Sunday, May 4, 2008

Online access to midwifery conferences

I am feeling left out.

The biggest international midwifery conference - International Confederation of Midwives - midwives are ever likely to go to is being held in Glasgow in a few weeks . This only comes around every three years. And the New Zealand College of Midwives' national conference (bi-annual) is coming up later in the year.

I am not going to either conference because I am broke and can't afford it. But I wish I was going because both conference programs look fabulous and I know they will be fantastic opportunities to network with key midwifery educators and researchers.

Making conferences accessible to the wider audience
How can conferences be made more accessible to people who cannot attend for whatever reason? How can we make sure that the benefits of conferences ie learning and networking opportunities are spread beyond the physical walls of the conference hall.

David Warlick has a few ideas including conference wikis, blogs, video and audio podcasts of sessions. However, Tony Karrer believes that technological issues may be a barrier. Tony also questions whether people would want to get involved with pre-and-post conference activities such as blogs and wikis because he believes all people want to do at conferences is blob out.

Who pays
I suspect that conference funding may also be a barrier to online access. If conference sessions are being provided free on the Internet either in real-time format or as recordings, why would people want to pay to attend in a face-to-face context? I think people will because ultimately, if they can attend, nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

I suppose conference organisers could charge participants that attend online real-time sessions but if lack of funding is the reason participants did not attend in the first place, charging does not solve that problem. As for making recordings freely available, that is no different from making written conference proceedings available on the Internet.

Supporting midwives
I have said before that online open access to education and professional development is one way to sustain the midwifery profession and contribute to being global midwifery citizens. And one way of approaching financing issues is to involve sponsors in the online activities as suggested by David Warlick. Surely they would be pleased to extend their product advertising.

Food for thought
At the very least I would call on conference organisers to record key presentations and publish them on the Internet. Providing computers and free wifi would be fabulous to help conference attendees spread the word about the conference and keep in touch with those who are minding the fort at home.

To conference attendees I would say: don't forget your colleagues at home. Think of ways that you can share your learning and conference experiences. Start a conference blog or use instant messaging services such as Skype, MSN or Twitter to share events as they happen.

As for those of you who are going to the ICM conference, here's an idea for a conference extra-mural activity: to organise an online meeting (I can provide Elluminate as a meeting venue) to tell the rest of us about how the conference is going.

Thinking ahead
I would be really pleased to hear from anyone who is interested in discussing this further. And once the dust has settled from this up-coming ICM conference, I would love to join with anyone interested in lobbying for increased online access to midwifery conferences, especially the next ICM conference.

Image: 'Quick 9n9 dirty Mullenweg keynote panorama' penmachine


Anonymous said...

all great ideas for extending the lifespan of a conference. One of th ways we extend the life of a conference is by bringing what we learn into our teaching when we return - or by sharing our learning and experience in forums on our return - although I am aware that some very frequent conference attendees do neglect to share their experiences even when they have been awarded funding to step out and about and i must admit i have always regarded this as poor practice.
I think the other benefit of conferences - especially in an area such as midwifery - is politicising - which can lead to ongoing political networking and activity. I think the web can only serve to add value here.

Dot said...

I was very interested in what you had to say here because I've run conferences in the past and am involved in planning a bid to host a big one (the conference of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists - in 2013, would you believe)! I agree the funding angle may put people off, especially as these days many universities (in the case of university-hosted conferences) charge their own academics for hire of their own premises and that money has to be recouped from registration fees. They would probably do the same in the case of web-conferencing facilities and technical support. But another angle here is, of course, the weakness of the flesh. Organising a conference is so complicated anyway; how many conference organisers are heroic enough to add a further dimension? We'll see if I can be that heroic...

Sarah Stewart said...

I absolutely know where you are coming from Dot because I have been involved with organizing conferences and study days over the years. What about identifying people in your area who are interested in online communication and get them to orgaise a sort of fringe festival where they can meet online to discuss the conference. At the very least, record and publish a few key note speeches. Using me as an example, I would be really interested on listening to a session but there's no way I would attend the conference because it is way out of my league. Actually, to be honest, I'm more of a 'middle ages' girl!