COVID 19: The Conference Killer !

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Dr Ravi K Mahajan, Professor at USOL, Panjab University, Chandigarh, has over four decades of experience in ODE. His first `eLearning module’ was demonstrated at IIT Kanpur at the 1993’Workshop. Recently he crystalized his research in the form of a chronology – Open & Distance Education in New Millennium. He shares in this column how COVID 19 has been a conference killer in many ways! 

The systems and sub-systems world over are getting reengineered towards a new lifestyle- courtesy COVID 19.  And amidst all this makeover, ‘education system’ is not an exception. The contemporary condition is in close consonance with a pyramid- both classrooms and conferences have been virtually inverted! Earlier, teaching was characterized by one teacher addressing a class – packed or over-packed with students; some attentive for knowledge enrichment, some to score attendance, or the like. And now with classes going online, blemishes notwithstanding, each student feels being zoomed in by the teacher to an eye-to-eye situation. 

COVID 19 has equally ‘marred’ the academic events like conferences, seminars, symposium and workshops, where the term conference usually takes precedence over the other terms. Indeed, each event has its own pitch with an array of benefits and drawbacks. But one cannot overrule that such events (like conferences) are integral for the growth of information and knowledge of the subject and discipline, since the updates emerging therefrom gradually percolate into the class-rooms. To share their thoughts and expertise, researchers, scholars and experts travel to a preannounced venue, at times even distant at thousands of kilometers! The whole process (of convening and executing a conference physically) has a great significance and value, infact the interpersonal communication in such cases is imperative.   

Now with COVID 19 coming into the scene, the scene has changed dramatically. At first instance all such academic events virtually crashed amidst initial lockdowns, but soon the academic world got surcharged with a series of Webinars, Web-Workshops, Web-talks, etc. The hall-mark of these Web-academic events is that the experts are now interacting at the global network at the click on a mouse. The expertise of a genius is no longer confined to a local audience. The newer thoughts are no longer constraints by the geographic proximities of an expert. No longer expert’s immobilization on count of some physical ailments, or similar other reasons, is a restraint. 

Interestingly, all this is achieved in the most optimized way – saving on time and money. No travelling required, thus saving on fuel, and hence on curbing environmental pollution. No pre-conference meetings. No big banners. No decorations. No wastage of papers on count of invitation cards, registration forms, schedules and proceedings. No boarding lodging pressures. No momentous or gifts. No teas or high teas. No loose talks. No thoughtless or rush through presentations. No wastage of time on preconceived hangovers over dressing-up or looks. No appeasement or politics on the sidelines or bylines of the event. Above all, no post sessions sightseeing or shopping.  All professionals focus on content. Presentations and discussions could be undertaken from the study room, drawing room or even from bed room! One could be in the event even while moving around the garden, or from the banks of a river. 

Of course, COVID 19 has killed a segment of conferences, which conspicuously emerged in the post Academic Performance Indicators (API) era. It is an era in which appointments and promotions in the academics are being swayed by the scores on various counts, including with respect to conferences, seminars, symposium and workshops. The API syndrome has oriented a section of academics to `point’ generating mechanisms. And some unscrupulous pseudo academicians have been seeing in these events an economic proposition as well. Instances are not uncommon, where national and international conferences end up while conferring `satisfying certificates on participants’ just for their `registering’ and showering `hefty dividends on organizers’.

Surely, COVID 19 has killed these commercially driven conferences and seminars, but in the process of “going Web”, the exchequer must have saved crores of rupees earmarked for the `Improvement of education’! As content driven Web academic events continue to grow towards a new lifestyle, strict guidelines on recordings on participants and presentations are invoked before some nefarious forces demur the transparency promising Web Academic events!

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