I wasn't supposed to be in NYC this week. I was supposed to be in Arlington Virginia with around one thousand of my CS Teacher friends at CSTA2020. Devorah was going to spend the days at the GitHub booth teaching knitting and I was going to do a GitHub workshop and generally enjoy the show
Of course nobody's traveling these days and CSTA2020 is running remote. This is my second virtual conference as I attended parts of MongoDB world a few weeks ago.
I'm still forming my opinion on CSTA2020 but I thought I'd share my thoughts in progress.
To start, virtual conferences aren't the same as in person - they can't be. For me, CSTA is a person first conference rather than session first. That is, I get most of my value from the hallway track. That's not to say I don't enjoy the sessions, it's just that for me personally, I get more from the chats than from the talks. By contrast, for me SIGCSE is more about the sessions. There are a few reasons why things fall this way but there neither here nor there.
So, since there can't really be a hallway track, I was wondering how CSTA2020 would feel.
TL;DR - it's different but still pretty great.
Keynote's are keynotes wether virtual or in person so not much to say in them so let's move to the sessions. CSTA is using hopin.to and it's working pretty well. MongoDB used another platform that seemed to be more glitchy. Hopin's been working pretty seamlessly for me. I'm presenting tomorrow so we'll see if that changes my view. None of the sessions I attended brought any participants "on stage" so interactions were through the chat. It worked pretty well but at times there was so much chatter that things flew off the screen before you could read them.
Overall, I'm digging the plaltform. Not the same as in person but it's a good approximation.
The vendor / exhibit area worked pretty much the same way so not much to say there.
Overall the interface is pretty smooth. Navigation could be smoother and so could user search but overall, pretty nice.
So, where are we at? We've got a pretty good platform for sessions with decent navigation, chat, and messaging but what about that hallway track.
We don't have one but we have a pretty cool alternative. Hopin has a networking feature. When you drop in, you're matched with someone else randomly for a 5 minute video chat. After five minutes, its over. You can come back in and chat with someone else or be done with it.
I really like this feature.
For someone asocial and somewhat awkward like me, it's great. Five minutes isn't too long to get awkward but it's enough for a brief chat and you can follow up later. The randomness lets you meet new people.
In some ways it's better than in person. I frequently fly solo at conferences. At this point I know a decent amount of people but when at a new conference, it's hard to break in. The reason is that many colleges or schools send groups of teachers and they cluster together making it hard for an individual to join in. I see it and fee it all the time, With this platform, you're dumped in one on one - no worries about cliques.
So, what's the verdict.
I'm loving the networking feature and liking the overall tool. I hope CSTA's in person next year but I'll be a happy attendee even if we remain remote.