The realities of virtual conferencing

Faculty of Law opened up conference to international community using Second Life technology

The Online confrence was experimental but very successful, conference organizer and law professor, Art Cockfield, pictured above, says.
The Online confrence was experimental but very successful, conference organizer and law professor, Art Cockfield, pictured above, says.

Law students and professors from around the world gathered at Queen’s last week without leaving their computers. The conference, which was about technology and law and entitled “Individual Autonomy Law and Technology: A virtual conference in honour of the late professor Hugh Lawford,” was held on the website Second Life on Mar. 18.

Stephanie Beauregard, manager of e-learning for the Faculty of Education, said she was approached by the Faculty of Law to assist them in running the conference. She said participants had to create free avatars on Second Life. The avatars were placed in a special group on the site for the conference, which was streamed live online simultaneously.

Second Life is an online world where users can socialize and connect using avatar personalities.

“We’d already worked in Second Life,” she said, adding that although the Faculty of Education hadn’t held a conference on the site before, they had already used it to run a recruiting fair for graduate students.

“Second Life I think lends itself really well to this type of conference.” Beauregard said, adding that she thinks holding academic conferences online is favourable because it allows participants to save travel costs and reduce their carbon footprints. She said attendees took part from as far away as Australia.

Beauregard said the conference’s success could pave the way for similar events in the future, and the concept could appeal to local companies looking to save money.

“I think it definitely has shown … an opportunity perhaps not only to save money but perhaps to use this as a University revenue stream,” she said.“It would be fairly straightforward to offer this as a service.”

Beauregard said the conference was well-received by both attendees and presenters, and its success made her and her team more confident of Second Life’s viability as a conference venue.

“On the day it went very, very well. We didn’t have any glitches,” she said.

Conference organizer and law professor Art Cockfield said he was drawn to the idea of holding the event on Second Life because of its potential to democratize knowledge.

“It was kind of experimental,” he said. “It seemed to be a great success. … Knowledge is supposed to advance when everyone has access to the relevant amount of knowledge.”

Cockfield said the conference utilized cutting-edge technology to ensure things ran smoothly.

“I’m so proud of Stephanie,” he said. “We’re very lucky to have this group of experts.”

The site only allowed for a maximum of 50 attendees, Cockfield said, adding that all 50 spots were filled, with the potential for thousands more to view the live stream.

Cockfield said he would consider holding future conferences on Second Life, but no plans have been made yet.

“Right now, I’m just going to relax and celebrate.”

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