A Fully Remote Science Fair !
To organize a large-scale event open to external participants, at no cost, I used the Teams live event extension. For a science fair or a student conference, I recommend it!
The Teams “live event” feature to showcase student talent
In the Food Processing and Quality Control Technologies program offered at the Saint-Hyacinthe campus of the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire du Québec (ITAQ), students must carry out a graduation project in collaboration with food companies. The project usually ends with an in-class presentation. The pandemic forced my colleagues and me to rethink the way we function.
After cancelling our very first event in 2020, we thought we would be able to return to the usual face-to-face format in 2021, but as the winter session progressed, it became more difficult to juggle the various public health requirements. So we decided to hold an entirely remote event in March 2021.
I had heard about the Teams live event extension at the beginning of the pandemic, when university teachers in the USA had chosen this feature to broadcast their lectures to their large class groups, which was more complex with the earlier versions of Teams.
As the organizer of the science fair, I chose the Teams live event extension because :
- it gives a professional character to our science fair
- it is possible to invite people from outside the group and ITAQ (future employers, parents and friends)
- the extension is free, since it is integrated into Microsoft Teams (to be able to use it, the Teams administrator of your college simply has to grant access)
Organizing a large-scale event
Organizing a science fair in a very short period of time took me out of my comfort zone. Within weeks, my colleagues and I were sending out invitations to different companies in the agri-food industry and sharing the event within our networks. Graduating students also extended the invitation to their family and friends.
In our program, many students have atypical academic paths. Many are returning to school. This activity has allowed their families to see the fruit of all their efforts. In fact, this remote formula allowed the family of a student to attend her presentation live from Senegal, and see all she has achieved during her studies in Quebec.
Usually, only faculty could attend the final presentations, but in the new version of our event, more than 55 people attended, allowing our 23 graduates to show their skills in front of a larger audience.
Pedagogical interest of the event
The science fair is a chance for our students to put to use the life skills that are essential to their future profession. Many students will be required to communicate information to potential clients, or to man booths at food shows, so this science fair is an opportunity to showcase their ability to popularize and synthesize information.
In 5 minutes, the students had to present their end-of-studies project, on which they had worked during the last year of their training, and validate or invalidate their initial hypotheses.
This activity was formative, but mandatory. Public speaking is already stressful and doing it at a distance, in front of a computer screen, is not natural for many students. In addition, speaking to future employers is also stressful. The program team and I agreed that the activity should be formative so that students would not feel judged and evaluated throughout their presentation.
The science fair turned out to be one of the iterations related to the presentation of the graduation projects, which consisted in the development of a food product:
- Development of the oral presentation and a poster with PowerPoint
- First formative meeting of the students with the teacher supervising their project to discuss their presentation and readjust certain elements as needed
- Submission of the posters in Teams to allow me to make a montage of all the posters in preparation for the science fair
- Preparatory meeting of the students with me so that they could practise their presentation with their poster and tell me when I should zoom in on certain elements of it during their presentation. In addition, this meeting served to introduce them to the event platform and to explain to them how the activity would unfold.
- A 5-minute science fair presentation to future employers, their families, peers, program faculty and 2nd-year students
- Constructive feedback from 2nd-year students
- Development of the final 20-minute summative presentation in which students convey technical information and their research protocol and present their technical report to a team of program faculty.
In the context of the science fair, the goal was for the students to popularize their research project so that everyone would understand it and want to taste the food product they had developed.
Managing a remote event with the “live event” extension of Teams
Our science fair was a great success, but it took a lot of logistics beforehand.
I put all the posters together in one PowerPoint. I could screen share throughout the event as students took turns speaking.
I set the order of the presenters ahead of time. I asked each student to turn on their camera 2 presentations before theirs. This way, as the producer of the live event, I could see the students in the video conferencing platform and turn on their microphone as the event progressed. We were able to avoid downtime.
As an introduction to the event, I prepared a short opening speech that I read on my tablet, which served as my teleprompter. I wanted to make sure I kept to the time limit, as we had 23 presentations. The event lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The platform itself is very easy to use. There is only one button to avoid: the red “End event” button, because if you click on it, you abruptly end the event and expel all participants.
The “live event” extension, as well as being free, has no limit of participants. This allowed us to invite as many people from outside ITAQ as desired. In addition, participants can chat with each other publicly or privately, or ask questions in the “Frequently Asked Questions”. The private chat was useful for me to remind some students to turn on their camera in advance when they forgot.
The whole department quickly jumped into this crazy project and we were able to offer a great showcase to our graduating students and show our 2nd-year students what they would achieve next year.
A 2nd edition of the science fair next year!
Participants, students and faculty alike greatly enjoyed this virtual edition of the science fair. We were able to reach many future employers who might not have come if we had held our event in person.
The department is already working on the 2nd edition of the science fair. We would like to integrate a little more interactivity. For example, why not let the participants vote for their favourite presentation? We are also thinking about the possibility of offering the event in hybrid mode, both in person and remotely.
The department is very proud of its graduating students, who have shown great seriousness and rigour in the realization of their final project and who have brilliantly made ITAQ shine.