Designing a hybrid conference programme

Preparations are in full swing for ALT’s Annual Conference this September, and we are working hard to design a hybrid conference programme that reflects our values and the needs of our Members.

In the past we have openly shared ALT’s expertise designing and delivering innovative online events, and during the early days of the pandemic we published resources about running events online. This blog post continues this practice, sharing our thinking for hybrid conferences.

Our approach to hybrid

The question we started with was what a ‘hybrid conference’ means for us. We have over a decade of experience running wholly online conferences as well as in person conferences with an online element, such as live streaming keynotes for example.

For our approach to hybrid conferences, we wanted to ensure that we make the most of a return to in person session formats, enabling participants to engage in discussion and collaboration without the constraints of being live streamed or having to interact with participants online in every session.

At the same time, we want to continue to offer Members the opportunity to participate and contribute online, and to connect with everyone who is at the event.

Whilst the majority of events we run are openly accessible as a membership service, our two large conferences a year have to cover their costs and contribute to our income as an independent charity. Fees for this year may be the lowest in five years for our Annual Conference, but we are well aware of the squeeze on budgets and inequalities in income. Alongside our scholarship programme, online participation offers a lower financial barrier to participate.

We work also within the operational constraints of what we can make possible in the venue we work with, with the limited financial resources we have and also what expertise we have to deliver the event.

It’s important to us that the way the event is run and organised reflects the Association and its values, and that makes us reluctant to give external organisations control over how the event is delivered or indeed who keynotes. Whilst we value the support from our sponsors and partners enormously, we have also set clear limits of what we offer in return for that support and that, too, shapes how we organise events.

Earlier this year, we had a fantastic opportunity to run our first hybrid conference, OER22, and learn from that experience. Building on the lesson learnt, we designed our conference programme to:

  • Start and finish online, bringing everyone participating together;
  • Deliver all keynote sessions online and in person, with in person speakers where possible;
  • Design the programme to accommodate most UK travel to and from the event on conference days;
  • Find a balance between online and in person programming that is reflected in the fee structure;
  • Account for staffing for simultaneous online and in person delivery.

An unknown quantity: Submissions and Peer Review

Our Conference Call for Proposals opened for submissions after we had to start designing the programme, and the largest unknown quantity was that we had no sense of how many submissions we would get, how many would be for online and how many for in person, and what percentage would make it through the Peer Review process.

With OER22 we started to ask participants to choose a format (including whether they wanted to present in person and online) at the time of submission, and this worked well, with only 1% of authors requested to change this subsequently.

We thus used the same approach for submissions for the Annual Conference, asking authors to choose what format they wanted to present in from the outset.

The Call for Proposals opened on 6 May and we sent out the initial decisions to authors on 23 June. Those weeks can feel like a long time in which to wait to see the shape of your conference programme. Here is what we hoped for an what happened:

No of submissions: We aimed for receiving 100 – 150 submissions. We received 132!

Online/in person split: We planned for 35% online / 65% in person. We received 29% submission for online, 71% for in person sessions.

Acceptance rate: the initial acceptance rate is ~70% after round 1 of the review process. Depending on how many authors submit revisions and how many of those are accepted, this may increase. Overall these rates are in line with previous years.

We won’t know all papers that will feature in the programme, until all accepted authors have registered and all outstanding revisions have been submitted later this month.

(Incidentally, if you are an author in need of help or you have questions, contact ).

Programme design

Screenshot of the draft programme for the conference which includes schedules for pre-conference activities and each conference day.
Work in progress: Screenshot of the draft programme for the conference.

Now that we have a better idea of the submissions for the conference, we can start to work on the actual programme, scheduling sessions and working out conflicts in scheduling.

Pre-Conference activities

We will run pre-conference activities 31st August to 5th September and these will be open to all and free to attend. This is an important point, as these activities include sessions run by our Special Interest Groups and Members Groups. During this time we also run participant orientation sessions online, helping to onboard everyone on the conference platform and starting the conversation in our social space.

Twice daily speaker orientation sessions will help prepare speakers to present either online or in person and pick up logistical questions about session formats and session chairing.

6th September – Conference Day 1

The morning of day 1 will be online with an online welcome and live sessions including video posters. In the afternoon, the programme will be in-person. Keynotes will be live-streamed to online participants. In the evening, we will hold the 2022 Learning Technologist of the Year Awards.

7th September – Conference Day 2

Day 2 will be in-person and in parallel we will stream pre-recorded sessions with live online discussion. Keynotes will be live-streamed to online participants as well. In the evening, we will celebrate the launch of Digital Transformation, our collaboration with ITN Productions as part of our conference gala.

8th September – Conference Day 3

The morning of day 1 will be in-person, again with sessions online as well. In the afternoon, the programme will move to online only. Keynotes will be live-streamed to online participants. In the evening, the conference after party will be online and hopefully see the return of #altc radio on the airwaves.

What’s next…?

Designing the hybrid events programme is only one of many steps on the road to #altc22, and we’ll continue to share our practice as we go along. We hope you will join us in September!

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