35 No. 5
Several times in this column, I have made reference to IUPAC–sponsored conferences and symposia and to the ubiquitous need that chemists (including IUPAC committees and task groups) have to gather to share experiences and advances in their fields. In this issue, Bob Belford and I report on a different type of meeting: the virtual colloquium.
When plans to hold a virtual colloquium on IYC2011 emerged as an IUPAC project in 2011, I could not pass on the opportunity to get involved. The IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education was keen to support this initiative and, before I knew it, Belford became our mentor, eager to share his experience in running virtual colloquium. There is a lot of background reading material available, but for me, the most influential was Thomas O'Haver's 1993–paper On-Line Conferencing: Sitting at the Virtual Table, prepared for the first ConfChem (known at that time as ChemConf).*
The text is now 20 years old and yet it is still interesting reading, more so if one reflects on how the available technology has evolved. When Bob and I decided to report on the virtual colloquium, as we do in the feature on page 2, O'Haver's paper became one of our key references. I can only encourage everyone interested in the topic to read (or reread) this source paper.
One quote in particular from O'Haver's paper stands out: "The most significant factor which distinguishes [organizations] which are able to make effective and strategic use of communications networks is their focus on networking people together rather than just thinking about connecting machines and data" (Lisa Carlson, Megasystems Design Group, Inc.). This, I thought, is an apt description of the ConfChem project (www.ccce.divched.org/ConfChem), which O'Haver initiated some 20 years ago. One of ConfChem's primary goals was (and still is) to network people using the technology available. The quote is even more incisive today, recognizing the growth of online social networks since the WWW was given to the world in 1993. Who is making the best and most-effective use of social networking is a question I reserve for another column.
Towards the end of his paper, O'Haver reassured the novices by saying that "with practice, the technology ultimately fades into the background and the focus properly shifts to people and ideas." The technology of that time—email—has indeed faded into the background, but only to make space for numerous options, which in themselves can be overwhelming. Even so, in 1993 O'Haver concluded by saying "I'm afraid it will be some time before computer-based communications technology fades into the background. As usual, the real problems are not technological but human."
We are interested in getting feedback and learning about your experiences with online conferencing. As we plan to look into that topic again in future issues, your input will be appreciated. Write to us at email@example.com.
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