Ahidoba DE FRANCHI, University of Geneva, CH

At the end of February, when public events started to be cancelled at University of Geneva, we at the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education took the decision to turn our Continuing Education Open Doors planned on 31 March into a virtual, online event. We had about three weeks to move from a face-to-face event to an online event. A real challenge, considering that our 350 programmes were counting on this event to recruit for the next academic year. It happened to be a real success, with over 1,000 people attending (the previous face-to-face event gathered about 400 people). Throughout this five-hours event, a peak attendance of about 200 participants was reached in the live sessions, and about 250 at the final live conference. This virtual event was the first if its kind in Switzerland and therefore it caught a lot of attention from the media and the local networks, who promoted it massively. Our first objective as a public institution was to show that we were present, even in troubled times, and able to apply what we are teaching on a daily basis: Professionals need to adapt to a changing world, and explore. It was a tremendous opportunity for us to lead the way. Our first challenge was to adapt to a context where people’s attention was on the COVID-19 and nothing else. After talking with our media partners, we decided to re-focus all our sessions and conference on the impact of the pandemic on the life of professionals, which was clearly what our audience was expecting, as we gathered altogether not less than 600 people in all the content-related sessions. Our next challenge was to find and customize a platform which could host such an event, while still attracting local people. We also had to consider the language of the platform, as most of our staff and audience was French speaking, as well as the ease of handling it, as we had to train all the programmes teams to use the platform in only 3 days. On Day D, visitors were entering a sketched hall of the University of Geneva and were invited to activities such as sessions with programme directors, a wall to draw the ideal continuing education programme, a survey on how engaged employees were before and during the COVID-19 crisis, or a speed dating counter to check companies’ virtual identity. Beside these, people could visit a welcome desk, 12 information booths by domains with over 70 staff members answering to questions, by chat or in a zoom room. On the booths, visitors could also watch videos, download flyers and drop their business card. The evaluation of the event is still ongoing, but we can already say that both the audience and the staff involved would like to have this event back online next year, even if the sanitary situation permits gatherings again. Interestingly, evaluation reports show that what was missing the most in this virtual event was… the rumour of the crowd!

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