Online Conferences vs. Traditional Conferences: Some history, methods & data

In the wake of virus outbreaks in multiple countries, many scholars are reconsidering conference plans. As someone that has organized multiple online conferences—sometimes during states of emergencies—I have thought a lot about how online conferences can be more resilient to such emergencies. I have also found online conferences to be preferable in many other ways, which I explain in a paper about the history, methods, and findings of online conferences. The paper is currently under review for a collected volume about sustainable academic practices (see my CV). Typically, I share papers only after they are in press. However, I received more requests for this paper in the past week than I received in the prior year. So rather than sending a copy of the paper to each individual that contacts me, I am making the current version of the manuscript publicly available (below).

Title: Online Conferences: Some History, Methods, and Benefits

Abstract: Philosophers have probably been organizing conferences since at least the time of Plato’s academy (Barnes, 1998). More recently, philosophers have brought some of their conferences online (e.g., Brown, 2009; Buckner, Byrd, Rushing, & Schwenkler, 2017; Calzavarini & Viola, 2018; Nadelhoffer, 2006). However, the adoption of online conferences is limited. One might wonder if scholars prefer traditional conferences for their ability to provide goods that online conferences cannot. While this may be true, online conferences outshine traditional conferences in various ways, and at a significantly lower cost. By considering the costs and benefits of both conference models, we may find reasons to prefer online to traditional conferences in some circumstances. This paper shares the methods, quantitative results, and qualitative results of the Minds Online conferences of 2015, 2016, and 2017. The evidence suggests that the online conference model can help scholars better understand their profession, share the workload of conference organizing, increase representation for underrepresented groups, increase accessibility to attendees, decrease monetary costs for everyone involved, sustain conference activity during states of emergency, and reduce their carbon footprint. So, the advantages of traditional conferences might be outweighed by their higher costs after all.

PDF of the current
version of manuscript

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog