Most online videoing platforms, including Zoom, have a record function and during these unprecedented times, institutions and organisations have taken advantage of the feature to solve a variety of accessibility issues. Drake Music recommends recording meetings to allow attendees to listen to important sections again. Similarly, ClickMeeting propose recording meetings to share with staff who were unable to attend. Brianna Beehler and Devin Griffiths even suggest putting the recording on a platform with a comment feature so that the synchronous questioning can continue asynchronously. Maximising accessibility was the driving force behind the Spheres of Singing conference team recording all panels, workshops and keynotes. Here are a few of the reasons why:
Each of these points are really important to consider when running any online conference or event. In some cases, they actually solve commonly occurring issues indicative of the in-person conference. Most large, in-person interdisciplinary conferences will run multiple concurrent panels but rarely will have recording facilities available to capture and disseminate them to all delegates. As such, delegates must choose which panel they wish to attend. Some delegates may try to hear different papers in different sessions, but this depends on the venue and if it is possible to move from one room to another in time and without disruption. An online conference with a recording and sharing plan allows delegates the opportunity to watch as many panels as they desire.
Asynchronous attendance to open access to those with caring responsibilities
It has long been acknowledged that in-person conference present barriers, particularly for delegates who have caring responsibilities (see Amber Pouliot, 2018). As such, the online conference is more accessible to those who might not have been able to come. However, we have to acknowledge, simply moving the event online does not entirely open access without implementing other interventions. Some delegates still have caring responsibilities at home and may not be able to watch, disseminate, interact and engage with panels synchronously. Recordings take the pressure off delegates to come to the live panel, but still enables engagement at a time that suits.
Just like in-person conferences, audio quality may not be the best, and unless a live captioner or sign-language interpreter is employed for the live event, the conference is limiting its access. Though I would argue sign-language interpreters or live captioners should be prioritised, most conferences do not have the finances. Zoom has a built-in captioning function, which appears on recordings and could go some way to offering a more accessible experience. It should be noted that this function is only available if recordings are saved to the Cloud.
Some conference organisers, such as Martina Cicakova, view recordings as a useful way to ensure panels run to time and papers are of sufficient quality. Indeed, Spheres of Singing did give speakers the opportunity to pre-record their talks, mainly if they felt uncomfortable to speak live. There are certainly advantages to pre-recorded papers. In 2010, Nelson N. Gichora et al. recommended pre-recording papers to avoid internet lag and technological glitches. The internet has become a lot more reliable in more countries across the world in the last ten years, but it is not infallible. The difference in 2020, primarily as COVID-19 has forced many educators to move to online teaching, is that speakers may expect they will deliver their paper live on camera. This is more aligned to the in-person conference experience after all and does not assume a speaker will have the time, skillset or technology to pre-record ahead of the conference taking place. As such, they should be given the opportunity to choose their preferred method for delivering their paper. We would also recommend streaming a pre-recorded paper during a live panel so the speaker can receive live-feedback from delegates.
While recordings are very useful and enable a more accessible experience, there are also ethical considerations to ensure these recordings are made and shared appropriately. Here are a few key points:
- Inform all speakers and delegates that panels will be recorded.
- Give the speakers a choice to have their talks recorded.
- Give delegates time to protect their anonymity before switching on the recordings.
- Only make the recordings available for a limited time.
TAGC 2020 note that transparency is essential and should be defined in any code of conduct, particularly if the conference is making recordings. Recordings certainly enhance accessibility, but speakers may feel reluctant to share their work-in-progress, particularly if there are no plans to delete the recordings after a period of time. Similarly, delegates may dislike appearing on recordings, though they can switch off their camera and change their name to protect their identity. In general, the Zoom meeting/webinar should be set up to ensure recordings can only be made by the meeting host, whether that be the conference organisers or an appointed person and clear ethical guidance should be thought through and articulated to all attendees before any recording is made.
Spheres of Singing scripted an introduction, which was read at all panels informing delegates about the plans for recording and outlining what they could do if they did not want to appear on video. Similarly, speakers were asked for consent to have their session recorded. We only made the recordings available for 48-hours, though, in hindsight, a longer period of time would have given more flexibility to those watching back at a later date. Limiting the time recordings were available certainly relieved some anxieties, and most speakers recognised the recordings were an aid to accessibility and not intended as a permanent document.
This guidance material has been prepared by Brianna E. Robertson-Kirkland and Sophie Boyd.