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[Xmca-l] A New Type of Academic Conference
I can't recall if this went out to this listserve. Apologies if it is a
repeat, but this seems like it might be an ideal way to organize a virtual
CHAT conference considering that we have people from all over the world who
like to CHAT but who don't always have money to travel to ISCAR.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
*From:* UCSB EHC [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
*Sent:* Tuesday, October 04, 2016 9:10 PM
*To:* Tami Pugmire <email@example.com>
*Subject:* Please circulate within your department: A New Type of Academic
Dear Tami Pugmire,
Would you be so kind as to forward this email to faculty and graduate
students in your department, as well as anyone else who might be
This is a follow up email to one I sent out earlier this summer and
outlines an eco-friendly conference approach that we have used at UC Santa
Barbara that has a nearly nonexistent carbon footprint. In order to
encourage other groups to try this conference model, we have created a
White Paper / Practical Guide that explains our approach. Details are
The environmental cost of flying to and from academic conferences is
staggering. When we recently calculated the total greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions for the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus, we discovered that
roughly a third of our GHG emissions come from air travel to conferences,
talks, and meetings. Putting these GHG emissions into human terms, this is
equal to the total annual carbon footprint of a city of 27,500 people
living in India. And UCSB is just one of nearly 5000 colleges and
universities in the U.S. alone.
This issue can also be approached personally. When Peter Kalmus, a climate
scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, did the math for a recent
article in Grist
he found that two-thirds of his personal GHG emissions annually came from
air travel to and from conferences and meetings.
At UCSB we have been experimenting with a new type of nearly-carbon neutral
(NCN) conference that takes place online (the talks are prerecorded; the
Q&A sessions interactive) and which has GHG emissions that are less than 1%
of its traditional fly-in counterpart. Because we use open source software,
such a conference can be staged for nearly zero cost. An individual
familiar with WordPress installations should be able to have a conference
space (website) prepared in less than a day.
My reason for writing is that we have created a White Paper / Practical
Guide that both explains the rationale behind this NCN conference approach
and also details how to coordinate such an event:
http://ehc.english.ucsb.edu/?page_id=14080. If you are planning a
conference in 2016-17, we urge you to consider this approach. Please note
that this is not in any way a commercial venture. We are just a group of
faculty interested in doing what we can to help mitigate our profession's
worrisome impact on climate change by freely sharing our experience.
Note that this conference model differs significantly from a typical
webinar, as it does not use Skype, Zoom.us, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or any such
real-time teleconferencing solution. In a nutshell, here is how it works:
1) *Speakers record their own talks*. This can be A) a video of them
speaking, generally filmed with a webcam or smartphone, B) a screen
recording of a presentation, such as a PowerPoint, or C) a hybrid of the
two, with speaker and presentation alternately or simultaneously onscreen.
Because they are prerecorded, talks are closed captioned for
2) *Talks are viewed on the conference website*. Once they are made
available on the conference website, the streaming talks can be viewed at
any time. Talks are organized into panels (i.e. individual webpages) that
generally have three speakers each and a shared Q&A session – just like a
3) *Participants contribute to an online Q&A session*. During the time that
the conference is open, which is generally two or three weeks, participants
can take part in the Q&A sessions for the panels, which are similar to
online forums, by posing and responding to written questions and comments.
Because comments can be made at any time in any time zone, scholars from
across the globe can equally take part in the conference.
For an example of this approach, please visit the website from our May 2016
NCN conference on "Climate Change: Views from the Humanities," which
provides a full archive of the event, including all talk videos and Q&A
To see this model in action (and to take part in the Q&A sessions, if you
like), visit the website for our next NCN conference, “The World in 2050:
Creating/Imagining Just Climate Futures,” which will take place from
October 24 to November 14, 2016: http://ehc.english.ucsb.edu/?page_id=14895.
Keynote speakers include Bill McKibben, Patrick Bond, Erik Assadourian, and
Margaret Klein Salamon. A truly international event, we have over 50
speakers from six continents.
Although originally conceived of as a way to help mitigate climate change,
this NCN conference model has additional advantages:
1) Because of the high cost of airfare, scholars from many developing
countries have long been summarily excluded from international conferences.
Without the requirement of travel, scholars can participate from nearly
anywhere on the globe, especially as asynchronous talks and Q&A sessions,
privileging no one locale, eliminate the challenge presented by world time
zones - thereby facilitating truly global, interactive conferences.
2) This conference approach is generally more accessible than its
traditional counterparts, as A) eliminating travel sidesteps many hurdles
to physical accessibility, B) prerecorded talks can be closed captioned for
hard-of-hearing individuals, and, C) with respect to the blind and visually
impaired, the conference website can be optimized to work with audio screen
readers and talks can also be made available as audio podcasts.
3) Similar to open-access journals, the lasting archive created by the
conference (both recorded talks and written Q&A discussion) gives nearly
anyone anywhere with relatively affordable technology instant and lasting
access to all the cutting-edge material introduced at the event. In
contrast, traditional conferences are often closed-door affairs open to
only a privileged few.
4) The text-based Q&A sessions, which were open for the three-week duration
of the May 2016 UCSB conference, on average generated three times more
discussion than takes place at its traditional counterpart. One of the
sessions generated ten times more discussion, making clear that, while
different from a traditional conference, personal interaction was not only
possible, but in certain respects superior.
5) Because the cost of such a conference is considerably less than its
traditional counterparts, a range of groups and institutions that could not
ordinarily stage an event of this sort are now able to do so. This includes
universities in the developing world previously lacking the significant
financial resources required to coordinate international conferences.
6) Conference talks can be closed captioned in more than one language.
Although this was not done for the May 2016 conference, future UCSB events
are being planned with talks by speakers in their native languages that
will be closed captioned in English. In addition, we plan to have all talks
captioned in Spanish as well as English.
For more details, do check out our White Paper / Practical Guide:
http://ehc.english.ucsb.edu/?page_id=14080. If you have any questions,
please feel free to send them directly to me at the below email address.
With many thanks for considering this NCN conference approach!
Ken Hiltner, Professor
English and Environmental Studies
Director, Environmental Humanities Initiative
3431 South Hall Administrative Center
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602