Going Virtual: Adapting the Academic Conference

Professor Levi Gibbs transformed his plans for an in-person, three-day conference, "The Power of Song: The Cultural Politics of Singers Around the Globe," into an accessible virtual event.

The Leslie Center for the Humanities asked Levi Gibbs, Assosciate Professor of Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages, a few questions about his experience navigating the transition from an in-person to virtual event, what difficulties were presented, and what opportunities were discovered along the way:

How long have you been making arrangements for your conference, "The Power of Song: The Cultural Politics of Singers Around the Globe"?

I began planning this conference a little over three years ago in the fall of 2017. I received a Dean of the Faculty's Dartmouth Conference Award from the Leslie Conference Gift Fund in January 2019, had a university press interested in the edited volume by fall 2019, reserved the conference space, hotel rooms, and meals with the Hanover Inn by January 2020, and set up the conference website with all of the participants invited by April. In May, it became clear that we would have to move the conference online. Over the summer, I spent a couple of months discussing options with Catherine Darragh, Dartmouth Events and Summer Program Manager. I am not a tech-savvy person, and Catherine was great at explaining the benefits and drawbacks of different options and how we could streamline the flow of events in the online environment. Those conversations helped me to reimagine the conference in a new form. We decided to ask the chapter writers to submit prerecorded video presentations to post with their chapter drafts in a password-protected section of the conference website, allowing the conference attendees to watch the presentations and read the chapters in advance, reducing the live conference from three days of in-person presentations and discussions to two afternoons of online targeted discussions.

What element presented the biggest challenge when switching the event from in-person to virtual?

While most people are now used to Zoom for conferences, there has been an evolving process where we have to balance what is possible with what people are comfortable with. Working with Dartmouth Conferences and Events and knowing that there is a team helping with the preparations and working behind the scenes during the event itself has helped the process run smoothly.

Have you found any positive outcomes have risen out of the virtual iteration of the conference?

Absolutely. The prerecorded presentations were beautifully edited, complete with Dartmouth branding, and much more accessible with the captioning we added. We will also have live captioning for the event itself. In the end, people will come into the conference better prepared to speak to each other's papers, having viewed the presentations in advance, and that will ultimately help crystalize the cohesiveness of the edited volume we produce—the goal of the conference. Having the conference online has also unburdened us from geographical constraints. Everyone will be able attend from the comfort of their own home and one participant is even attending from her fieldwork site in Taiwan. Similarly, we are able to reach a wider audience with the virtual public keynote address—people have registered from institutions across the country and as far as New Zealand. Those audience members will all be able to interact with the speaker during the Q & A.

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While the conference workshops and discussions are intended for participants contributing work to the edited volume, the conference keynote address is open to the public. Musician, writer, and historian Elijah Wald will present his keynote address, "My Culture, Right or Wrong: Thoughts about Music and Power", Friday, December 4th, 2020 at 12:00pm. Further information on this event is available at the Dartmouth Events Calendar.

Register for the keynote address at: dartgo.org/powerofsongkeynote

This event and conference are co-sponsored by the Dean of the Faculty's Dartmouth Conference Award from the Leslie Conference Gift Fund; the Leslie Center for the Humanities; the Asian Sociaties, Cultures, and Languages Program; the Department of Music; the Middle Eastern Studies Program; the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; and the Office of the Vice provost of Research.

For further information, please contact Professor Levi S. Gibbs at levi.s.gibbs@dartmouth.edu.