Bringing an international conference online

Jessica Hallman
June 19, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the shift of the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD) to a virtual format due to COVID-19, general chair Carleen Maitland led a team effort to bring the international conference online.

The conference was initially slated to be hosted by Ecuador’s leading technical university, Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Guayaquil from June 17 to 19. But with that city being particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions prohibiting participants from attending, Maitland, associate professor of information sciences and technology, tapped into resources at Penn State to host the conference virtually.

“When we had to make the decision as to whether to cancel, postpone or go online, [our dean] offered the assistance of the College of IST events staff,” said Maitland. “That made the decision to take the risk to go online much easier.”

Along with the IST events staff, as well as doctoral students Nasim Motalebi and Rich Canavez, Maitland planned out the structure and logistics of hosting the virtual conference. The events team collaborated with the Office of Learning Design and the Office of Information Technology in the College of IST to gather and provide best practices for the conference, balancing security with ease of use for the international participants. The team also co-hosted all paper sessions and keynote talks to manage waiting rooms for security and keep the sessions safe from Zoom bombers.

“The events team was excited to be involved with pivoting ICTD to a virtual event,” said Pam Long, director of IST’s Office of College Events. “We look forward to sharing all of the best practices we learned for a variety of IST events.”

For Motalebi, the experience was another lesson in her academic journey.

“We were quite literally in a live experiment, experimenting with methods to disseminate information as quickly, as efficiently and as safely as possible,” she said. “ICTD is a host to participants and presenters from all over the world with different time zones, different levels of accessibility to high speed internet, and a variety of privacy preferences. These, and other factors, informed our decisions about how to share information about the conference and how to mitigate any technical difficulties.”

Motalebi, who also designed the website for the conference, said that she wanted to ensure that participants felt informed and updated while enjoying the conference in a new way. She and Canavez, along with Eduardo Segundo Cruz Rameriz, a graduate student at ESPOL, hosted a Grad Student Coffee Hour during the virtual event.

“We asked all grad student participants to come together for a more relaxed gathering and meet fellow researchers to talk about our academic journeys,” said Motalebi. “It was important to us that grad students left the conference with a sense of community and support.”

Last Updated June 28, 2021