COVID-19 open access and open research: good progress and what is missing

Major publishers are making research and data directly related to COVID-19 freely available. This is good news, and may reflect progress towards open access over the past two decades, because the arguments for free sharing of information in the context of pandemic are so compelling, as I touched on in this post.

A few examples, current best practices and gaps, will follow, but first, a few notes to explain why we need to move beyond open sharing of directly related resources to include all resources.

  • Scientists working on COVID: while the greatest need is research and data directly on COVID per se, some pieces of the puzzle of solving any scientific problem can come from any branch of scientific inquiry. For example, basic research on how the respiratory system works, viruses and their transmission, may provide clues that will help COVID scientists. Some of this knowledge may be locked up in the print collections of libraries that are closed to limit spread of the virus.
  • Practitioners dealing with the more severe cases are often dealing with patients who have other health issues. Clinical research on the other issues and relevant co-morbidity studies (e.g. when people with the other illness have other types of pneumonia) might save some lives.
  • Educational institutions and governments that want to speed up training of health professionals to cope with the pandemic need the full range of knowledge relating to the health professions, in addition to COVID-specific resources. This includes all of the basic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), much of the social sciences, as well as arts and humanities for a well-rounded education (e.g. foster creativity through arts, cultural understanding for clinical care through humanities).
  • The pandemic per se raises a great many major secondary challenges, particularly the social challenges of helping entire populations cope with lock-down and the short and medium-term economic challenges. To address these challenges, we need all of our knowledge about communications, information, psychology, culture and history, along with classical and political economics. Part of the immediate solution to help people cope with lockdown is culture and arts. Like the COVID resources, many arts organizations and individual artists are making their works freely available. This is welcome and useful, but raises questions about economic support for artists and the arts so that this can continue; these are economic questions as well as challenges for the arts. We need open access to all of our knowledge to move forward with these secondary challenges. Right now is an excellent time to do this, because some of these secondary challenges are critical to dealing with the pandemic and limiting short and medium-term damage, and because so many researchers everywhere are working from home and would be able to benefit from this access.
  • Libraries are an essential service and have been providing online services for many resources. In the short term, one way to contribute even further: It should be possible to have people work at scanning stations to digitize material not yet online while maintaining social distancing.

Examples of major publisher COVID-19 related initiatives for comparative purposes follow. Note that I use parent company names first as part of an ongoing effort to help people understand the nature of these organizations, whether publicly traded corporations or privately held businesses, often with multiple divisions of which scholarly publishing forms just one part.

RELX (Elsevier +): COVID responses across all company divisions, featured prominently on home page; Novel Coronavirus Center “;with the latest medical and scientific information on COVID-19. The center has been set up since the start of the outbreak and is in English and Mandarin. Elsevier has provided full access to this content for PubMed Central”; COVID-19 clinical toolkit; free institutional access to ClinicalKey student platform until the end of June; rapid publication (preprints and data) of COVID-19 related works; data visualization of the impact of the virus on the aviation industry; LexisNexis free, comprehensive COVID-19 related legal news coverage; turned exhibition space in Austria into a functional hospital.

SpringerNature: “As a leading research publisher, Springer Nature is committed to supporting the global response to emerging outbreaks by enabling fast and direct access to the latest available research, evidence, and data.”

informa (Taylor & Francis +): no mention of COVID on parent company home page; Taylor & Francis COVID-19 resource center: microsite that provides “links and references to all relevant COVID-19 research articles, book chapters and information that can be freely accessed on Taylor & Francis Online and Taylor & Francis ebooks in support of the global efforts in diagnosis, treatment, prevention and further research into COVID-19″; prioritizing rapid publication of COVID-19 research.

Wiley offers free access to resources until the end of the Spring 2020 term to help with online education; ” making all current and future research content and data on the COVID-19 Resource Site available to PubMed Central”.


Some best practices beyond making directly relevant resources free from different companies that others could follow:

  • Comprehensive, company-wide COVID-19 response: RELX (Elsevier +)
  • Help for educational institutions facing the challenge of suddenly moving online: Wiley
  • Rapid publication: informa (Taylor & Francis +), RELX (Elsevier +)
  • PubMedCentral deposit, facilitating search by researchers and best long-term solution: Wiley, RELX (Elsevier +)


  • No hospital for countries most in need (another hospital in Austria is welcome, but there are many other countries with greater needs).
  • Resources beyond those most directly and obviously related to COVID-19.
  • Language: the only language mentioned besides English is RELX / Elsever, and only Mandarin is mentioned.


Letizia Chiappini: While I feel unsafe and stay in the Netherlands

It’s early morning and the Italian news is dramatic. The Corona virus is  hitting Northern Italy with a magnitude comparable to China. My mother and my grandma are there alone. Confined at home, scared and victims of a wretched television that shows sensationalists news about Corona-virus. Numbers are growing. Young individuals are safe, they said, older are in danger. I am puzzled, between heartbroken for my beloved ones in Italy and incredulous because in the Netherlands one month ago everything was still ‘gezellig’ (cozy).

Each morning I start with my routine, opening social media platforms on my phone, jumping in a compulsive way between Instagram stories and Facebook, mmmh so booooring. Let’s open Twitter. Twitter is exploding, like a square during a riot. I need to take part of this riot, I think.

Letizia_Chiappini @Molly_Ulysses. 22 March 2020.

“I feel unsafe. The #netherlands are playing with lives and their public care system. They are the most stubborn country ever. No empathy for countries like #Italy or #Spain, nor for expats. Colonialist mindset comes into play also during #covid19Nederland times #LockdownHolland.”

Then a journalist approached me.

Klaas Broekhuizen @KlaasBroekhuize 23 March 2020. Answer to @Molly_Ulysses

“Care to talk about this? Klaas Broekhuizen, reporter Dutch Financial Daily.”

So, yes, sure. I would love to expand my 280 characters in a broader reflection.

Klaas Broekhuizen asked me few questions by email. Here the rest of the story…

My main question: what would make you feel safe/more safe?  What’s missing? What should we learn from other countries, and specifically from Spain and Italy?

Here my answer:

I will start with a quote by Pierpaolo Pasolini (The Tears of Excavator, from The Ashes of Gramsci, 1957).

“Only to love, only to know,
are what matter; not having loved, having known. It’s agony

to live a consummated love.
The soul, straitjacketed, just can’t grow.”

My sentiment towards the Netherlands, where I’ve lived for three years, is one of love. As part of the Millenial-Erasmus generation, I have been in love with Europe and the benefit of traveling as a student during my undergrad. I’ve had a sort of poly-amorous relationship with European countries. I have been traveling and living for a long time in other European countries with the myth of a strong European Union. For me ‘we are family’. When I truly love, I truly want to understand. That’s my motto as a researcher. The sentiments behind my Tweet are love and dismay.

As an intellectual and theorist, I have been observing the decline of the ‘glorious thirty years’, the roll back of the state in providing welfare measures, in favor of more individualistic and neoliberal regimes of policy in Europe. The Netherlands, after praising itself for its extreme social liberalism, is trapped by right-wing populism which has been increased after austerity and the consequent blaming of migrants, Islam and expats for the crisis. As Dr. Merijn Oudenampsen (Universiteit van Amsterdam), wrote about “the remarkably radical transformation in the 1980s and 1990s of the Netherlands into one of the most liberalized European economies, and the paradoxical manifestation of Dutch neo-liberalism in a depoliticized, consensual guise.” As the Netherlands has become one the most most laissez-faire and neo-liberal countries in Europe, I am not surprised that Rutte is a voyeur of the Anglo-American project, in particular during the Covid19 crisis, in which the death rattle of neol-iberal countries is DON’T CRASH THE ECONOMY! Mentioning ‘groepsimmuniteit’ in a public speech in front of mourning other countries such as Italy, where there are tanks carrying corpses because mortuaries are full, felt like the denial of other people’s disasters, of other countries which shows a lack of empathy. Policies often reflect the ‘lokale politiek’ and the cultural ideology of a country. To respond to your question: And is it the policy, or is it the Dutch people (as well)?

‘’Playing with lives’’ is making presumptions, Rutte and other politicians don’t listen, don’t learn. What about vulnerable people? What about homeless? What about expats? A fact is that all my internationals students ran away from the Netherlands after they heard about the crisis in their countries. The Netherlands without expats that highjacked their economy is difficult to imagine. It’s like Amsterdam without Italian, Spanish and Brits tourists is empty.

‘’The colonialist mindset’’ is there, it presumes that you are right and righteous. Altruism and solidarity were not sentiments during the colonial historical momentum. Colonialism is not a heritage, it is a shame. An indigenous woman told me about surviving during the violence of colonialism which conducted her both to complain and NOT to complain. Both actions were a sort of protection for her and for her people. I have found myself in this condition. We must learn a lot from indigenous people. Not from the patriarchal countries and glorious colonialists patronising other populations. I express myself by sharing in our digital square, like Twitter. I don’t complain, I survive. As Audre Lorde (2017) claims in her book “Your Silence Will Not Protect You’’. That’s why I spoke up. I am not a conflict avoider, I am not passive aggressive. I am passionate and I love. You can build a wall from silence, but it is difficult to find love from silence and indifference.

From the tweet (and LinkedIn) I get you live in The Netherlands? At least part of the time? If so, how long have you lived here?

Before the corona-crisis, I felt part of this country and I am still part of it. I will stay in the Netherlands to grasp what it is going on in our dysfunctional society. The problem is global, there is no escape. I change tactics. Sara Ahmed, wrote in one her recent contribution: “In order to survive institutions, we need to change them. It can be a difficult deal: how we survive some structures can be how those structures are reproduced.” This crisis shows the cracks of EU as institutions. But it is not a failure, if we all try to change it! The way in which the Netherlands is acting shows a failure of being part of Europe. Why does Rutte did not act earlier when the crisis start in Northern Italy? Spain and Italy are part of EU, so why dismiss them? As an excuse — politicians claim, old people will die, that’s the echo. But old people are my grandma, your parents, your friends. Would it be fine for you to let them die?

Do you plan to leave The Netherlands asap? Maybe even stop your research at the UvA (temporarily)? And stop teaching in Utrecht (temporarily)?

Those questions… the average Dutch person always asks to expat those precise questions. I have found them offensive, a sort of micro-aggression and those kind of questions always upset me. Other Dutch minds consider me part of this country. Now, I ask you. Why should I leave the country and close the door? To build a wall of silence? No, I am sorry I will stay and try to contribute with my complaints to a better society. I love my students, I love my colleagues, I love my work. I love my research. I love the ideal of Europe as an institution that protect its citizens.

For populists, right-wing and sovereignist parties the idea that leave your country is absurd and a ‘Wilders-Baudet’ like suggestions. Those are my suggestions for them, but perhaps it works also for the premier Mark Rutte to remind him how important is to stay united and keep expats in his magnanimous country. If we all leave as expat, the economy will smash so badly.

COVID19: Information and Resources from OBP

COVID19: Information and Resources from OBP

The coronavirus pandemic is challenging us all. At Open Book Publishers, we are continuing with our work—albeit from our separate homes, rather than our office in central Cambridge—publishing academic books that are freely available online to read, download and share.

Readers: please continue to enjoy and share our books. They are are available online with no paywall: you can read, download and reuse them in PDF, HTML and XML formats without charge, as always and for always.

Authors: please continue to submit your proposals to us, if you have them.

We are also still taking orders for our paperback, hardback, EPUB and MOBI editions, if you prefer a physical copy or would like to support our work with a purchase. (You can also support us with a donation if you wish.)

We wish safety and good health to our readers, our authors, and to everyone who is caught up in the current situation.

COVID19 and Open Access

During this period of crisis, the need for Open Access resources has become obvious to all. Most evidently, people need access to medical information, and those attempting to treat the virus and halt its spread need access to the relevant research (both the most recent work and the long tail on all relevant topics).

As well as this, people need easy and free access to high-quality content in a range of subject areas: to educate their children at home, to fill their time meaningfully and pleasurably in isolation, to continue with research projects, to take their minds off the whirl of news, to help them learn or write or think or plan.

The open availability of high-quality academic work—open to read, to share, to reuse and to build on in perpetuity, not simply free to read for a limited time at a publisher's discretion—is necessary at all times. This need is particularly obvious now.

So we will continue, as best as we can and with as much care as we can, to do our work: to publish brilliantly written, beautifully formatted books that are completely free to access online, to share and to reuse. We hope that they will do some good during this difficult and challenging period—and beyond it.

Curated resources: disease control, remote conferencing and more

Here we offer links to a number of resources that we hope will be particularly useful at this time. This list will be updated with new resources as they arise.

Launch of LAVA, Letters from the Volcano-Issue #1: Be Water

Letters from the Volcano is an experimental zine conceived by Franco “Bifo” Berardi and developed by Mitra Azar, Hugo Sir, and a small group of agitators from the four corners of the world. LAVA emerged from a desire to understand the recent wave of social movements starting in autumn of 2019. These movements involved a number of people from countries with very different sociopolitical and cultural conditions who nevertheless displayed certain common dispositions: the desire to break free from the psychic and economic impoverishment ingrained into surveillance-oriented computational neo-liberalism, and strategies developed both offline and online towards the achievement of this goal.

LAVA believes that the inevitable is always superseded by the unpredictable.

Issue #1 of LAVA – Letters from the Volcano, entitled “Be Water,” can be read here

Until the beginning of 2020 it seemed that the volcanic explosion in the form of the unpredictable and simultaneous appearance of radical and direct forms of resistance was taking over the global political scene. Then, all of a sudden, this human-unpredictable was replaced by a nonhuman-unpredictable: the virus COVID-19. The human lava was swept away by a nonhuman lava, and the explosion of the volcano turned inward, imploding.

The virus COVID-19 has taken over the stage of human unrest and has opened the door for a meltdown of the global capitalist economy. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic opens space for rethinking politics from scratch: on the one hand, it allows a profound questioning of the structural dysfunction of global capitalism; on the other, it risks turning the cadaver of capitalism into a zombified techno-fascist limbo of total surveillance, ultimately killing civil society. This political conundrum will be the center of issue #2 of LAVA – Letters from the Volcano, entitled “Be Earth.” The forthcoming issue will deal with nonhuman agents such as COVID-19, melting ice, pollution, and the nonhuman forces that more and more turn into political vectors in ways that, paradoxically, go beyond politics.

Successful econferences: examples and case studies

Successful econferences: examples and case studies

By Geoffrey Rockwell, Oliver Rossier, Chelsea Miya, Terry Anderson and Nick Byrd; edited by Lucy Barnes

Nearly Carbon Neutral conferences

The Nearly Carbon Neutral (NCN) econference concept was created by Ken Hiltner as a part of a response to a sustainability audit at UCSB, which found that nearly 30% (55,000,000 lbs.) of the CO2 footprint of its entire campus in 2014 came from air travel (UCSB Climate Action Plan, 2014).

Hiltner and his colleagues used this stark finding as a motivation to explore alternative methods of conferences with a lighter environmental footprint.

The NCN econference has three phases:

1) Speakers [pre]record their own talks.

2) Talks are viewed on the conference website.

3) Participants contribute to online Q&A sessions.

The core goals of this NCN were ‘to encourage the cross pollination of ideas across a broad range of disciplines’ and ‘help establish relationships and to build a community.

The econference featured 4 keynote speakers and 50 research presentations from 8 countries. The online question and answer sessions are still available and provide insight into some of the successes and shortcomings of this format. Hiltner’s opening remarks and corresponding discussion section have a particularly rich discussion of both the NCN application techniques and the philosophical underpinnings of the econference.

Most significantly, the NCN econference model provides opportunities for several layers of cognitive and social presence among the presenters and participants by hosting both the presentations and the discussion online in three formats.

In terms of cognitive presence, NCN presenters disseminate their research through video via Vimeo, voice via SoundCloud, and text via conference website comments. Social presence was also augmented by some presenters’ use of social media. The NCN econferences created access to research detailing climate change constraints and specific techniques for hosting similar econferences.

HackSummit 2016

Perhaps the largest virtual conference to date was the 2016 HackSummit that attracted over 30,000 participants over 4 days to a conference hosted on CrowdCast streaming video platform enhanced with Twitter and other technologies. This example demonstrates the potential for scalability of virtual conferences that far exceeds that of face-to-face conferences. However, in practice many virtual conferences seem to attract audiences measured in hundreds – not tens of thousands!

Bangkok Project

The formation of the Internet set the stage for text-based conferences, which represent an important phase in the evolution of econferences. The first international econference was likely the 1992 Bangkok Project, organized by Terry Anderson. This conference was an extension of the XVI World Congress of the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE) and used carefully coordinated email relays to make a major f2f conference available to virtual participants.

This conference also serves as an early model for exploring dual presence, as there were contributors who sent email messages as well as making in-person presentations. In this way the Bangkok Project also prototyped hybrid methods of engaging a distributed audience in the dialogue of a f2f conference.

The Bangkok Project ran as an asynchronous set of interactive sessions over a longer period than most traditional conferences: it ran for three weeks.

Terry writes:

Beginning my PhD program in 1990 meant curtailing the perks I had enjoyed as a director of a distance education network in northern Ontario. There was no money for trips to exotic lands to participate in education research conferences.

I was stuck, in pre-Internet times, in Canada, while my ex-colleagues enjoyed the learning, each other and the intercultural experience of other lands while attending international conferences. However, as the International Council of Distance Education Congress approached in Bangkok I began to wonder if I, and potentially hundreds of others could participate in the conference - without actually travelling there.

Thus, the inspiration for the world’s first networked supported virtual conference.

In 1990 we didn’t think much about carbon footprints and time on airplanes, but we did worry about the high costs of travel and hotels. And of course, the irony of distance educators, having to physically travel for their professional development while preaching the benefits of mediated learning, unnerved not just a few of us.  So how could we have meaningful and productive professional learning and networking while remaining in our homes?

To set the context, one must remember that in 1992 there was no Internet – or at least any Internet that ordinary teachers could access.  However email was becoming more popular supported on networks such as BITNet, FidoNet, NetNorth , UseNet and 18 other mail distribution lists that participated in the conference.

The learning design for the conference consisted of soliciting text talks/papers from six leading experts who would be attending the conference and distributed these “first speaker inputs”. We invited participants to respond (using email) to the paper, first speakers and other participants. Each topic ran for two weeks of asynchronous discussion, with two topics running simultaneously using listserv and other early email support services.

To expand access, we needed to bridge networks by using human ‘porters’ – ‘unsung heros of the computer revolution’, who manually cut and pasted text messages between various network distributors.

In those early days it was quite easy to solicit “first speakers” as most had no idea what a virtual conference was and many were willing to give it a try. A participant survey of the Bangkok Project gleamed the following comments:

●       For me this virtual conference means that I can attend—I would be unable to get the funding to attend the “real” conference.

●       It means that I have a permanent record of all dialogue, to which I can easily refer at a later date.

●       It means that I can choose when, during the day, I want to “attend” a session.

●       It means that I can listen to practitioners and experts in my field discussing the new developments that I am interested in and hope eventually to implement myself.

There have been hundreds of virtual conferences held online since 1992. Now in addition to asynchronous text, live and recorded video, immersive environments, blogging, live and asynchronous video, microblogging and other technologies have been used to bring learning and networking to professionals around the world – without the fiscal and environmental costs of physical attendance.

Case studies

Here we present two chapters from the forthcoming Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, which offer in-depth case studies of particular online conferences. Below are links to the peer-reviewed manuscript versions of these chapters, stored in the University of Alberta online repository.

  • ‘Greening’ Academic Gatherings: A Case for Econferences by Geoffrey Rockwell and Oliver Rossier.
    Traditional academic conferences that require participants to physically travel between locations have a large environmental footprint. That is why a growing number of researchers believe it is imperative to seek out more sustainable alternatives. This econference case study looks at the “Around the World” virtual conferences organized at the University of Alberta as a model or ‘greenprint’ for hosting successful and sustainable research gatherings without the carbon cost of flying. The success of this online event, with its diverse range of topics and presentation formats (live, pre-recorded, hybrid), shows that the econference format can be adapted to a wide range of needs. Our results show that econferencing, while not without its challenges, is a viable alternative to face-to-face conferencing that can replicate its benefits without the environmental cost. (DOI:
  • Online Philosophy Conferences: Their History, Methods, and Benefits by Nick Byrd.
    Philosophers have probably been organizing conferences since at least the time of Plato’s academy. More recently, philosophers have brought some of their conferences online. However, the adoption of online philosophy conferences is limited. One might wonder if the reason is that traditional conference models 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. So, one might wonder if the advantages of traditional conferences are outweighed by their significantly higher costs. This paper shares the methods and results the Minds Online conferences of 2015, 2016, and 2017. The evidence suggests that the online philosophy conference model can help philosophers better understand their profession, share the workload of conference organizing, increase representation for underrepresented groups, and reduce their carbon footprint. So, the advantages of traditional conferences might be outweighed by their higher costs after all. (DOI:
This series of blog posts is drawn from Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, forthcoming with Open Book Publishers. Explore the other posts here.

Time management and Continuous Partial Attention

Time management and Continuous Partial Attention

By Terry Anderson; edited by Lucy Barnes

One of the often overlooked advantages of the virtual conference is the ease with which a participant can control the amount of time and mental energy they give to the conference.

Likely all of us have found ourselves sitting through conference sessions when our time and potential activities are totally controlled by others—regardless of our interest in being present at that time.

In a virtual conference I can exit any time I wish and return as easily. Of course, this license gives rise to abuse—and I just might not come back!  We observe the same phenomena in virtual conferences as in MOOCs, where significant numbers of registrants attend rarely and some not at all. However, this challenge is not unique to virtual conferences and has challenged distance educators using any medium.

An interesting development in professional development conferences is the increasing use of online media by delegates while attending the conference (virtually or face-to-face).  It is now possible for anyone to subscribe to the microblogging feeds and social media reactions of delegates, in addition to the audio/video from keynote or other speakers.  Thus, we see pressure from both the online and the face-to-face delegates to harness the affordances of online technology to enhance their professional development.

However, this simultaneous focus on multiple technologies and social contexts has created problems and cautionary warnings from researchers.

The speakers in virtual conferences often have challenges understanding the nature, the number and the reactions of their audience. Many systems provide means by which audience can share various emoticons, expressing laughter, applause etc. However, these are typically used only by a minority of the attendees. What of the majority?

It is likely that many participants are giving only partial attention to the conference while they are simultaneously engaged in other activities. Linda Stone labels this behavior “continuous partial attention” (CPA). Stone differentiates CPA from multitasking in that CPA goes beyond the efficiency of trying to accomplish more than one task at a time. CPA seeks to maintain connectivity at all times, thus making oneself open to opportunity, entertainment or whatever other potential benefits available within the (networked) environment.

CPA is just one of the manifestations of networked culture and economy in the post information age. Michael H. Goldhaber argues that “the economy of attention not information is the natural economy of cyberspace.” Organizers and presenters in virtual organizers must then design interfaces and produce content that knowingly competes with the audience for their attention. Ironically, presenters in face-to-face conferences face a similar challenge as large percentages of their audience typically are using their smartphones for a variety of tasks and entertainment while sitting in the physical presence of the presenters.

This series of blog posts is drawn from Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, forthcoming with Open Book Publishers. Explore the other posts here.

Are virtual conferences good enough?

Are virtual conferences good enough?

By Terry Anderson; edited by Lucy Barnes

In this post I discuss the challenges and the opportunities associated with virtual conferences.  Despite the attempts to make parallel experiences both on site and online, it is obvious to almost all attendees that a virtual conference is not the same as attending in person—and often not the first choice.

But is it good enough?

Does it meet needs that cannot be met face-to-face?  Does it allow exposure to online technologies that themselves become meaningful learning experiences?  And of course, the driving question for distance educators is: does it expand and make easier access to learning for everyone?

The costs of in-person conferences

The costs of travel are considerable: not only the environmental costs of airplane travel, ground transportation to conference venues, the cost of heating and servicing hotels and conference meeting rooms—but the economic cost too.

In 2010, we attempted to quantify these costs for a medium-sized conference by noting the distances that would be travelled by the 194 delegates to a scholarly conference headquartered in London, England. Having obtained the locations of each delegate we calculated the air and ground transportation for all participants and estimated the hotel and conference facility costs.

The average delegate saved $2,162 (US) and delegates who would have come by airplane saved 2.21 tonnes CO2 of carbon emissions.

To put this into perspective the global average consumption in 2005 was 4.51 tonnes. Thus a single conference would have consumed nearly half of the global annual consumption and much higher than the average annual consumption in many developing countries.  The cost for attendees to the virtual conference was $69 (US), a 3000% reduction in cost of attending face-to-face.

There is no question that virtual conferences save on the production of greenhouse gases and save delegates thousands of dollars.

Successful econference techniques

One of the challenges of virtual conferences is to engender the type of informal and often spontaneous interactions that can and do occur at face-to-face conferences – most often before or after scheduled presentations. For many, these networking opportunities are as valuable as the formal sessions themselves.

In an attempt to gain some of these informal benefits, Fraser, et al. (2017) presented a model for regional hubs at which delegates gather to attend both online and face-to-face sessions.[1] This can drastically reduce travel costs, with only a slight reduction in the diversity of potential contacts and of course also decreases the appeal of tourist, family or other personal benefits of expensive travel.


In recent years, as online communication becomes ubiquitous, delegates have considerable experience with types of tools normally used to host virtual conferences, through social media, email, video conferencing, immersive environments or other mediated communications. Thus, the potential for valued spontaneous and planned communications increases with the population’s network literacy.

Virtual conferences have tried a variety of mediated techniques to engender this type of spontaneous networking. These often include profiles, “liking” and other techniques used on social networks, and non-programmed virtual spaces that support real time interaction. Participation in conferences also builds technological competence among participants.


A virtual conference is distinguished from ongoing, online communities of practice because it is time limited. Typically, a virtual conference runs over 2-3 days, but unlike its face-to-face comparator, participants are unlikely to all be in the same time zone. Thus, organizers have experimented with 24-hour conferences and of course the asynchronous components of most conferences allow participation around the clock.

Rather than merely attempting to mimic face-to-face conferences, organizers are experimenting with digital tools that promise to enhance communication beyond that supported face-to-face. One of the most obvious benefits is the digital record that remains, enabling the conference – or sections of it – to be repurposed for future events, either face-to-face or virtual.  Besides the recording of presentations, conference organizers have used threaded audio discussions allowing for asynchronous voice and video sharing.

The virtual conference also supports the intervention of technologies such as translation, automatic transcription, visual and audio enhancement and other technologies that are emerging in the online world.

More recently, we have seen conferences that are housed in virtual worlds providing opportunities for simultaneous experience of a variety of virtual environments and technologies designed to increase participants’ telepresence. Julie Santy, Mary Beadle and Yvonne Needhamhave noted the positive impact of conferences that bring together professionals from related, but often siloed knowledge bases and limited inter-professional interactions.

As these advantages grow, we may yet see a day when face-to-face seems a too ineffective way to communicate – in addition to being environmentally unsustainable.


So, what holds adoption up?

As a graduate student I undertook a small study among medical doctors working in small communities in Northern Ontario. My intent was to determine the demand and the barriers to the compulsory professional development for medical doctors that could be delivered at a distance.

When I queried these doctors about the disadvantages associated with attending professional development activities in large urban centres that are located in some cases thousands of kilometers from their homes, I heard a variety of concerns. Doctors would have to leave their families and their practices, arrange for substitutes, travel by car to airports, stay in strange hotel rooms, listen to potentially boring talks and eat restaurant food for days.

When I asked about the contrasting advantages, I heard that the doctors looked forward to getting away from their family and patients, travelling to far away cities, staying in hotel rooms, eating fine restaurant food, and listening to inspiring talks. These same characterises are both positive and negative: the same reasons both encourage and discourage adoption of virtual conferences.

Conferences have become an established and often subsidized means for participants to travel, to extend their visit with tourist activities, to bring family members along on a holiday and to enjoy social networking activities with persons of kindred interest.  Virtual conferences are limited in their support of any of these characteristics. Thus, until established social, employment and taxation practices are changed (for example tax write offs and employer subsidy of face-to-face conference attendance), we will continue to see virtual conferences play a secondary role to their face-to-face cousins.

But just as these socially constructed obstacles to virtual conference adoption are large, they are fragile. We can expect improvements in the technologies used to support conferences, increase networked literacy amongst both participants and presenters and increasing pressure to restrain professional development costs – both financial and ecological.

Virtual conferences are not the same as face-to-face conferences. In many ways they are far more cost-effective and environmentally efficient. Moreover, in many ways they are good enough to ensure quality learning, professional development and network exposure. We should remember as Voltaire said in 1770, the “best is the enemy of the good.”

This series of blog posts is drawn from Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, forthcoming with Open Book Publishers. Explore the other posts here.

[1] Hannah Fraser, and others., ‘The Value of Virtual Conferencing for Ecology and Conservation’, Conservation Biology, 31.3 (2017), 540-546.

What do conferences do—and can econferences replace them?

What do conferences do—and can econferences replace them?

By Geoffrey Rockwell, Oliver Rossier and Chelsea Miya; edited by Lucy Barnes

Motivations: why do we have academic conferences?

Universities and colleges are complex environments with a range of stakeholders who influence aspects of academic conferences. This includes how they are organized, conducted, and located, and whether the conferences happens at all. While there are some major overlaps, the motivations for organizing and hosting conferences can be quite different for different groups.

Early career academics, like graduate students and pre-tenure professors, might need to build their research networks, to establish their place in the field and to enable access to leading researchers in their fields. Many mid-career professors seek to broaden their research networks, build on their reputations, and take leadership roles in journals and society conferences.

Some researchers have described the key motivations for academics to attend conferences to be: opportunities for social networking, keeping current in research areas, pressure to participate in an internationalized workforce, and building social capital.

University administrators might see conferences as venues for recruiting potential students and staff, building capacity in current students and staff, fostering research collaborations, building prestige for the host institution, and generating conference tourism revenue. Similarly, external stakeholders like business and political leaders, organizations and governments (civic, regional and national), might see conferences as venues for fostering research collaborations, building prestige for their jurisdiction, generating tourism revenue, and building capacity in current staff.

Universities must also attend to financial and reputational issues related to conferences. Over the last several decades, with more financial pressure on core funding based on traditional teaching and research activities, universities in North America have turned more to auxiliary service activities like conference hosting to bolster financial resources.

Meanwhile academic reputation—which can be boosted by hosting conferences—is the largest single factor in the overall ranking metrics for universities. The importance of conferences at an organizational level is illustrated by the fact that even universities facing financial challenges will often offer funding for academic staff to participate in conferences.

The importance of presence

Looking at the core reasons why academics participate in conferences, it is evident that the focus is on presence. On an individual level, conferences serve a diverse range of uses for academics because knowledge work “involves communication among loosely structured networks and communities of people, and understanding it involves identifying the social practices and relationships that are operative in a particular context.”[1] International travel has become an important aspect of building and maintaining social capital for academics.

A very pragmatic reason for academics to attend conferences is knowledge mobilization. Conferences can serve as spaces where relevant knowledge can be surveyed through shared presence in a scholarly community environment. Likewise, conferences are a way to promote new research and to connect it with what others are doing.

Ultimately, the key motivations for academic conferences include the creation of spaces for social presence, cognitive presence, and access to leadership presence. Conferences are also important spaces where the agenda of research fields are negotiated.

Econferences: Affordances and Constraints


The speed of travel and flow of information have been among the most important technological affordances supporting research conferences. In particular, aviation has created opportunities for academics in wealthier countries with access to travel funds from research grants and institutional professional development funds.

For individuals in other parts of the world the cost of travelling to distant conferences is often prohibitive, as the cost of airfare to a major conference in Europe or North America can be greater than the average annual income in developing countries. This has created a situation where researchers who have the funds to travel, which usually means researchers in the Global North, have disproportionate international visibility.

The rich travel more and those without funding struggle to be heard.


There are physical, political, and social constraints to participating in traditional f2f conferences which rely on physically moving all the individuals to a single location. Physical barriers include issues like disability; political constraints are, for example, situations where a conference is hosted in a country which restricts visas for visitors from other parts of the world; social barriers might include issues like family care.

Over the last 50 years, there has been an exponential growth in technologies that accelerate the movement of information while simultaneously reducing the financial cost of using those technologies. However, there are significant populations in all parts of the world who have very limited access to computing devices and infrastructure, as well as important technological constraints and challenges for econferencing, including maintaining acceptable levels of video and audio stream quality.


Time limits give an ephemeral immediacy to conferences. Conferences are designed to focus attention, and have people examine something together for a limited period of time. In the academic milieu, this distinguishes conferences from research groupings, online email lists, and other longer-term working collaborations.

Trade-offs are embedded in time constraints. For example, if a researcher wants to attend a conference, they might have to travel for a day or more to get there. In the same way, when a group of academics are brought together to focus on a particular issue at a conference, they are by definition not focusing on other areas of their own research.

A constraint of traditional f2f conferences is that participants must return to their home institutions, therefore ending the conference dialogue (and spending time travelling). Many scholars agree that online conferencing has an immediate affordance of allowing asynchronous dialogue relatively unconstrained by time.


Mitigating climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the current era. Air travel is a significant contributor to climate change, and one of the largest discretionary aspects of an individual’s CO2 footprint.

As discussed above, academics can influence change at many levels of conference culture, as participants, attendees, keynote speakers, funders and conference organizers. In short, academics have both an opportunity and a responsibility to make personal and organizational choices that make sustainable conferencing more broadly available.

In the following posts, Terry Anderson, Nick Byrd and Geoffrey Rockwell et al. share concrete examples of how to create and run econferences across a range of disciplines. These studies highlight the benefits and challenges of moving academic gatherings online, and it is the authors’ hope that the academic community can learn from their findings to build capacity for future econferencing initiatives.

Econferences can improve accessibility, lower cost, and significantly reduce carbon emissions. At the same time, it can prove difficult for virtual gatherings to replicate the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Will we find that hybrid conferences, which combine face-to-face and virtual conferencing, help us bridge this gap?

This series of blog posts is drawn from Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, forthcoming with Open Book Publishers. Explore the other posts here.

[1] J. C. Thomas, Kellogg, W. A., and Erickson, T., ‘The knowledge management puzzle: Human and social factors in knowledge management’, IBM Systems Journal, 40.4 (2001), p. 868.

Econferences: why and how? A blog series

This series of blog posts are drawn from Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene edited by Geoffrey Rockwell, Chelsea Miya and Oliver Rossier, forthcoming with Open Book Publishers.
Econferences: why and how? A blog series

Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene asks what it means to 'do research' sustainably, and one of the book’s central topics is how to stage successful conferences online. One consequence of the global pandemic we are all currently facing has been a wave of cancellations of academic conferences, and we are all having to learn how to do more remotely, now and for the foreseeable future. Because of this urgent new situation, the authors wanted to make relevant chapters publicly available immediately. This series of blog posts is based on some of those chapters, and the peer-reviewed manuscript versions of two case-study chapters can be freely accessed via the University of Alberta repository, here and here.

By Geoffrey Rockwell, Oliver Rossier and Chelsea Miya; edited by Lucy Barnes

In 2019, a record number of private jets landed in Davos, Switzerland for a climate talk hosted by the World Economic Forum. The scale of the event, with an estimated 1,500 jets used to transport participants there and back, was unusual. Yet, it speaks to a wider problem within the research community. Even as colleges and universities take steps to green their campuses, the amount of air travel that academics engage in continues to rise.

Our flying is unsustainable—all the more so in the current COVID19 era, which has made travel all but impossible for the foreseeable future—and yet research depends on open and timely communication of ideas, methods and results. How then can we adapt our conferencing practices to preserve their communicative value while reducing the need to fly so often?

To answer this question, we need to understand more about the attraction of traditional academic conferences: how do they function, and what do they offer researchers?



We will use the term econference to describe the act of conferencing via digital media.[1] It seems very possible that the term econference will evolve into common use at some point in the near future, similar to the evolution of terms like e-books, email, e-transfer and e-research.

It’s also more nuanced: the “e” invokes the dual electronic and environmental dynamics of the medium.

Our definition of econference is adapted from the one put forth by Anderson and Anderson to describe ‘online conference’ and reads as follows:

An [econference] is a structured, time-delineated […] event that is organized and attended on the Internet by a distributed population of presenters and participants who interact synchronously and/or asynchronously by using online communication and collaboration tools.

Hybrid conference

A hybrid conference combines online and face-to-face (f2f) communication and collaboration. As will be discussed in the AtW case study, the hybrid model may provide a key opportunity for conference organizers to strategically balance the core motivations of f2f social networking with the mitigation of environmental impact by using digital platforms to replace travel where possible.

Posts in this series

[1] There are several other terms currently used: web conference, online conference, virtual conference. The problem with the phrase web conference is that it is also often used to describe one-to-one discussions online, or face-to-face (f2f) conferences that take the internet for their subject. Both online conference and virtual conference are somewhat cumbersome when used as search terms and in metadata.

Le handicap à l’école haïtienne. Résultats préliminaires d’une recherche-action dans le grand Sud d’Haïti après le passage de l’ouragan Matthew

Sous la direction de Rochambeau Lainy

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Le handicap scolaire peut-il être étudié non comme une anomalie physique et mentale affectant des élèves, mais comme les conséquences provoquées non seulement par des déficiences (motrice, sensorimotrice, cognitive, mentale, neurophysiologique et neuropsychologique) observées chez des enfants, mais aussi par des représentations et des situations socio-économiques et environnementales inconfortables? C’est le pari de cet ouvrage collectif qui rend compte des premiers résultats d’une recherche-action menée dans le grand Sud d’Haïti depuis le passage de l’ouragan Matthew en 2016. Elle a pour but d’aider les responsables éducatifs à trouver des solutions appropriées au contexte.

Cet ouvrage réunit les textes que le GIECLAT (Groupe d’Initiative pour l’Étude de la Cognition, du Langage, de l’Apprentissage et des Troubles), responsable du projet, a présentés à la communauté éducative haïtienne lors d’une journée d’études organisée le 6 décembre 2019 à Port-au-Prince, en collaboration avec l’INUFOCAD (Institut universitaire de Formation des Cadres), la CASAS (Commission de l’adaptation scolaire et d’appui social du Ministère de l’éducation nationale), le CEREGE (Centre de Recherche Éducation-Gestion-Économie de l’Université publique de la Grand’Anse) et le LangSE (Langue, Société, Éducation de l’Université d’État d’Haïti).

ISBN ePub : 978-2-924661-96-3
ISBN pour l’impression : 978-2-924661-94-9
150 pages
Date de publication : mars 2020

Table des matières


Liste des abréviations


1. Élèves, troubles d’apprentissage et éducation inclusive en Haïti

2. Prolégomènes à l’étude des troubles du langage et d’échec scolaire chez des élèves en situation de handicap

3. Élèves en situation de handicap et protection de l’enfance

4. Enfants en situation de handicap et justice cognitive en Haïti

5. Environnement physique d’apprentissage et pratiques pédagogiques

6. Gauchers ou droitiers

7. Stratégies d’apprentissage et ressources utiles dans les processus cognitifs

8. Rendement en lecture et orthographe de 30 élèves en situation de handicap

9. Dysphasie à l’école : manifestations, trouble de production et de compréhension

10. Une retombée féconde du projet

11. La CASAS, l’éducation inclusive et le projet du GIECLAT dans le Grand Sud

12. En guise de bilan

Autrices et auteurs