Online Conferencing

Author: Esther Plomp

How should you move your event or conference online? By examining the three online meetings I attended this week (11-15th May 2020) we might find some insight into this question. These events were all related to open science and data, but the organisers made use of very different types of conference/event formats to move their event online:

1. Open Scholarship Week: A full week conference with 1-2 sessions on each day (presentations or more interactive workshop sessions) (see also the upcoming Open Publishing Festival for a similar format).

2. csv,conf,v5: A two day conference focussing on lectures and keynotes.

3 Remote ReproHack: An interactive day that had a number of keynote speakers but mainly focussed on the input of the participants that tried to reproduce papers.

Below I will give a brief overview of these events, and some things to consider for future online events.

The Open Scholarship Week – #OSWGalway2020

The Open Scholarship Week started with a 1-hour opening session on Monday (11th of May) to introduce the Open Scholarship Week and was followed by a keynote about Open Science and Community building in the Netherlands by Dr. Antonio Schettino. Later that same day Antonio led a more interactive session on how to use the Open Science Framework (see here for the slides). On the second day three 1-2 hour sessions on Open Educational Resources and Wikipedia took place. On the Wednesday a session was hosted on Open Data and Software, by Adam Leadbetter and Niall Moran (see here for part of the slides). There were no sessions on the Thursday. On Friday two sessions took place, one on the recently launched Arts and Culture in Education Research Repository, and a closing session focusing on Open Science. Slides of the presentations are available on Zenodo. The Open Scholarship Week made use of Zoom and recorded the sessions which are available here.

Opening of the Open Scholarship Week on Zoom. Image from this tweet by Hardy Schwamm.


This week the fifth edition of csv,conf,v5 took place. During the welcome session up to 900 people were tuning in! The conference took place in several sessions on crowdcast. There was a Slack channel available to facilitate interaction between participants. Everyone was encouraged to introduce themselves through Slack in a dedicated introduction channel. Social interaction was also stimulated during lunch through a Zoom meeting (using break-out rooms to facilitate smaller group discussions) as well as a llama showing (I am not making this up). This has been the perfect set up for a conference with over 800 participants attending each session! Recordings will be made available on YouTube.

Remote ReproHack – #reprohack

To get a better understanding of what a ReproHack is, I can recommend reading a blogpost about a ReproHack that I attended in person last year as well as this overview by the hosts. (A blogpost about the Remote ReproHack will be posted next week!) The remote ReproHack took place on Blackboard Collaborate in the webbrowser. This platform was chosen as it allows participants to freely move between break-out rooms. This is not possible with tools such as Zoom, where participants have to be moved by the host to break-out rooms. During the remote ReproHack the participants could choose a paper to reproduce from a list of 37 papers (who’s author’s volunteered to be reproduced). The ReproHackers could indicate through a file on which paper they were working. We could work on reproducing the papers in three sessions, each lasting about an hour. About half an hour of those sessions was spent on providing constructive feedback to the authors of the paper, using a previously set up feedback from. During the day three short keynotes took place on reproducibility and tools participants could use to make their research more reproducible. No recordings took place during this event.

Binder demo by Sarah Gibson on Blackboard Collaborate. Slides can be found here.

So which format should you pick?

It is important to stress that there is no right or wrong format for your online event: These three conferences/events were all successful in moving their event online in an engaging way. The idea is to pick the format that fits your community or that best gets your message across.

For example, if you would like to host an event that is similar to a conference, the format that csv,conf,v5 used is more applicable. This requires your participants to be available for only one or two days, but for a longer time period. If your participants cannot commit to a full day online, the format of the Open Scholarship Week could be more interesting.

In terms of commitment it was possible for both the Open Scholarship Week and csv,conf,v5 to only follow certain parts or sessions, and catch up later through the recordings. This was a bit more complicated for the Remote Reprohack: if you would miss out on the explanation in the morning it would be difficult (though not impossible) to attend the rest of the day.


All of these formats allow for active contributions from participants. The Open Science Framework session of the Open Scholarship Week and Remote Reprohack had a more workshop type of format which allowed participants to contribute during the session itself (other than to just ask questions). Csv,conf,v5 used the lunch break as a space for interaction, by hosting a lunch Zoom meeting. With the dedicated csv,conf,v5 Slack channel it was easy to reach out to other participants and engage with them. For example, a self-organised session on communities of practice took place, which resulted of the engagement in the Zoom-lunch and continued afterwards with participants that noticed the message in the Slack channel. The Remote ReproHack made use of a document. Other online meetings, such as the Collaboration Workshop 2020, made use of a Google document where individuals could sign in and reach out to each other. These text documents also allow participants of the event to contribute their thoughts.

Introduction message in the csv,conf,v5 Slack channel.

Most of these interactions could benefit from some stimulation in the form of a facilitator or organiser that takes charge. Here it is very important to have an inclusive environment and point people towards your code of conduct (see those of the Remote Reprohack and csv,conf,v5 for excellent examples), to ensure that everyone feels safe to contribute. Sometimes interaction can be facilitated by just stating that it is possible to introduce yourself in the chat, or to give an example on how to do it, as was done for the closing session of the Open Scholarship Week.


It is also important to allow your participants to catch a break and recharge. The Open Scholarship Week sessions were spread over several days, which allowed for plenty of time to recharge in between the sessions. Csv,conf,v5 had a number of scheduled breaks of ~15 mins in between the sessions, which was praised by participants in the chat. During the remote ReproHack there were scheduled breaks and during the interactive sessions you could also choose to pause whenever you felt like.

Hosting events online does not make them boring or static. By facilitating interaction with the participants and having a llama show in the break, your event will be just as memorable as normal!

Closing session of csv,conf,v5 on crowdcast. Grab your llama pictures here!

Edited on the 16th of May to add the “Breaks” session, as inspired by a conversation on Twitter with Dr. Elaine Toomey from the Open Scholarship Week.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Open Scholarship Week 2020: Embracing openness in Ireland and beyond – Open Scholarship Community Galway

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