(Hybrid) SIGCSE TS 2022 Reflection

I thought I’d go back to the SIGCSE TS theme for this blog post, but with one of my conference reflections. Though it’s not really one of my classic reflections since this was my first hybrid conference ever, and I was also creating the hybrid experience! I also attended the hybrid Learning@Scale and ICER conferences as an online attendee. Hopefully, I’ll find time to write reflections for those too. But first, SIGCSE TS 2022 because it’s better late than never!

[Also posted on medium.]

What Happened

Responsibility mainly drove the sessions I attended rather than interest. During the pre-symposium on Wednesday, I attended an all-morning Peer Teaching Summit that I helped organize. The focus is on facilitating discussion among college teachers about undergrad teaching assistants (UTAs). We also had UTAs present to contribute. During the symposium, I was a panelist on “Technology we can’t live without! (Covid-19 edition).” I attended one special session as an attendee just out of interest, but otherwise, I gave up on attending anything outside of my hybrid chair responsibilities.

As the hybrid chair, I attended all the plenaries, co-hosted with Mark Sheriff the Coffee Break show twice, all five Authors’ Corners, and the SIGCSE business meeting. During the plenaries, I logged into the platform on my laptop and kept track of the online experience. And I am so glad I did. During our first keynote, the video stream cut out, and the A/V team we hired wasn’t aware until I walked to the back and notified them. I then spent the rest of the time waiting, checking if things were working, messaging in the chat, and talking to our production team, which was also helping to troubleshoot.

After that experience, I was “online” for every plenary. That meant I sat in the front of the room, in case I had to be on stage, with my headphones plugged in, focusing on the online experience and chat box. It was kind of weird “living” on a 1ish minute delay than everyone in person. I clapped when my table clapped but didn’t know why until about a minute later. Letting myself focus in that way enabled me to fully engage with the online attendees while at the same time being semi-aware that something was coming up.

Besides sessions, there were so many other things for me to do! There were meetings during the day and evening, and I was at the SIGCSE TS 2023 booth. I met with people for my “day job” that were also at the symposium. And I squeezed in teaching stuff too. Finally, there were so many things to check on and little decisions to ensure everyone had a smooth experience.

How much time did this all take?

So first, I track how much time I work to the 15-minute increment. So some wiggle room and rounding errors are happening. And yes, I also know this is unusual, but this helps me understand how much time I spend on things and helps me better predict how much a commitment actually takes. Finally, I was a committee of one, so I don’t think things will take nearly as much of my time for SIGCSE TS 2023 because the hybrid committee is now four people.

Here is a graph of how much time I spent helping to organize SIGCSE TS. Week 0 is the week of the symposium. Week -19 is the site visit meeting to get a sense of the building layouts and do some in-person planning. As you can see, starting with week -8 (the first week of 2022), the time I spent helping organize the symposium monotonically increased as we got closer to the symposium.

Bar chart total hours vs weeks. It spans -25 to 22, one bar per week. Week 0 is the tallest at over 40 hours.

And after the symposium, it never actually dropped back down to 0! Week 13 post-TS is the lowest at 1 hour. There were multiple things we needed to do to wrap up TS 2022. And then, it was immediately onward to organizing TS 2023. And yes, that graph means I even joined meetings when I was on vacation because, unsurprisingly, my vacation lined up with when we saw potential platforms’ demos. Most of my time is in meetings where we discuss and make decisions. And we are already meeting so frequently because all of the senior chairs were so surprised at how much work running a hybrid conference that we want to do our best to reduce and spread out that workload a lot more.

Things I want to do differently

My quick thoughts on what I want to do differently (and that I’m already doing) are to spread out the tasks across my committee, front-load what I can, be judicious in what we do, and make decisions that will reduce our workload closer to the symposium. The Hybrid committee now consists of the Authors’ Corner Chair, Online Experience Chair, and the Junior and Senior Hybrid Experience Co-Chairs. This delineation of responsibilities makes it possible to compartmentalize some of what is going on. So I don’t need to be aware and keep track of it. For front-loading, over the summer, we experimented with some platforms and processes on how to run Authors’ Corner. This experimentation gave the Authors’ Corner chair ideas for running things. We also saw demos and decided on a platform that also serves the Authors’ Corner needs, reducing the overhead of running Authors’ Corner. Finally, I worked with the Program Chairs to try to have presenters commit as early as possible to their presentation modality. And we all agreed that changing modality should be due to a last-minute, out-of-their-control situation. Last-minute changes will happen. And we will plan for it, but hopefully, this will reduce the number of last-minute changes that caused a massive headache and workload for TS 2022.

Another more personal thing I want to do differently is how I reacted to all the messages I received for the symposium. All my usual mechanisms to not be 100% attached to my messaging systems fell apart during TS 2022. Usually, I check email twice a day, and while I see Slack/Teams message notifications on my phone, I don’t always read or respond to them immediately. And it would make sense that I’d be a little more plugged in during the symposium. However, it turned into me being on high alert and constantly checking all of the possible things that might give me an action item, regardless of how urgent that action item was. It got so bad that even when I had 30 minutes to myself, I couldn’t actually tear myself away and do something else. Instead, I obsessively would check Slack, phone texts, Email, and multiple google forms.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I will handle this in TS 2023. I think the fact my committee will be able to handle certain things will help a lot (like the Authors’ Corner Chair will handle all of those messages/sign-ups). In addition, I think I’ll try to use more Slack integrations so that I can merge the notification streams. That way, I’m not checking a bunch of places and then repeating the cycle since it’s “been a while” since I last checked the first place.

Conclusion

I am not going to lie. It was a crazy time. But not so crazy that I wouldn’t do it again, partially because I firmly believe that the symposium needs to be hybrid and if I can help cement that into the symposium, I will. In fact, I agreed to stick around for 2024 as the “past chair,” though my goal will be to just serve as the historical memory and not an active organizer. Hybrid needs to survive without me, after all.

After reflecting on all of this, I have hope that 2023 will be much better.

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