PDFs prepared for publication.
While we had one technical committee member assigned to managing the back-office end of the proceedings platform, the spreadsheet listing all submissions’ metadata and program committee recommendations was used as a communications log. Notes about the status of revised abstract submissions and their preparation for publication, could be viewed by the other organising committee members, if needed.
Along with reviewing and approving final abstracts for publication, contributors were asked to complete a form with questions about their talk or poster presentations, including the name of the presenting contributor. This was an efficient way to check, and update if needed, the name of the presenting author/s on abstracts and in the program. In addition, calendar invites were then sent to presenting contributors with the day and time of their presentation, adjusted to their timezones.
Program of Talks
There were 117 submissions received for the conference. Numbers were initially low but by extending the deadline and reminding people to submit we managed to almost double the number of submissions. The organising committee and program committee had a role to play in designing the program. As this was an international conference with many submissions from non-native English speakers we provided help with editing the submissions to correct the grammar. The organising committee gave all submissions an initial read through, each submission was read by two people who made a recommendation about whether it should be accepted and minor edits were made to correct grammar and make the meaning clearer. These changes were recorded with “track-changes” so that authors could see what had been changed and accept or reject it. When needed the author was contacted for clarification.
We wanted talks and posters to be grouped into topics so that people could choose which parallel talk session to attend based on what interested them. The conference chair then assigned all submissions to a category, the categories we used were: Online learning, schools, research, teacher training, specific topics, labs and outreach. These categories were chosen as most of the talks fitted well into these topics.
The program committee was responsible for deciding which submissions to assign as talks and which to assign as posters and choosing suitable invited speakers for many of the parallel talk sessions. Program committee members were invited to be on the committee in May 2021. When people submitted abstracts they were not asked to nominate if they wanted a talk or a poster, in the future I would recommend having this as part of the submission process. Members of the program committee were put into three teams and each team was assigned a few of the topics listed above to review. This meant that most committee members were reading over 30-40 abstract submissions. Program committee members were provided with access to a shared folder with all the abstracts as well as spreadsheets to record decisions in. The following instructions were sent to committee members:
We want around 2/3 of the submissions as talks and 1/3 as posters.
A draft of the program is here: Program V1.xlsx to give you an idea of the spots we need to fill (there is a table at the bottom with the number of submitted and number we need in each topic). Each parallel stream will have either an invited talk (20 mins followed by 5 minutes of questions) and then three 10 minute contributed talks followed by 15 minutes of questions combined OR five 10 minute contributed talks followed by 20 minutes of questions all combined. We can move talks between the themes they have been put in if it is warranted.
I have set up a spreadsheet here: Abstracts_program_comittee.xlsx with all the talks listed by topic (in the tabs at the bottom).
For each of the abstracts please select talk/poster/invited talk or unsure from the drop down menu. There is room for you to leave a comment about your decision, the comment is optional but may be useful to refer to at the meeting. The abstracts can be found in this folder: Program committee . There are several things to keep in mind:
- We want a good representation of countries if possible.
- The English used in some of the abstracts was very poor, this has been somewhat fixed already, for talks we do need people who are comfortable speaking English.
- Making something an invited talk removes a slot for a contributed talk, not necessarily a bad thing but we can only do this to a limited number of talks.
- There are three half hour poster sessions, we will be grouping people (up to 3) with similar topics together to put them in the same zoom room I think….
- A lot of the talks are about teaching in schools, we plan on always having a session relevant for high school teachers. I will find a high school teacher to join our committee to give feedback on this.
- You may edit the abstracts if you think it is necessary but please ensure track changes is on if you do so.
We found this was efficient. We had a final column in the spreadsheet for the final decision. The program committee had a 4 hour meeting on 5th September. We managed to discuss all abstract at this meeting and almost all abstracts were assigned to appropriate sessions at this time. Final curation was made by the chair as well as adapting to any late changes post meeting.
We wanted the workshops to be as interactive as possible. We decided 90 minutes was a good length for workshops. We put a call out to the international committee for workshop recommendations. A template for the invitation to the proposed workshop presenters can be found here: Invite_workshop.docx. Further details about running the workshop were sent to potential presenters in the same email Information for workshop presenters.docx. In September presenters were emailed a checklist to ensure they were on track to give the presentation: ICPE Workshop Checklist-Template.docx . In most cases they arranged a 15 minute meeting with a member of the technical team to ensure that everything worked as they expected.
Plenaries and Panels
To avoid issues with people unmuting or drawing on the screen in the presentation attended by the entire conference cohort we used zoom webinars for plenary talks and panel discussions. Plenaries were carefully chosen to be excellent talks, but also ensure we had diversity among the presenters and the topics being presented. Panellists were chosen along the same lines.
Training of Staff
Staff training consisted of three primary stages: a training day where most conference and zoom functions were explained, a period of time in which the technicians were given documentation to read, and a dry-run day where any issues regarding the running of the conference were ironed out.
Our staff training day consisted of;
- Orientation of the Conference: conference aims, timetable, and outline of each type of session
- Emergency contacts – who will be on hand and when
- Expectations and duties of staff – before, during, after conference
- Zoom training – explaining most zoom functionality, including how to share videos, manage breakout rooms, mute participants etc.
- Management program (Discord)
We had specific staff members assigned to the management of uploaded talks (checking that they met the guidelines and subtitling if needed) and the uploading of posters to our poster board program.
For each type of session (parallel stream, webinar, poster, workshop and panel) we wrote a how-to guide for the technicians, which summarised most of the information presented in the training days and provided guidance on what to do during each session. You can access an example of these guides and session runsheets at the following link: Example Runsheets
We also had a conference dry-run, in which each aspect of the conference was rehearsed. We did two practice webinars (alternating staff functioning as participants and technical assistance to see how things looked from all perspectives), and six practice parallel sessions; enough to make sure that each staff member practiced as a technician, chair, presenter and participant. During this dry run, we modified our technician instructions and made notes of possible issues to avoid.
Each staff member was assigned to parallel sessions, workshops or plenaries according to a roster. Staff were rostered to arrive 30 minutes before each session, to allow enough time for the initial setup of the zoom rooms and also to greet and orient the hosts and presenters. At all times, at least one member of the technical organising committee was available to sort out urgent issues with the running of the conference.
As each staff member had trained / practised on every type of conference session they were rostered to, the during conference management for the technical committee consisted primarily of keeping the relevant conference run-sheets up to date, and checking in with each parallel stream’s technician via Discord. Staff were also on standby to step-in in the event of another staff member falling sick or having technical issues.
Each morning, the tech committee had a miniature dry run of the conference, activating all zoom links and checking that permissions were set correctly / that all the zoom meetings were able to run at the same time. This was particularly important for plenaries, which locked up Zoom licenses and had the potential to disrupt the running of the conference in the event of some sessions running overtime.
At the conclusion of each day, the recordings of each session were downloaded from Zoom and uploaded to YouTube, and linked to the poster platform to allow conference participants to access them.
At the beginning of each conference day, we sent an email to all conference participants containing the schedule for the day, with all relevant Zoom links, alongside their Zoom name that they were to use. We used Mail Merge to send these emails, allowing quick and easy personalised messages. By sending the messages each morning, any important updates to the conference schedule could be easily communicated.