Future of annual PD events may be forever altered by online experience
Musician Alan Doyle delivers the final keynote address at the Calgary City Teachers’ Convention on Feb. 12. Holding conventions virtually has enabled organizers to book more high-profile speakers due to the absence of travel costs.
Teachers’ convention may never be the same again.
After conventions were forced online due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, organizers and attendees who have experienced the new approach have discovered that there are many benefits to holding the sessions online.
Earlier this month the North Central Teachers’ Convention Association (NCTCA) made education history in Alberta as it became the first convention to be held entirely online. Mike Wheeler, communications officer with NCTCA, said the event was practically flawless and very well received.
“Teachers had access to more sessions, and no one was travelling in dangerous road conditions” said Wheeler. “That’s a huge convenience factor for our rural teachers. People were engaged.”
Lisa Fulton and Shae Frisby, co-presidents of the Calgary City Teachers Convention Association (CCTCA), agree. “We thought teachers might not like it because they’re sick of being online,“ said Fulton. “All our school meetings are held online; we’ve been teaching online from home. I was worried the teachers weren’t going to buy in because they are just exhausted … but that was exactly the opposite of what happened.”
All three organizers believe the convenience of access to the presentations played a major role in the success of their conventions.
“They’re not walking around from room to room. They’re not waiting for rooms to open up,” said Wheeler, “They can really jam-pack their convention schedule.”
Teachers also liked not having to deal with travel expenses and the inconvenience of on-site parking.
Organizers attributed the online format as the main reason they were able to book bigger names as keynote speakers. Presenters who were once considered too expensive to book due to travel costs suddenly became affordable.
“You’re just paying for them to talk,” said Frisby, “they don’t have to travel. And that’s a huge plus … especially to Alberta … in February!”
Virtual sessions also provided organizers the opportunity to open sessions up to much larger audiences. Fulton notes that more than 4,000 delegates attended the Jane Goodall session, and that’s many more than the convention centre halls could have accommodated.
Make it personal
Feedback from teachers shows that many attendees preferred the online sessions, saying it gave the presentations a personal feel. Frisby said some teachers felt a closer connection to the speakers.
“One person wrote to us and said ‘I was in Peter Mansbridge’s office. How cool was that!’”
However, Wheeler did hear from some teachers that they missed the in-person sessions.
“There is something to being able to see a speaker live versus over a screen,” he said. “You’re missing that kinetic energy of being live.”
All organizers noted that the virtual setting did not allow for the usual social interaction that is often a huge draw of convention. To compensate, a chat feature with the CCTCA allowed attendees to connect with fellow conventioneers. Wheeler says the NCTCA had a great presence online.
“We got NCTCA2021 trending on Twitter – number five in Canada!”
Leave it to the experts
Both convention associations hired a contractor to assist with the delivery of the sessions. Fulton, Frisby and Wheeler all agree that their groups were out of their leagues when it came to the technical aspects of running such a massive online event.
“As full-time teachers, trying to teach during a pandemic plus put on a virtual convention, it would not have been possible,” said Fulton.
“It was all done by someone who actually understands the technology,” added Wheeler.
All agreed that the success of this year’s event will definitely have an impact on how conventions are held in the future, although to what extent is unknown. That will lie in the hands of their members and the direction of the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council.And all feel that the experience has allowed them to grow.
“Despite the highs and the lows, I’m so glad we got to experience it,” said Frisby. “I think this will revolutionize conventions and it’s going to make them better.”
Wheeler agrees. “We were building the plane while we were flying it. Now that the plane is built, it would be nice to fly it again.” ❚