Socially Responsible i-Conferencing by Cindy Fu, Alison Hicks and Elizabeth Lomas
By Ian G Evans, on 6 April 2020
iConference 2020, which took place in March 23-27 2020, had been planned as a standard international conference to be hosted in Sweden. However, due to the coronavirus, rather than delegates flying into Sweden or alternatively cancelling, it was successfully moved online. The coronavirus pandemic brings challenges but also innovative ways of communicating and reconsidering academic discourse and practices. The iConference organizers responded quickly to this situation and the Conference was transitioned to an all-virtual form in less than two weeks.
Our PhD student, Cindy Fu, engaged in the programme, as a speaker with her supervisor Dr Elizabeth Lomas (Associate Professor in Information Governance), in a session for interaction and engagement, which was held by Zoom. A conference organiser was online at all times to ensure the technology was working. Cindy and Elizabeth’s session focused on, “putting information behaviour on the cognitive map: exploring information seeking behaviours of academic researchers”. It was aimed at engaging participants with a mapping technique called cognitive mapping, and exploring their information seeking behaviour in the research context, Cindy has used cognitive mapping within her PhD research to consider UCL student information seeking behaviours. She has supplemented the mapping with log analysis and interviews. This particular iConference session was set up as a workshop with activities, which did require some additional thinking and planning with the move online. 25 people logged on. Cindy took the lead in the session, presenting on the development of cognitive mapping in terms of its origin, development, approaches and examples of how it has been applied in research. In this workshop, participants were then set a mapping exercise, which gave them a chance to interact and actively think about this approach. They were required to provide a map, which could include, text or drawings of their information seeking behaviour as an academic researcher. Every two minutes, Cindy called out to change the colour of the pen being used. This enabled the progression of a participant’s thoughts to be visualized. Participants then uploaded and discussed their maps and the value and limitations of this approach. Below is an example of Cindy’s own map (figure 1).
Figure 1: An example of Cindy’s map of her information seeking behavior for research.
Having shared maps, participants could put up a virtual hand up to speak or type comments into the chat function which Elizabeth then monitored and read out. A number of the participants discussed how they might apply this approach within their own research. The workshop format proved to be just as viable online as a normal face-to-face session. The distinction was that participants could choose to be less visible in their participation if they wished. There have been follow up questions since the session and for those that are interested Cindy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is happy to be emailed and to share her slides.
Dr Alison Hicks, Lecturer in the Department of Information Science, also contributed to the 2020 virtual iconference programme. Together with a colleague from the University of Copenhagen, she successfully led a workshop, Transition in user-centred information studies – the what, why and how?, which focused on exploring the concept of transition and its potential impact on human-centred information research. Lively discussion followed on from short presentations that explored the ways in which transition has been examined within Library and Information Science research, as over 30 people logged in to collaborate and interact with participants from around the globe. Alison also presented a paper that was co-authored with UCL colleague, Professor Annemaree Lloyd. Their short paper, Peeling back the layers: Deconstructing information literacy discourse in higher education, employed a discourse analysis method to explore the outward and inward-facing narratives of information literacy that are present within key professional texts. This paper forms part of a larger research programme that aims to critically interrogate the epistemological premises and discourses of information literacy within higher education. Overall, Alison found that the online presentation format was very successful; she enjoyed seeing who was present at her session as well as the
opportunity to ask questions orally and through the chat text box. While the time zone restrictions meant that she was not able to attend all the sessions that she wanted to, overall, she found that thanks to the impressive efforts of the hosts, the programme was stimulating, accessible and well-thought through.
This was a unique experience and one that may be considered for conference formats post-coronavirus.