When you type “how to organize an academic conference” into Google…


…you are given the option to search “how to organize an acapella group.”  Obviously, this discovery can lead down a fairly precipitous link-clicking rabbit hole… but I digress.

In the last couple of days, I’ve been amazed, encouraged, and humbled by the online conversations that have emerged from Shane’s post about recent changes to the SEAC submission process. Via email, on Facebook, and in the comments on this blog, all sorts of folks are mobilizing for the improvement of SEAC, in no small  part because it is an organization that, generally and only-slightly-hyperbolically, is beloved by its membership. While Matt sparked some debate about ways to improve the quality of papers submitted to the conference, it seems to me that the issue that started the whole discussion – limits on the number of papers one can submit as a non-first author – could initially be addressed by improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the conference organization process.   Fortunately, in A.D. 2013, technology could help us out on this front.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I do not consider myself to be especially tech-savvy, at least for someone who came of age alongside the internet. As a result, I might not fully appreciate the  logistical or financial challenges in implementing some of the ideas below; in reality, they might be more trouble than they are worth. But, taking Matt’s lead, I hope this will spark conversations that will render us all better prepared to make substantive proposals for change.  So, just spitballin’ here…

(1) Conference planning software: According to Google, such programs exist. No idea about their cost/utility, but if creating a program in which a first author is not scheduled for two papers simultaneously is a major hurdle, then maybe such software could help. Given the perceived increase in collaboration among the younger generation of southeastern archaeologists (see Shane’s post), attempting to avoid all overlaps for second, third, or fourth authors might be unfeasible no matter what, but making sure that no one is slated to read in two places at once is surely doable if people are limited to one or two first-author submissions (note – not necessarily easy, but at least doable).

(2) Delegating through Google drive: My quick and dirty Google recon led me to some advice and reflections from conference organizers that all emphasized the importance of teamwork in the planning process. All that said, in my experience, much-lauded “teamwork” can easily devolve into “herding cats” if delegation isn’t managed through fairly constant feedback. To that end, future conference planners might find it useful to work collaboratively on something like Google Drive, which can track their contributions to planning materials as they are completed. This might also be a viable tool for session organizers and participants – if groups of presenters can have an easier time getting their ducks are in a row, it seems like organizers would also benefit.

(3) Digital conference materials: Shane and I both mentioned this earlier but I think this might be one of the quickest/easiest/best-bang-for-our-buck changes we could institute for SEAC. Could we give members the ability to opt out of receiving a paper program (perhaps just a box to click during registration) in favor a digital program they could access on their tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.? Of course, a shift like that isn’t for everyone, but some might actually prefer this option. Plus, it could reduce printing costs, and it would be hella green.

Certainly, there are other possibilities – please, propose them in the comments! As we keep this ball rolling, it might also be worth considering how else we can use 21st century tech and connectivity to improve the SEAC experience beyond the conference planning stages. Anyone up for live-tweeting in Tampa? (Full disclosure – I barely know what twitter is, but still, I think this could be an interesting SEAC Underground initiative…)


2 comments on “When you type “how to organize an academic conference” into Google…

  1. Shane says:

    Ok, kudos on the google search thing. That cracked me up, and it’s nice to know you have your safe search filter on.

    On point #3, I’m thinking the option to opt out of a paper copy should happen. Up until my last move, I had saved all of the previous paper copies of the meeting programs from SAAs and SEAC. Aside from my snarky comments I scribbled in the margins or tick marks next to the papers I want to see, there’s no reason to be carrying these things around. A pdf loaded onto an Ipad or kindle would work just fine, and I can still make comments on particular papers in the margins. It’s would also be searchable.

  2. MC Sanger says:

    Love these ideas! And while some might suggest that these kinds of things are beyond a regional conference like SEAC, I think that the smaller meetings are the perfect place to try out new ideas.

    Something that occurred to me while reading your great suggestions (particularly #3) – what about Discussion pages for sessions? How great would it be to have a digital platform where your audience members could leave their thoughts, suggestions, kudos, or gripes? I know we would all rather have these discussions face-to-face, likely over drinks, but perhaps an online platform would augment these more personal connections. Could be connected to twitter and posts could be in real-time – although I feel sorry for the Chair who would not only need to keep people on time, and would be keeping up with twitter simultaneously!

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