Like many other conference organizers, in the Spring of 2020, Virtual Chair founder Jason Hartline was leading his field’s virtual transition team to convert the previously planned physical conference into a virtual one. With many conferences struggling to provide the engagement and interaction of a physical conference, the team focused on creating a conference experience to emphasize three priorities: interaction, dissemination and broad participation.
With Local Chair Yannai Gonczarowski, the team reviewed many platforms for virtual conferences and eventually adopted Gather.town because of its unique physical metaphor that encouraged striking and surprising interactions with attendees in an early tech rehearsal. We worked closely with the Gather team to create a fully integrated conference experience — the first conference to do so — entirely on the Gather platform.
Weeks before the conference, the team organized student volunteers to run live-audience pre-recording sessions for authors to record video presentations. We then organized student volunteers to edit pre-recordings and create synced video for parallel sessions during the main conference. The team prepared calendars of events for attendees. The team meticulously and painstakingly designed the conference venue, and constructed a schedule around watch parties, lightning talks, and poster sessions to encourage interaction of participants and dissemination of results.
The results were remarkable! It was a virtual conference that felt like a physical conference. Spontaneous interaction between attendees occurred throughout the program. The conference experience was amazing, and while it took considerable effort to achieve it, we knew we had a formula that could be recreated. The result is Virtual Chair.
Meet The Team
Jason Hartline is a Professor of Computer Science at Northwestern University. His research covers the foundations of online markets. He is a codirector of the Institute for Data, Econometrics, Algorithms, and Learning. He has courtesy appointments in the Economics Department and the Kellogg School of Management. He was the Virtual General Chair of the 2020 ACM Conference of Economics and Computation.
Nicole Immorlica is an economics and computer science researcher. She uses tools and modeling concepts from both economics and theoretical computer science to explain, predict, and shape behavioral patterns in markets and social networks. She is the Chair of the ACM Special Interest Group on Economics and Computation and led the effort to transition the 2020 ACM Conference on Economics and Computation to its virtual format. She is passionate about the benefits afforded by virtual formats of academic events and hopes to maintain these benefits in hybrid models as physical events again become feasible.
Nicolle Wood is a seasoned veteran of event production on grand and colorful scales. As the Director of Galaxie Chicago for nearing two decades, she has managed the organizational and creative details and logistics of conferences coming into Chicago from as far away as New Zealand, as well as developing the aesthetic, entertainment and staffing of organizational masterpieces for clients from around the midwest and around the country.