The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced event organizers around the world to quickly embrace a new virtual normal. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies department needed a solution to make sure their 36th annual Distance Teaching & Learning (DT&L) Conference could still go on. Hundreds of educators from schools across the country planned to attend the conference in Madison, Wis. to strategize for the fall semester.
For the past decade, DT&L offered a limited online option for people who couldn’t attend in person. As organizers planned the annual event in the face of COVID-19, they needed to pivot to a fully virtual conference with over 100 sessions.
At DT&L, Video Solutions captured all conference keynotes and sessions virtually. Each speaker connected with a technician via a virtual speaker-ready room, and the technician handled all the logistical details to ensure a smooth experience. Speakers presented from anywhere via Zoom, while attendees watched and interacted with the stream from anywhere in the secure and robust Mediasite video player. Delivering the content via Mediasite meant that viewers could benefit from interactive features like live chat, polls and speaker Q&A.
We have a very small team planning the conference, and we’d never be able to do this on our own without Video Solutions. It’s been such a relief that we can say ‘OK, we trust our partner, we know we can rely on them and trust that they will create an excellent experience for our attendees. We are very excited to stream all of our sessions and offer a virtual exhibit hall. The technology is amazing. Attendees can click to chat or make an appointment with vendors, and sponsors can create their own sites to embed promo videos, company information and connect with attendees. Having the virtual expo hall is really incredible, and we wouldn’t have been able to sell sponsorships without it.Wendy Fritz, Director, Learning Design, Development & Innovation, UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies.
Fritz continued, “Sponsors are really excited about the virtual exhibit hall, too, because they don’t have to pay to travel and ship their booth materials – a costly endeavor. Plus, the leads are actually better in a virtual hall because only the people who are interested in their products will sign up for an appointment.”
The conference thrived in a fully online environment – virtual registration numbers tripled, and conference costs were cut in half. Fritz said, “We are thankful that we’ve teamed up with Video Solutions once again to offer a virtual participation option because this is the largest virtual conference in our history. We’ve significantly expanded our registration from years past and cut our event costs in half by saving on major big-ticket items like the venue and dining.”
Fritz and her team are demonstrating the kind of creative thinking necessary to achieve success in a rapidly changing event environment, and the success of the DT&L conference is proof that creative thinking can lead to extremely impressive results, especially if you have the right partners.
I think virtual experiences are going to become forever part of our DNA because professional development funds are going away, people can’t travel like they used to, and people want flexible options. Higher education needs to reach new audiences, and we can’t go back to where we were. We have to keep innovating. As much of a tragedy as COVID is, it has opened a lot of people’s eyes. Instructors who have vehemently opposed teaching at a distance are now big fans because they see how being a good virtual teacher makes them a better teacher all around. We can’t go back to the old way of doing things.Wendy Fritz, Director, Learning Design, Development & Innovation, UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies.
Originally Published: September 3, 2020