Well, that was different.
As many, many, many commentators have noted, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the promise and challenge of virtual meetings to the forefront. On the one hand, the cost (not just monetary) for participation is much, much lower. This can make attendance and discussion more equitable for more people. On the other hand, there may be some secret sauce that goes into in-person gatherings that hasn’t yet made it to virtual platforms. Is this very human need for connection especially important for community-based research that prides itself on authentic collaboration? Probably? Across probably five virtual conferences I’ve attended over the past year, we don’t seem to have discovered that sauce yet.
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And yet, there have been authentic web-based communities for a long time. My 7-year-old seems to have real interactions when he’s jumping around playing Fortnite. And there are many message boards I frequent that have commentators with 20+ year histories (I like *parts* of LetsRun.)
I did a quick PubTrawlr search for research on “Massive Multiplayer, Online Role-Playing Games” (MMORPG), like Warcraft. The network plot of the abstracts is at the right. Most research has focused on the negative consequences, though I wonder what can possibly be gleaned from MMORPGs and then ported over to virtual gatherings.
One of the godfathers of Empowerment Evaluation, David Fetterman has been advocating for VirBela, an online software that frankly looks stuck in 2002, that tries to simulate a lot of the MMORPG type of interface. And here’s a delightful article about people holding conference calls around the campfire in the recent game Red Dead Redemption 2.
The Conference Program
Let’s get into the content. The program was only available in PDF form, which makes some more robust analyses difficult. Just by looking at phrases within the program, we can see a few major themes emerge: COVID-19, white supremacy, and social justice. This is consistent with both the conference theme and the major issues of our times. There was that email that went out to SCRA members a few weeks before the conference noting that sessions don’t have to be about white supremacy, but this theme clearly ended up in the majority.
The network plot illustrates a few broad textual categories: affiliate institutions (like the #1 submitter, DePaul University), methods, and content areas. Within this plot, we can see the presentations on homelessness, sexual assault, HIV, and food insecurity.
One thing we don’t see here is the hot topic and current US boogeyman: Critical Race Theory. Out of 269 unique sessions, 279 pages, and over 3,000 sentences, critical race theory appears only twice. I took a deeper look to see if CRT has been showing up in the literature more broadly, and there have only been about ~25 articles in the past year. What in the world could be driving recent interest?! 🙄
We also then took a look at social media chatter about SCRA on Twitter….and there wasn’t much at all. Here’s a word frequency chart that really doesn’t tell us much. I looked for other hashtags, but the results for #scra were very, very paltry.
The network plot is a little better, but not by much. I actually recognize a lot of this content because we were either on it or retweeted. This is also a good place to sneak in a reference to our presentation on text summarization, which you can read about in this post, and then try out the bot for yourself here.
In terms of people who tweeted the most about #SCRA2021….GAH!, it was us. Yikes, that’s not great. I mean, we were happy to do it, but it’s pretty clear that attendees were not taking this conversation online to social media.
A final word
We were honored to a sponsor for this year’s biennial. Thanks to everyone who responded to our user survey. We had a small stash of rewards as thanks for responding. However, we’re rapidly running out, but if you act kind of quick, there may be some neat stuff left over for you!