Virtual Conference Playbook: How to Set up and Run Your Own Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Learn how to host your own virtual conference to reach more faculty and staff! The virtual conference format allows for a low budget, low cost, highly engaging conference that can include a variety of presentations. Adapt our “playbook” of checklists, tools, and processes to create your own virtual conference.


Elizabeth McMahon is an online faculty member from Northland Community and Technical College. An experienced educator and instructional designer for face-to-face, online and blended courses, she regularly facilitates workshops and webinars for faculty that focus on best practices for online teaching, course design and integration of academic technology. She is also the Coordinator of the Minnesota Online Quality Initiative (a project sponsored by Colleges and Universities of Minnesota State).

Extended Abstract

This session will describe how to create and host a virtual conference. The virtual format allows for a low budget, low cost, highly engaging conference that can include a variety of presentations and speakers. Delivering a conference in this way (low cost, low budget, high quality, high engagement) demonstrates a truly innovative approach to providing professional development for faculty and staff who may be at a geographic disadvantage for attending a traditional conference and who are also often challenged by limited resources (time and financial). Virtual delivery maximizes the potential of a web-based conference tool to reach many individuals.

The conference format is designed to provide a wide variety of sessions which supports the interests and needs of individuals teaching face-to-face, blended, or online courses. Additionally, because all presenters are virtual, the virtual format allows for presenters to join from anywhere which allows for the involvement of highly impactful presenters who are known for their expertise and who may be from outside the region or state.

This type of conference can be expanded, easily modified or replicated. Information about how to host a virtual conference using this format will be shared with conference participants. The presentation will include the conference “playbook” which includes the overall framework, checklists, training materials, and lessons learned to allow others to replicate the idea.

Background on the conference model being described: In this presentation, I will be sharing our “playbook” for the delivery of the STAR Symposium. The STAR Symposium is a virtual conference which has been hosted annually by the Minnesota Online Quality Initiative since 2016. It celebrates excellence in teaching and learning by providing an avenue for individuals to share best practices, ideas, and resources with colleagues located across not only Minnesota, but nationally as well. Through a keynote address featuring speakers who are known internationally, a special featured session, and multiple concurrent sessions throughout the day, participants are provided opportunities to engage in sessions that positively impact face-to-face, blended, and online courses and/or programs.

The original idea behind the STAR Symposium was to provide faculty and staff from Minnesota State institutions an opportunity to participate in a teaching and learning conference that didn’t require travel or significant time away from the classroom. The structure of the conference was designed to 1) showcase best practices and quality initiatives through the involvement of individuals from Minnesota or elsewhere; 2) provide a high quality, seamless user experience for participants; and, 3) provide training for all presenters in best practices for presenting in a virtual format. The STAR Symposium has grown in size each year and has consistently has been rated as an excellent conference experience by participants and presenters. The STAR Symposium received an Excellence in Innovation, Collaboration, and Impact Award at the Minnesota 2018 eLearning Summit.

The 2018 conference included 220 registered presenters and participants from 32 Higher Education institutions in Minnesota State institutions as well as from 13 other states.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe planning considerations for a virtual conference.
  2. Outline tools, processes, and preparation for a successful event.
  3. List dos and don'ts for a successful virtual conference.