In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that a place-based conference like the one we typically hosted at Cleveland State University would not be possible. Yet, we knew from experience that a culminating event was critical to facilitating students’ progress on their projects and the success of the YPAR work. Like most conferences during the pandemic, we pivoted to a virtual conference. One team member introduced us to Hopin.com, a platform that included a range and variation of features that could support the kinds of spaces and opportunities we wanted to offer young people and we chose Hopin.com as our hosting site.
The event had typically welcomed over 100 youth presenters and 250 guests to the place-based event, so there were many things to consider in selecting the platform and thinking through the design for presentation. This online platform would host the first-ever virtual conference. The conference would include poster sessions, panels, an exhibit hall, marketplace, and networking sessions. To migrate an event of more than 300 people to an online space was a challenging undertaking. Nonetheless, choices were made, the virtual space was constructed, and, on May 7, 2021, the virtual conference took place. Although the intent is to return to a largely in-person conference when it is safe to do so, the virtual conference had many unique benefits.
A Shared Space for Sharing the Work
This shared space represents our effort to create a meaningful space for every student group to present their work within the larger space of all YPAR projects. Given what we know about the power of students’ sharing their work with authentic audiences and the value of creating opportunities for youth to share their research with others, we hoped the online platform would be an adequate alternative to the place-based event we imagined.
This space was a place where students’ lives, community connections, and knowledges came together. Students brought their work and their ideas from their project spaces and school spaces into the domain of this networked platform. Distinct from the conference culture at CSU, we were aware that this virtual conference meant students would be asked to bring their actual homes to the formal conference space. We recognized the intimacy that comes with this and what choices we could make on the design end to be attentive to this. This included a collection of small decisions related to features like camera settings, audio settings, and stage settings. It also led to the decision to have conference t-shirts as a kind of connection and consistency. It also included collecting and managing some of the content ahead of time so to eliminate trouble with connectivity and bandwidth concerns. Ultimately, from the homes or students, faculty, staff, and sponsors, over 300 of us came together to hear about, learn from, and reflect on students’ projects.
On May 7, 2021 the CIHS Campus Conference: A Youth Research Symposium successfully brought faculty, students, and the community together to create a virtual space for students to share their work. The students’ engagement in a year-long project came to fruition and was exhibited in a meaningful way that was executed though the platform Hopin.com platform. Hopin is described as an all-in-one virtual event management software platform for managing events and experiences. The conference included a virtual exhibit hall for students to showcase their artifacts, a marketplace for students to sell their work and promote their entrepreneur sense of self, and most importantly incorporated breakout rooms for students to present their research.
The experience was impactful and moving. In addition to being an inspirational event for guests, it also created both space and time for young people to reflect on their work and the collaboration amongst one another that kept everyone going.
We hope you will check out the other posts in this collection where we highlight some of the choices, experiences, and events that helped lead to and shape this culminating conference. The collection includes three posts that highlight virtual visits with community partners, and a post that zooms in on the keynote speaker. Each portion of the collection dives deeper to highlight these different components of the year-long YPAR project. We hope that the collection shares the impact of youth participatory action research and the potential benefits of a virtual conference. We hope that these posts offer a vision for how you might integrate Youth Participatory Action Research with young people in your school and/or community.