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Blog post

The BERA Annual Conference goes digital

Mhairi Beaton, BERA Conference & Events Chair, Leeds Beckett University

The year 2020 will be remembered as one that brought many changes to both our personal and professional lives. It also gave us the opportunity to reflect on what is important to us: visits to our elderly relatives, hugs from our grandchildren and even the opportunity to chat with colleagues in the corridor at work are all activities we may once have taken for granted.

As academics we have also, perhaps, taken for granted opportunities to attend conferences, including the BERA Annual Conference. That week in September, when we can escape our offices and classrooms to attend the UK’s largest education research conference, has become a much-anticipated annual event where we can greet old friends, network with new colleagues, present our research and listen to top-class keynote addresses.

The cancellation of the 2020 BERA Annual Conference resulted, therefore, in a huge gap in many of our diaries. Now, in January 2021 – when many of us would be writing our abstracts to meet the usual BERA Conference submission deadline – it is clear that it will take at least a little longer for the world to return to normal. BERA’s Conference and Events Committee is acutely aware that potential conference delegates need to make plans, despite the uncertainty over what might be happening in September 2021. Following extensive discussions, it was decided that BERA should commit to holding the 2021 BERA Annual Conference in September, in order to fill that empty gap in the diary and to permit members to share their research and connect with their colleagues across the world.

‘Holding the BERA Annual Conference virtually offers a number of benefits: it eliminates the geographical distance and professional commitments that often impede attendance, and frees us from any concerns about ongoing travel restrictions or Covid-related safety measures.’

However, it was decided that, for the first time, the conference would be held virtually. This offers a number of benefits, not least the fact that both UK-based and international delegates will be able to attend, free from any concerns about ongoing travel restrictions or Covid-related safety measures. Indeed, the digital conference will permit many delegates to attend the BERA Annual Conference who otherwise would not have due to the geographical distance or professional commitments that often impede regular attendance. We anticipate some of the highest numbers of delegates that we have ever seen.

When we made this decision, we were reassured by the high level of expertise that BERA has developed over the last year in providing a range of synchronous and asynchronous events – expertise that will inform the development of a high-quality digital conference experience for our delegates. To ensure this quality, BERA are currently in the process of inviting tenders to provide the platform for the digital conference. Following the completion of this process early in the new year, we will be able to confirm the cost of attendance at the event. We aim to keep the conference fee as low as possible: we plan to break even rather than make a profit. With no additional travel or accommodation costs, we hope the conference will be accessible to as many delegates as possible. The registration fee will include access to all live sessions including keynotes, panel discussions and symposia, and the pre-recorded individual papers. All live sessions will be recorded and made available alongside the pre-recorded individual sessions on the conference website for the rest of September. We also hope to provide opportunities for delegates to network with each other digitally outside the formal sessions, but this will depend on what the conference platform software makes possible.

We welcome the submission of abstracts for all the usual sessions – symposia, individual papers, workshops and posters. The abstract submission system is now open, and will remain so until the extended deadline at the end of February. Once submission closes, our usual reviewing process will be undertaken to maintain the high quality of papers that BERA is known for. The selected symposia and workshops will be hosted live during the conference week; individual papers will be pre-recorded, and there will be an opportunity for delegates to join a Q&A session with presenters during the conference week. Posters will be digital, with timetabled sessions during which those presenting their posters will be available for Q&A sessions.

BERA’s 2021 Annual Conference marks a major change for the Association. While it was made necessary by world events beyond our control, it also provides us with an opportunity to try something new and adventurous. We hope you will join us on this new adventure, and we look forward to welcoming you to the digital 2021 BERA Annual Conference!