Thursday, October 7, 2021

ATSA 2021 Conference

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David Prescott, LICSW, & Kasia Uzieblo, PhD

Last week, for the second year, the ATSA annual conference took place virtually. Although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be gradually stabilizing, it continues to surround us and has had a deep impact on conference experiences. Although travel is starting up again, international travel is still challenging, meaning that conference attendance is reduced, particularly for international delegates. The 2021 online platform has evolved from last year’s version: It has become more accessible, with more resources and more presentations. All things considered, the ATSA conference team was able to accomplish much more this year.

Some attendees will note some technology glitches such as occasional sound issues and confusion with surveys. In our view, glitches are part of the conference experience. David, for example, recalled the time a workshop room in a conference was flooded and the day’s sessions had to be relocated. On other occasions, there have been times when a presenter’s microphone would end up connected to the PA system in the next room. Add to that the other logistical challenges that can occur, and the only thing missing was the unanticipated meetings of old and new friends in the hallways of conference venues. As we recently blogged, there are good reasons we look forward to in-person conferences. This was the best alternative possible.

In contrast to last year, all the talks and workshops being captured and made available on-demand as the time difference was a significant challenge for international attendees. The conference had a full day of pre-con sessions on Wednesday with the conference proper happening on Thursday and Friday. There were two plenary addresses (Mark Olver and Michiel de Vries RobbĂ© first, followed by Jill Levenson) and over 72 workshop sessions with over 100 individual presentations, 20 poster presentations, online discussion/interest groups, an exhibition hall, chat lounge, online bookstore, and a virtual hospitality suite. A pre-recorded awards ceremony congratulating the Pre-Doctoral Research Grant Recipients (Emily Calobrisi, Christian Mannfolk, Lee Vargen, Anna Vasaturo), the ASA Fellows (12 in total this year), the distinguished contribution award (Jacqueline Page), and career achievements of Ron Langevin, who (among other achievements) started the journal that became today’s Sexual Abuse.  

The platform was easy to access and navigate, with the on-demand function allowing people to attend as many workshops as possible after the fact, which is particularly relevant for international delegates because of the time difference (for instance, Kieran is based in the UK and eight hours ahead and Kasia is based in Belgium, a full nine hours ahead). Additionally, it means that attendees can view as many workshops as they please, as the on-demand service is available for 30 days after the end of the conference. What follows are some of our individual conference highlights.

David was particularly impressed by the format of the Tuesday members-only plenary address, which featured James Cantor interviewing and interacting with Ainslie Heasman, Craig Harper, and Rob Olver. The discussion was lively, the pace was engaging, and the information would not have been available in any other format.

One of the most obvious highlights was the improved poster presentations and sessions, being able to watch the video footage, view the poster, and have an online Q&A with the authors was brilliant. Attendees felt that they could experience these sessions at their own pace, take them in, and not feel rushed. This is part of the online conference experience that improved upon the in-person version. As such, it begs the question, do we need to adapt the traditional poster sessions?

In sum, ATSA 2021, delivered remotely, was a well-oiled machine that learned from 2020’s experience. The ATSA staff and conference team did a brilliant job of pulling together a successful conference, in an innovative way, that allowed the ATSA family to reconnect in troubling times. Although many of us long to see our international colleagues back, many also indicate that these online editions made attending possible given that they couldn’t afford to travel before. These new attendees beg ATSA to organize another online conference or a hybrid conference. So, as we look to ATSA 2022 we start to think about what that holds, with a preliminary announcement that it will be in person in Los Angeles, but will it all be in person or a hybrid approach? 

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