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Researcher seeing huge potential in online conferences

Tuesday 12 May 20

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Peter Bøggild
Professor
DTU Physics
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Twice as many participated in the CarbOnlineHagen online conference as in the recent physical conferences. Initiator and professor, Peter Bøggild, finds online meeting more inclusive.

Following the Corona lockdown, Professor Peter Bøggild began creating the online conference CarbOnlineHagen to replace the physical conference Carbonhagen which since 2010 has focused on the latest knowledge in graphene and two-dimensional materials.

The first two online lectures in the series have had twice as many participants as the previous analogue conferences. For the latest presentation, 265 people tuned in on the Zoom video platform. And the participants, who came from all corners of the world, have been very positive about the conference taking place online.

“It’s gone better than we dared hope and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. This doesn’t mean that the online conference should replace mainstream conferences, but it holds huge potential. With what we are learning now, in the future we can create even better conferences that even more people will benefit from,” says Peter Bøggild.

Several researchers and students—not least from research environments around the world lacking the same resources as their European counterparts—have been able to participate by simply connecting from their home computer.

Easier to ask questions

A recurring theme in the participant satisfaction was the ability to ask questions to the speaker via a live chat. The explanation is that it is easier to ask questions in a chat forum, says Peter Bøggild:

"Many may find it difficult, for example, to ask a Nobel prize winner critical questions—but in a live chat it’s a different matter. "
Professor Peter Bøggild

“Many may find it difficult, for example, to ask a Nobel prize winner critical questions—but in a live chat it’s a different matter. Questions and discussions are central to the research and help everyone gain a better understanding of the material. The experience thus becomes less superficial than what is often the case with a ‘real’ conference.”

Among other things, the organizers tested a format in which questions were answered continuously to ensure that everyone understood the points and was not left behind.

Laboratory for conferences of the future

There are two lectures left in the series, but whether and how CarbOnlineHagen will continue is as yet undecided. For Peter Bøggild, the online conference has been a playground to try out new digital formats and opportunities that can help develop better conferences in the future.

“We're trying to use CarbOnlineHagen as an experimental human interaction lab to find out what works because it’s incredibly easy to turn things around digitally,” he explains.

For example, you can try out virtual group rooms so that participants can discuss in smaller groups. Zoom requires only a few clicks, but for physical conferences it can be a major logistical project to secure enough space.

However, despite his positive attitude towards online conferences, Peter Bøggild has no doubt that the physical conference will return in the future because you also need to be present in the same room:

“The biggest challenge is to create the right social contact. We lack the physical meeting where you have fun and chat afterwards.”

That is why he sees online conferences as a complement to—not a substitute for—mainstream conferences.

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