Virtual Conferencing at UKICER

I recently attended a virtual conference – the UKICER 2020 conference. Due to various… circumstances, this year the conference was held entirely online. This was a new experience for me so I’ve decided to write up what I thought about it.

The conference proceedings are available at ACM, behind a paywall unfortunately.

Hosting

The conference was held on a mix of zoom and discord. The main talks were pre-recorded, presented by a host on zoom, where the presenter would respond live to questions, and discord was used for smaller “breakout room” discussions.

The pre-recorded talks were an interesting choice. From my perspective, as someone who isn’t a fan of public speaking, the option of using a video is good as it means I can prepare everything in advance, which is easier. This also let the speakers prepare some more fancy visuals. This is nice, though the temptation to add background music is one downside. It makes for a better video, but seems out of place in a conference setting.

Zoom is unpleasant to use. I do not want to have to download random applications to my PC. I can join via a browser, but this posed some issues with not being able to hear audio, and getting poor quality audio at times.

Discord is an application I am more familiar with, and seems more designed to work browser-first, though there are installable applications available. The breakout rooms worked well in discord, and added a nice mix of discussion so it wasn’t just half an hour of listening to someone speak.

It would have been much nicer if everything could have been done in one service.

Talks

Some interesting talks I attended:

Spatial skills, the ability that lets you reason about objects in 3D space, has a strong relation to a new programmer’s ability to do expression evaluation (This involves reasoning what something like x = a + (b*c) means). I also learned that girls tend to have lower spatial skills, possibly due to a reluctance in playing with toys like building blocks at a younger age, and this could impact them as they come into programming. But spatial skills can be taught/learned, so interventions should be built to support everyone in developing them.

A sense of belonging is important in higher education courses. Women and minority students tend to have a slightly lower sense of belonging than men. Worse still, women who are also minorities have a very reduced sense of belonging. This could be due to a lack of participation in group activity, but it is difficult to engineer situations for such individuals to easily break in, as existing groups have a tendency to form around stereotypical tropes (the “sci-fi” group, the “gamer” group).

When the coronavirus started impacting learning, the computer science community felt it coped well with a move to online or blended learning. In some cases it gave people who had been advocating for new teaching methods a carte blanche to try new methods which had previously been brushed aside. Interestingly, out of some institutions interviewed, there was the perception that schools felt better prepared than higher education overall.

Computer science courses often require a design component, and being able to reason about design is important when going into industry and building products for end users. A talk made one proposal to introduce the Stanford design thinking model to students in schools, to help foster creative abilities in design.


Overall this was a good conference, if made a bit strange by the switch to online only.

Header from the UKICER website.

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