Evaluation of our first online ASM
SSM 62nd ASM and first online
The pandemic has altered the lives of every one of us. Carol Brayne and her team were looking forward to hosting the 62nd ASM in Cambridge, but we had to switch to an online conference. This blog focuses on the novelty of being online, using results from the evaluation questionnaire. The ASM attendance was a record 779 registrations, but it was disappointing that only 156 (20%) completed the evaluation form. We do not know how representative this response sample is but it is encouraging that over half of these responders were attending their first ASM. Half said they would have attended anyway, a third not and the rest unsure.
This year, there were three plenaries, all rating highly on a scale of 1-5 with mean scores of 4.3 for Danny Dorling “Constructing the story of 2020 – myths, miasma, messaging and models – from Cholera to COVID-19”, 4.4 for Harry Rutter “‘Build back better’: the role of academia in translating optimistic slogan to meaningful action post-COVID-19” and 4.6 for the panel plenary “CVD19 and inequalities”.
The oral sessions were pre-recorded with live Q&A and the poster sessions accompanied by pre-recorded videos. . Only 74 (47%) had looked at posters, For both modes, 85% of those responding agreed or strongly agreed that there was enough of interest and all but a few considered the scientific quality of both high most or all of the time, that the oral presentations were well-timed and reported that they could hear and see the presentations clearly. Fewer gained new ideas for research (under half for oral presentations and just under 2/3 for posters)
The main advantages of being online included convenience of being able to combine with other commitments, whether work or family, environmental of not having to travel, savings for individuals and their employers in not having to pay for travel or accommodation or (in this case) a fee. Some found the posters easier to see and appreciated the accompanying videos. Also, one with a mobility disability and another with colour blindness mentioned that they could take fuller advantage of the presentations.
“Reach can be huge on the internet, no carbon footprint, convenient to attend from home, all great pros.”
“The flexibility of being able to juggle childcare while also attending the conference was particularly valuable in the current pandemic.”
The disadvantage most often mentioned in the free text was much reduced person-to-person interaction. People found it a little alien and sometimes lonely to be watching presentations without any idea of who else was present. SSM ASM is known for its friendliness and its social events, and these were sorely missed. There was one chat time, and the ECRs used a networking platform and more like this would be welcome. Some found themselves more easily distracted, and another disadvantage was the fatigue of watching online.
“This conference made me realise how much the informal interaction is central to a conference.”
A third gave ‘no fee’ as one motivation for attending. Only 29 of all 774 attendees paid the voluntary fee. Surprisingly fee did not feature hugely in free text. No fee enabled some to attend, especially if not presenting. A voluntary fee has the disadvantage that employer/funder may not consider it a legitimate expense.
Over half the respondents said they found the presentations very easy to find and a third more somewhat easy. Some reported problems of access or presentation and the committee have seen these. Navigation could be smoother. The short question times after oral presentations did not give enough chance for questions, especially as some were not aware of how to post questions. Several requested that presentations be available after the session for a limited time. Note that two of the plenaries are now available on the website.
Overall, the organisers have reason to be relieved that the conference worked well. Who knows whether we can meet in person in Liverpool in 2021 .. and anyway the Society should feel emboldened to have some activities online.
“Congratulations to you all, an Herculean achievement so much appreciated especially at this time. Uplifting and invigorating. Many thanks”
“It would be great to continue providing an opportunity for people to join online next year, even if the conference will also be held in person.”
“This was my first ever online conference, and I thought it worked spectacularly well. It was well chaired, everything ran to time, and presentations (being pre-recorded) were clear and well delivered. Congratulations to all involved in the organisation of this during a difficult summer.”
SSM Survey Officer