Top Tips for Attending ATIA Online

Written by Helen Robinson, AT Scholar 2024

It was a whole year ago when I submitted my application to the British Assistive Technology Scholarship fund for a chance to attend the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference. Working in the National Health Service (NHS) as a Speech & Language Therapist, funding opportunities for conferences, especially international ones, are far from plentiful, therefore I was keen to take advantage of the chance for a funded place. When I received the phone call in July to say I’d been successfully awarded an AT Scholar place at the virtual conference, I was both surprised and excited.

Although there was some disappointment at not being awarded an in-person place, I soon reflected on my current circumstances and realised that a virtual place would actually be better suited. I had recently been accepted on a Masters in Social Research course, alongside my NHS job and several other AAC related projects. The thought of juggling all of these alongside a trip to Florida would have been a little daunting, so I soon came around to the idea of attending virtually.

January soon came around and I registered for the virtual conference platform. I was immediately able to access a small number of pre-recorded sponsored sessions, which allowed me to test out the virtual platform and sample a taste of the content. The platform was easy to navigate and use, although there was an initial hurdle of my NHS laptop not allowing the necessary cookies, despite adjusting the settings, and the only solution was to use my personal computer. Thankfully for me this was no issue, but I’m glad I checked everything through before the conference.

Looking ahead at the conference programme, I made myself a list of presentations I didn’t want to miss. Initially, I had full intention of watching the live stream of the event throughout 26th and 27th January, however as the dates approached I began to realise the five-hour time difference meant I would be watching late into the evening. Circumstances at the time made this unrealistic, therefore I opted to miss the live event and wait for the recordings to be released. This didn’t happen until mid-February, which meant I wasn’t able to really feel part of the live conference in the way that I’d hoped. I did follow along live with my fellow AT Scholar Mary Lavender on X as she attended in person, which helped me feel somewhat connected.

Although we are blessed to now have virtual conference attendance as a pretty regular option these days, accessing content in this way is not without drawbacks. Watching presentations live is one thing, but watching after the event finishes is another! The presentations were accessible until 30th April, which on one hand gave me plenty of time to fit everything in, but with a busy schedule inside and outside of work, there was a tendency to let things roll over from one week to the next. I found myself scheduling in time, only for it to be taken over by other commitments once the date arrived. In turn, this meant that my own social media posting became less relevant the further away from the live dates we drifted. I had hoped to have used my online presence to engage with others about the topics being covered, but sadly failed at this.

I did eventually make time to work through the recordings, managing a few half day’s along side slotting presentations in ad-hoc between meetings. There was a range of topics covered, from AAC theory and practice, to access methods and tech solutions. I aimed to cover presentations from all of these areas and found the speaker’s knowledgeable and informative.

So, having experienced ATIA virtually, here are my top ten tips for attending conferences virtually, should you be lucky enough to find yourself awarded with an AT scholarship:

  • Plan ahead: decide if you will watch sessions live, or after the conference. Be realistic about what you can commit to.
  • Get social: make sure you’re following others who are attending the conference on social media. Once the programme is released, select some key presentations and see if you can find the presenters online to engage with. Following status updates and commenting can help you feel present even if you’re not there in person.
  • Test the tech!: Get registered, look around the website, test the access etc before the conference arrives so you’re not scrambling around trying to get things to work whilst the presentations begin.
  • Plan your schedule: If you’re watching live, pick the presentations you wish to join before-hand. If you’re watching back later, book time in your diary to actually watch and stick to it!
  • Make notes: One benefit of recorded sessions means that you can pause and reply sections over and over, to make sure you’ve understood key points or get your thoughts onto paper accurately.
  • Record the title and presenters’ names: This helps to make sense of any notes you make and for sharing with colleagues, notes alone aren’t much help without a title and presenter!
  • Pass it on: Plan who you will share your learning with and how. Book a date in now if you can.
  • Make use of tech: Another benefit of virtual learning is being able to use tech to capture you’re learning. For example, using the Windows snipping tool to capture slides or illustrations. This can allow you to concentrate more on what is being said, rather than frantically trying to scribble everything down.
  • Make notes too: Screen grabbing slides can be helpful, but aim to also make notes that capture the message behind the slides, and explain your thinking and learning. Make your notes meaningful, consider if they’d make sense to you in a month’s time. What about someone else? Aim to summarise your learning as clearly as possible.
  • Implement your learning: You’ve watched the presentations, but so what? Think about how you will transfer your learning into your daily life. What will you change? What do you need to follow up? What further questions do you have?

Thank you to the British Assistive Technology Scholarship for this opportunity and best of luck to the AT Scholar applicants for 2025!

For more information about the AT Scholar program and how to apply please visit acecentre.org.uk/at-scholar

Questions about the program or for Helen can be sent to info@atscholar.co.uk.

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