When you wish upon an online conference

Read more here to find out about Georgia Andreolli's first experience of presenting at the NATESOL conference 2021.

Beginnings


Hi there! Let me introduce myself and how I came to present – together with my supervisor, Sharon Hartle – at the 2021 Natesol Conference. I am based in Italy and currently completing the first year of my PhD at the University of Verona, where I spend my time (remotely) researching ELT, materials development and digital education. I like to drink my coffee black and you might have seen a picture of me holding a cup of coffee, posted on the wall of the Conference Padlet back in May.


My PhD journey began in 2020, amidst the pandemic and the ever-increasing uncertainties concerning our future. At the time of my application, I was fully aware of the requirements imposed by academic work, such as visiting a foreign university or attending conferences abroad. Pack up, board a plane and land somewhere across the globe, ready to acquire knowledge and expand your network: isn’t this what academic dreams are made of?

However, I did not feel as enthusiastic as I expected, and Covid-19 was not the only reason.


The day before embarking on my new adventure I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic condition associated with debilitating pain and fatigue. I should admit that I was quite excited to be able to work from home, then. In fact, remote working has granted me the privilege to maintain a work-life balance while learning to navigate the ups and downs of my condition. Over the year, I also benefited from the virtual alternatives organized as an emergency measure by associations such as Natesol. Undeniably, this meant more accessibility at a reduced cost. As lucky as I felt, I also started to wonder whether what we are doing is enough in terms of digital inclusion.


Where to go from here


Perhaps, time should be taken as an opportunity to reflect upon how we connect with each other and intentionally design more inclusive spaces. A perfect example of such effort is the 2021 Natesol Conference, held via Zoom on the 15th of May. As I first-time speaker, here’s what stood out for me and can hopefully initiate a discussion:

- Communication. I received exceptional support from the Committee, which ensured that we were well prepared for our presentations and that our needs were met. This included, for instance, agreeing in advance upon how to manage question time – which is great if you’re a newbie, or prefer written over spoken communication, for instance.

- Clarity. We were provided with an outline of the day with very precise instructions about how to navigate the available online spaces. This is a very useful way to anticipate questions, clarify how participants are expected to use tools (such as the chat or the microphone) and establish a netiquette. In the document we received, interestingly, networking possibilities were listed before the actual programme – which brings me to my next point…

- Variety of interactions. The Conference stretched beyond Zoom, moving onto complementary spaces, such as Twitter or Padlet, where long-term connections can be established, if one is willing to.

- Kindness. A welcoming team can make a huge difference in how performance anxiety is managed, and a positive environment is indeed contagious!


Ultimately, giving choice between offline and online modalities could broaden the pool of possible participants and speakers, as well as giving a voice to the under-represented communities who struggle to gain access to international events. By lowering barriers, we would cater for a greater diversity – on top of reducing the environmental impact produced, for instance, by flying. While some people rightfully miss the networking opportunities afforded by face-to-face conferences, I strongly believe that many others can thrive in online environments and should be granted the possibility of doing so (thank you Natesol!).


Links


Endometriosis UK https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/

Endo Black, Incorporated https://www.endoblack.org/

Endometriosis.org https://endometriosis.org/

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