Pandemic Conferencing: Implications for Future Virtual Exchange
Resource review by Michael D. Winans, Blanca Romero Pino, & Xiaomeng Zhang, Arizona State University
The Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Club at Arizona State University (ASU) hosts AZCALL (Arizona CALL), an annual conference “that brings together computer assisted language learning enthusiasts from around the state and region to share ideas, network, and receive valuable feedback on scholarly research, academic papers, and major conference presentations which are in progress or preparation” (AZCALL, 2020).
With the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, the CALL Club hosted a virtual AZCALL in 2020, which featured recorded presentations, live plenary speakers, and a networking event. The benefits from this virtual exchange included:
Recorded presentations for lasting impact from continued viewing
Minimal to no funding required to host a virtual conference
Feasibility of conference hosting by graduate students
Greater geographical diversity of presenters and attendees
Wider ‘net’ for networking connections
This article presents an analysis of freely-available digital tools that contributed to a successful conference using Thorne’s (2003, 2016) culture-of-use framework, which is defined by the iterative use of digital tools, causing them to be “inscribed with variable meanings, values, and conventionalized functions for different communities” (2016, p. 185). We describe these meanings, values, and functions, as they relate to the digital tools used to organize and execute AZCALL 2020, for the applied linguistics and CALL community. Below, we detail the culture-of-use for each tool in the context of digital exchange for academic conferences.
Google Docs: Document agenda and tasks for conference planning
Google Docs has become a common fixture for online collaboration. It provided space for conference organizers to interact synchronously and asynchronously while exchanging ideas to plan for AZCALL. During planning meetings, it was used to track the agenda and record minutes. Additionally, using the comment function allows someone to be tagged and assigned a task, which in turn sends the tagged person an email. When they complete the task, Google Docs allows it to be marked complete.
Google Forms: Submit presentation proposals and post comments and questions for presenters (links directly to Google Sheets – below)
Google Forms allowed conference organizers to collect presentation proposals and presenter information. Forms were also used during the conference and embedded into presentation webpages to facilitate interaction between attendees and presenters. Attendee feedback, questions, and comments were exported to an embedded Google Sheet on the same page. Presenters could use the same Google Form to respond – some presenters even submitted links to video responses.
Image 1. The embedded Google Form (left) submits to the embedded Google Sheet (right)
(Shin & Winans, 2020)
Canva: Design flyers, programs, and newsletters for social media promotion
This graphic design platform offers a wide array of templates suitable for academic events, and it was used to generate the conference program and promotional newsletters and flyers. The program was embedded in the AZCALL website and distributed in pdf-format with hyperlinked presentation titles, allowing for direct access to the pre-recorded presentations.
Mailchimp: Email promotional materials to attendees and stakeholders
Mailchimp is an email marketing platform that allowed us to create visually appealing, professional emails. It further allowed for mass contact without being tagged by spam blockers. We upload a list of contacts and associated email addresses, which can contain names and institutions, so emails could be personalized with <first name> and <institution> by using mail-merge functions.
Facebook: Promote the conference and attendee interaction
This social media platform was used to promote the conference to a wide audience by posting AZCALL information on public pages of academic groups. It also facilitated direct interactions among conference organizers, attendees, presenters, CALL Club graduate students, and other interested parties.
Eventbrite: Register attendees
This event manager allowed us to distribute event tickets, register attendees and presenters, and keep a record of the number of conference attendees. Since AZCALL is a free event, there were no fees related to ticketing services.
YouTube: Host recorded presentations
The ubiquity of YouTube allowed presentations to be pre-recorded and uploaded. Presenters then supplied conference organizers with links to their videos, which could then be easily embedded into Google Sites (see below). Video creators control the privacy settings of their presentations, where they can make it private, delete their intellectual property after the conference, or, conversely, let people from around the world find, watch, and comment on it.
Zoom: Host live webinars, the networking event, and AZCALL planning meetings
Zoom was used by the AZCALL organizing committee to hold monthly meetings and plan the conference. ASU’s University Technology Office allowed the club to host two live webinars for the plenary speakers (usually a paid Zoom service). The networking event was held on Zoom, and breakout rooms allowed invited speakers and presenters to interact with attendees and share information, answer questions, and network.
Google Sheets: Organize proposals and presenter information and display comments/questions from Google Forms on the AZCALL Website (Google Sites – below)
Connected to the Google Forms, Google Sheets provided a collaborative online environment for organizing presentation proposals and presenter information. During the conference, when attendees submitted questions or comments, they were displayed in an embedded Google Sheet on the same webpage as the presentation. It further displayed presenters’ responses that were submitted on the same Google Form.
Google Sites: Develop and host the AZCALL conference website
Google Sites is a free tool that hosts the AZCALL website and the digital program with relevant information about the conference. Individual webpages were created for each presenter with a YouTube video of their talk, a Google Form (to ask questions/comment), a Google Sheet (to display questions/comments), and presenter biographies, institutions, and contact information. The AZCALL website also has a history section where you can still access conference materials and presentations today, available at https://sites.google.com/view/azcallconference/home.
The resiliency of the CALL Club graduate students transformed the conference into a valuable virtual exchange during a pandemic – a model worth replicating post-pandemic. Adapting these tools for virtual exchange requires time, effort, and internet literacy since they are far from plug-and-play, but it is a task worth accomplishing for the benefit of the organizers, attendees, and the field. This model is just one culture-of-use iteration, but it is shared with the hopes that others will forge new paths and connections by hosting virtual conferences in their own interest areas of applied linguistics.
AZCALL. (2020). Arizona computer-assisted language learning conference. CALL Club at Arizona State University. https://sites.google.com/view/azcallconference/home
Thorne, S. (2003). Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication. Language Learning & Technology, 7(2), 38-67.
Thorne, S. (2016). Cultures-of-use and morphologies of communicative action. Language Learning & Technology, 20(2), 185-191.
Michael D. Winans is a doctoral candidate in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University (ASU). He is currently the Connected Academics Fellow and teaches courses on writing and applied linguistics. His research interests include computer-assisted language learning and the future of English in the context of globalization and the internet. His dissertation explores professionalization in second language teacher education. At AAAL 2021, he presented on the use of Grammarly for dynamic corrective written feedback with the goal of increasing student autonomy and decreasing teacher workload. Recently, he has been elected to TESOL International’s CALL-IS Steering Committee for 2021-2024. He has served as an officer in the CALL Club at ASU and Co-Chair of AZCALL every year since 2018. He has been published by TESOL Press, Language Learning & Technology, and CALICO Journal, among others. His website is www.winansmd.com.
Blanca Romero Pino is a Ph.D. student in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She has received a B.A. in Education with a concentration in English, an M.A. in TESOL, and an M.A. in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics. She has over 13 years of experience in teaching EFL/ESL, linguistics, applied linguistics, and sociolinguistics. Her research interests include language and identity in immigrant communities, language and race, raciolinguistics, and critical discourse analysis.
Xiaomeng Zhang is a Lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Arizona State University, with research specialties in Chinese second language acquisition, Chinese language pedagogy, and computer-assisted language learning. She also holds a graduate certificate in Computer Assisted Language Learning from Arizona State University. Xiaomeng served as the Forth Officer of the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Club at Arizona State University in 2020 and as one of the organizing committee members to host the 2020 AZCALL virtual conference.