HAVE YOU had to postpone the conference that you were organizing? Has the conference you wanted to attend been cancelled completely? Would you still like to exchange knowledge with fellow scientists and hear about your colleagues’ latest findings?

VIRTUAL CONFERENCES can be an alternative to physical meetings. Modern technology offers researchers and scientists the opportunity to present papers and to share their latest findings online.

HOWEVER, not every conference organizer is well acquainted with the technological options that are available. Not every researcher or scientist is experienced in being a virtual conference participant.

THIS SITE is intended to serve as a platform/discussion forum where IUFRO officeholders can share information about virtual meetings and discuss with each other.

PLEASE NOTE the following:
– Comments are moderated and will therefore not appear immediately.
– IUFRO Headquarters will not provide guidance on technical questions/problems arising in/from virtual meetings.
– Please keep the discussion polite!

THANK YOU!

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IUFRO-GFEP recently held a digital meeting with the authors of the Global Assessment Report on Forests and Poverty. Here’s what happened:

The Reality of Virtuality – Sharing the GFEP Panel’s Digital Meeting Experience
In a globally connected world, we are used to communicating online. Nevertheless, many of us have been caught flat-footed by the sudden need to step up our virtual collaborations and give up face-to-face meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read how 25 scientists of IUFRO’s Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Poverty and the GFEP team at IUFRO Headquarters virtually jumped in at the deep end and learned how to swim.

READ MORE at: https://blog.iufro.org/2020/05/05/the-reality-of-virtuality-sharing-the-gfep-panel-digital-meeting-experience/
and COME BACK TO DISCUSS!

2 Responses to this post

Posted by Woodam Chung on

What a different world we suddenly find ourselves in!
Luckily, we have modern technology that enables most of us to still connect, learn and share in meaningful ways during this time of social distancing. Virtual communication was certainly one that I had to learn and adopt quickly as we were forced (?) to deliver courses and convene meetings online. I had a quite steep learning curve to learn and use online course platforms in a short time period, and of course it felt very awkward to speak to the computer screen at first few times. Now after a few months of experience, I found myself quickly adapt to the “new world” of communication.

Virtual communication – although first few experiences weren’t so great, I found it can be useful and convenient in many circumstances. A passive form of learning is an example where we simply listen to information provided by speakers in seminars, lectures or meetings where participants don’t need to engage themselves actively. The power of being able to record and play shared contents whenever and wherever certainly adds to the convenience and improve accessibility. Virtual settings can work well for short, small group meetings, as we do not have to travel to get together with our colleagues.

On the other hand, I found several challenges in virtual education and meetings. I teach an undergraduate forest management planning and design course. It is an extensive fieldwork, group project-based course for forestry graduating seniors. This year I am delivering it with no fieldwork and no in-person contact. All the stand and terrain field measurements have been substituted with spatial data from remote sensing and LiDAR imagery. Group tasks are assigned to individual team members and are discussed once a week through virtual meetings. We learn something new, of course, from these new trials of ‘virtual forestry’ and ‘virtual teamwork’, but I am assured that the virtual experiences cannot match the richness of in-person activities. My students and I miss badly learning through sweat and bonding with team members throughout the hard work together in the forest.

Likewise, I believe virtual meetings will not completely replace in-person meetings, but they can be a complement. Face-to-face meetings and in-person interactions convey more than just information. We can sense the atmosphere in the room, catch the emotional nuances, and feel social belonging. That is something we will never be able to replace with billions of electrons traveling through internet cables.

I planned to host an international conference in forest engineering in September this year, but the organizing committee has decided to reschedule it for 2021. We could have pursued a virtual conference, but the main reason not to go virtual was probably that we still highly value in-person interactions and networking. Forest engineering communities around the world are relatively small groups like family, and we want to see each other and network in person. One of the highlights in every forest engineering conference is a field excursion where participants interact with each other during live action in the forest to learn new perspectives. This is not possible by a virtual conference.

We know that this “new world” of communication will bring us new normals. There are many benefits the virtual meetings can bring, and they can be a good complement to in-person meetings. Perhaps, a hybrid of the two formats might become a new normal for many conferences wanting to realize both expanded accessibility and deep in-person experiences.

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Posted by Cecil Konijnendijk (Coordinator of Division 6) on

As someone who goes to a lot (and I mean a lot!) of conferences – and who is also involved in organising a couple every year – things really changed when the pandemic hit. Many conference organisers were scrambling to postpone their events, see whether they could move them online, or even cancel them. Research obviously needs a regular exchange of ideas and findings, so we need conferences and seminars. How do we meet this need in the era of COVID-19?

It’s often a big leap to transfer a face-to-face conference to an online event. My experience is that the result is often a ‘watered down’ version of the conference. We’re all overloaded with meetings on Zoom, Skype, MS Teams, etc., and it easily wears us out. These online interactions require quite a lot from us, in terms on concentration, dealing with technology glitches, not being able to really ‘read’ the other people in the room. And of course we miss the more informal interactions, the chats over a drink, the chance breakfast encounter that gets us going on new ideas.

Although some of the conferences I am involved with have decided to postpone, hoping for better times, realistically many countries probably won’t allow for events of over 50 persons or so to happen for quite some time. So to keep the crucial international collaboration, exchange of knowledge and ideas, and mutual inspiration going we need to develop new formats that are in line with the current situation.

Some interesting experiments are underway with new types of online conferences, and best practices are being developed in a rapid pace. Some examples include spreading out conferences over multiple days or even weeks, so that participants don’t get ‘Zoomed out’, but also in recognition of many of us having childcare and other duties whilst we are working from home. Formats with online breakout sessions in small groups of participants also seem promising. After one or two plenary talks, group of 10 or so people break out into different virtual ‘rooms’, discuss the talks and a set of questions/issues, and then possibly report back. Of course being online also offers interesting options to make events more interactive, having live chats, voting during talks on key questions, integrating movies and other media, etc. We have to fully engage with these options to make online conferencing interesting. Even some formal of social interaction, with ‘quarantinis’, maybe a game or two, an icebreaker, etc. can work well, if done well.

Finally, one positive consequence of more online conferencing will be that it can potentially be more inclusive, involving a larger group of participants from across the world. We don’t have to cough up the funds for expensive travels, accommodation, etc., and usually conference fees will be lower. But here we still run the risk that some of our colleagues don’t have access to the type of internet speed and computer facilities that will enable them to participate. Perhaps something for IUFRO to look into?

It would be great to hear from people’s experiences. What worked well, and what should be avoided? Is there anything special about our world of forest research that we need to keep in mind? Can we do virtual field trips, for example? Forests and other nature have proven to be very important during times of isolation and physical distancing, so we should find ways of promoting this as we plan our online events and activities. Please share your experiences and thoughts! And please stay safe.

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