Research in Distance Education (and eLearning) Conference RIDE2020

This was originally posted in Tharindu’s MOOCs Blog on 16 March 2020.

Every year I look forward to the RIDE Conference hosted by University of London. Because this is a conference about Research in Distance Education, it is so relevant to UCEM as we are in essence a supported distance education provider.

This year RIDE2020 was on 13th March and at a time when everyone is starting to worry about the spread of Corona virus. When I left Reading I knew there will be few people because on the train to London I got a seat! Circle line from Paddington too was very quiet. On the train I was thinking how to greet people now that most people are not comfortable with shaking hands.

On the train to #RIDE20 Not sure how to greet amidst Corona outbreak. May be I will go to my roots and use the traditional Sri Lankan greeting Folded hands ආයුබෝවන් Aayubowan meaning "may you have long life"
My Tweet from Friday 13 March 2020

Conference attendance was I would say less than 50% given the number of empty chairs in the hall, which was a shame really given how good it is. We were encouraged to practice “social distancing” by making use of all the available space. Quite a few sessions were cancelled but some sessions were conducted via Zoom conferencing and it all worked well in the end.It was lovely to meet so many known faces and also to grow my network by getting to know like minded others. It was great to listen to Prof. Allison Littlejohn and getting to know some interesting and highly relevant work conducted by the London Knowledge Lab (such as iRead and Connecting Displaced People). Afternoon keynote was by Prof. Martin Weller, which was presented remotely. He talked about Open ed as the anti-disruption.

My presentation about how transcripts were used by students at UCEM was the last presentation on the day in one of the parallel sessions. My slides Automatic Transcripts: Student and Tutor views from Built Environment Education are shared in SlideShare. Despite my session being the last, there was good engagement and questions from the audience, I think especially because accessibility is an area that is very relevant in the UK with the new accessibility regulations – The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

This conference amidst the Covid-19 spread showed that perhaps we need to re-think about attending conferences in person when there is long distance travel involved – especially air travel. Perhaps, we can reduce air travel and be more green and sustainable by presenting our work online. Martin presented his keynote remotely and it was done skillfully. The keynote was engaging and it showed even the keynotes at conferences can adapt to Covid-19 and can also adapt to fight against climate change. Two other sessions I attended too was presented via Zoom and they worked almost perfectly. Once in a while there was few words that we missed due to poor connectivity but it didn’t harm the experience.

My next conference is OER20 which is also going to be held online due to Covid-19. So this year many conferences will be run more environment friendly way. Perhaps this crisis is a wake-up call for us to stop and think hard  about being more sustainable and green in attending conferences?