Online Event Planning Tips | LE Campus Learn, Share, Connect

Academic staff teaching bioscience subjects have identified changing educational pathways among students entering degree courses at the University of East Anglia. To assess whether this was unique to our own institution or part of a wider trend, we held a discussion with colleagues teaching these subjects in UK higher education.

At the end of 2021, we obtained funding from Heads of University Biosciences (HUBS) to lead an online workshop:Basic biosciences: What basics do students need to succeed in their studies in biosciences? »

We wanted to reflect on topics relevant to QAA Subject Reference Statement for Bioscienceswhich will be updated in 2023, while looking at what broader support can help students make the transition to higher education.

Here, we discuss the process followed and lessons learned from planning and delivering this teaching-focused workshop.

Workshop planning and structure

After securing funding, we set up an organizing committee for the event, made up of five colleagues from the University of East Anglia (UEA), which was the host institution. This helped streamline operations during planning and on the day of the event.

The The workshop was planned around three distinct but related themes, shown in the table below, each having a speaker from EBU and two speakers from other institutions to provide a rich variety of ideas and perspectives.

Speakers were selected following the submission of short summaries of their speech proposals via a form used to register registration for the event. Each speaker spoke for approximately 10 minutes, with time set aside for discussion after each intervention. To enable the participation of colleagues from as many institutions as possible, the workshop was held virtually using Microsoft Teams and recorded, allowing all registered participants to access it later.

Pre-event resources

To stimulate the sharing of ideas and experiences between institutions, we have created two pages on Padlet, an online platform that allows learners to collaborate by sharing and commenting on text, images and other useful resources. Links to both Padlet pages were shared ahead of the event.

The first page offered an introduction to the workshop, its themes and its speakers. It contained written thoughts for each of the themes to set the context and provide an overview before the event.

The second page allowed workshop participants to to present oneself before the event.

Participants found the Padlet pages to be a useful resource. Comments included: “Great setup and resources with the Padlets ahead. Particularly like the “thoughts” and the resources and links shared in advance and during the session. »

Discussion spaces

To facilitate live discussion, an online social space was made available during breaks between lectures, using Wonder. We wanted it to be a place that allowed people to continue discussions around each topic, independent of discussions hosted in Teams. It quickly became clear that people wanted a break from their screens during scheduled breaks, to stretch their legs, have a drink or grab a snack, so these online social spaces went almost entirely unused.

Thinking about this, we believe that to maximize the potential of these informal discussion spaces, they should be scheduled into the workshop schedule in addition to breaks.

Lessons learned

Feedback was positive, with participants praising the organization of the event, the range of stakeholders and institutions represented and the quality of the interventions. This guy virtual meeting offers good opportunities for academic staff to review and share best practices on teaching support and delivery.

There were requests to allow more time for informal discussions and presentations. We were going to build more “downtime” away from the main presentations in all future events.

Creation of an organizing committee responsible for planning the event as well as to chair the thematic sessions and to open and close the event proved to be very effective. This significated everyone involved in the day’s delivery had participated in the planning discussions and understood the goals of the event.

Key takeaways for those planning their own multi-institutional event:

  • To maximize attendance and allow attendees to attend institutions across the UK (and beyond), host the event online.
  • If discussion among attendees is important to your event, schedule time for it in the event plan. Allow as much time for discussion as for presentations.
  • If informal networking is important, schedule specific time for it, as well as breaks.
  • Use social media channels such as Twitter and existing networks to promote the event and link this promotion to the registration form – this can be basic to set up – we used MS Forms to create ours.
  • Send calendar invitations to everyone who signs up and be sure to provide helpful details in the invitation about what to expect on the day. This way, potential attendees have a clearer idea of ​​what the invitation is about when it appears on their screens and are more likely to accept.
  • Avoid sending direct links to join the event until a day or two before the event. This acts as a reminder of the event and helps ensure that only genuine attendees join. This can be facilitated by using the feature of admitting participants from outside the institution as guests, which is integrated into most virtual meeting programs.
  • Multi-institutional events can be a great way to share staff best practices within your own institution. Remember to invite, encourage and include participants from your own institution.
  • Ideally, your audience will be diverse; you need to make sure your presenters are too. Make sure your event speakers represent a range of institutions, career stages, and backgrounds. The wording of your promotional materials can be key to this. Make sure it’s friendly and engaging without being too serious as this may deter some potential speakers from putting themselves forward.
  • Think about the results of your event from the earliest stages of planning. Why are you organizing this event? Who is the event for and what do you hope to get out of it? Can you increase the impact of the event by sharing the discussions and results after the event, for example by writing for THE Campus or another newspaper, magazine or website relevant to your topic?
  • When the event is over, send thanks to all speakers and attendees and encourage opportunities for collaboration and follow-up discussion.

Kelly Edmunds is an associate professor of biological sciences, and Richard Bowater is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology education, both at the University of East Anglia.

Advice is based on performing the Academic Bioscience Leaders-funded workshop, “Basic biosciences: what foundations do students need to succeed in their study of biosciences?”, organized by the University of East Anglia.

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Robert M. Larson