Research Conferences Go Virtual: Leveraging VoiceThread to Continue Campus Engagement

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Brief Abstract

This session will report on how the pandemic prompted a transformed approach to a university-wide student research conference with a 25-year history. Campus partners will describe how new forms of institution-wide collaboration prompted the use of VoiceThread to transform the conference to fully online while enhancing scale and quality.


Peter Ariev is an Instructional Design Specialist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has previously served as the Associate Director of Teaching Development at the Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business and as an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Chair of the Education Specialties Department at Loyola University Maryland His scholarship addresses characteristics of teacher education programs, the role of 'performance-based' assessment in teacher development, and the use of teaching portfolios to promote professional development for higher education faculty. His work has highlighted the role of assessment in promoting student learning, the political context of teacher education reform, and the complex challenges underlying institutional change. Dr. Rennert-Ariev was the recipient of the University of Maryland’s School of Education Outstanding New Scholar award in 2009. Dr. Rennert-Ariev’s research has appeared in publications such as Teachers College Record, The Journal of Teacher Education, Teacher Education and Practice, and The Journal of Curriculum Studies and he has presented his work at various educational conferences including the American Educational Research Association, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the National Media Education Conference, and the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning. Dr. Rennert-Ariev has been involved in mentoring university faculty in developing teaching portfolios and his analysis of the role of teaching portfolios in higher education appears in the recent book The Teaching Portfolio (4th ed) , published by Jossey-Bass.

Extended Abstract

Our institution has for 25 years sponsored an annual undergraduate research conference featuring research, scholarship, and creative work. Student work is shared through oral presentations, posters, artistic exhibits, performances, and film. Over 300 student presenters typically participate annually. In April, 2020, the annual event was well underway with students wrapping up their research and beginning to design their posters. Just before posters were officially due, our campus announced that the campus would close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Nevertheless, recognizing that students had worked hard throughout their undergraduate careers on their research, institutional leaders were committed to ensuring that this annual event would not be disrupted and would still allow students the opportunity to share their research achievements and collaborate meaningfully with peers, faculty, and other research mentors from the university and community. 

Staff from Instructional Technology collaborated with conference planners to quickly pivot to an online modality, marked by an early decision to leverage an institutionally-supported technology, VoiceThread, as the platform to host the remote conference. VoiceThread offered an opportunity for members of the campus community to watch the undergraduate research presentations at a time most convenient for them, which was a substantial advantage over the prior face-to-face conference format which was entirely synchronous.

Campus stakeholders worked collaboratively to develop resources that helped students create a digital research poster, design their own VoiceThread, and provide effective and substantive research presentations to the faculty, university community, subject matter experts, and other interested guests.. The undergraduate research conference was successfully implemented and was widely regarded by event organizers to have provided distinct advantages over the prior synchronous, in person event. 

Other institutions, particularly those that are interested in creatively leveraging instructional technology to promote opportunities for student research, may find valuable the lessons that will be shared in this session. It has become apparent that effectively responding to COVID-19 has posed significant challenges for our institution that are common to higher education institutions: maintaining academic standards, collaboration, and institutional traditions. Integral to these challenges is developing online platforms to host academic events. Often these events are critical levers for ensuring the continuity of institutional culture, which for many institutions includes developing innovative approaches for conducting and presenting student scholarship in an online context. 

The session will provide specific opportunities for interaction by participants that are framed by the key lessons learned as reported by our own university partners who will share specific insights on the Discovery session VoiceThread. Participants will be able to respond with insights, questions, and engage ongoing discussion. The lessons learned will be discussed as  the following six session outcomes that will be explained and illustrated with examples:

1. Demonstrating the value of VoiceThread for research collaboration and presentations.

2. Demonstrating best practices for engaging VoiceThread for a campus-wide research event including use of VoiceThread threadboxes. 

3. Defining the most common professional development support needs for students and faculty to use VoiceThread for a research conference.  

4. Fostering new types of collaboration across the university for academic, administrative and instructional technology personnel engaged in research event planning and processes.    

5. Demonstrating three additional cases of adapting the model for other similar research events at the university that we have developed in the past year.

6. Showing ways to increase the scale of student participation and to ensure the accessibility of student research projects.