From the President
A formal announcement will be forthcoming, including registration and participation logistics, Guests of Honor information, and a proper CFP, but for now I wanted to announce informally that SFRA 2021 will be an all-virtual event. Our host, Seneca College, has already announced its plans to be all-virtual in Spring 2021, making conference planning for the summer impossible—and the reality of the ongoing pandemic and of mid-pandemic college travel budgets makes an all-virtual format our best option regardless.
A virtual conference offers both challenges and opportunities; we eagerly look forward to participation from people who normally might not be able to travel to SFRA and fully expect this will be, by far, our biggest and most global conference ever. Some in our membership have already suggested that SFRA, like other professional organizations, might look to making some of these virtual structures permanent, in the pursuit of both access equity and ecological rationality—and these questions are definitely on our mind as we pilot this new format. I suspect these will be conversations we in the academy continue to have for a very long time.
We are very interested in discussing format for the virtual conference with the membership, including discussion of access and logistical issues we may not have thought of. The current plan—subject to change, like everything else in 2020!—is to use precirculated papers/presentations in thematic “streams,” along the lines of seminar format used by ACLA, alongside synchronous Q&A on a virtual conferencing platform. We think this targeted format can help manage people’s time and attention and help prevent Zoom fatigue, as well as limit conference hours to times that the largest swath of people in the most time-zones can attend. We are also looking into options for more informal socialization using rotating, bring-your-own-cocktail breakout rooms, to replicate the most important part of any conference.
This was not our first choice, but like ICFA before us it seems difficult to imagine that we will be able to plan a successful, well-attended international conference to take place just seven months from now. There is just too much uncertainty. If you have ideas or want to help plan, please, write me! If the conference has to be virtual, we want it to at least be the best virtual conference ever held. My thanks to Graham Murphy for his continued leadership as the now-virtual host for this event, my best to literally everyone everywhere, and my sincerest hopes that 2020 doesn’t have any secret months after December we don’t know about yet.