When the Aspen Forum for the Future of Higher Education decided to pivot their annual conference to a series of virtual events, the community of academic leaders and scholars knew that they wanted to maximize opportunities for audience interaction. “We’ve all been to one too many virtual events where presentations are live streamed to a faceless audience,” said Maxwell Bigman, a Stanford PhD student and co-lead of the event. “This year, as we gathered to discuss the pandemic’s enormous impact on academia, it was especially important to create an intimate virtual setting where guests could talk and debate amongst themselves.”
The event organizers, Maxwell and Stanford professor John C. Mitchell, set up nature-themed “table rooms” where guests could watch panels in small groups — similar to box seats at a play or sporting event. Guests could easily switch table rooms and scan a list of participants in each room before joining a new conversation. “The way that the platform was customized to support the flow of guests was seamless,” said John. “Not to mention that the backdrop of Aspen Meadows brought everyone back to the site of our annual meetings.”
As a result of the virtual conference, the tight-knit community of academics felt re-energized to explore the future of higher education amidst COVID-19.
“The closest analog to the experience was attending an excellent Off-Broadway play. There were great individual performances, a relaxed familiarity, the buzz of live action, and new ideas to think about when over,” said Joel Meyerson, Director of the Aspen Forum.
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