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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2017

Eye on Psi Chi

Summer 2017 | Volume 21 | Issue 2

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Virtual Events: Networking Without Travelling

Shawn R. Charlton, PhD, and Savannah Cavender
University of Central Arkansas

https://doi.org/10.24839/1092-0803.eye21.2.8

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

Our skills, knowledge, and ability will only take us as far as our professional networks extend. Our networks provide necessary connections to potential employers and colleagues, and give us access to current trends in our profession. Due to the many benefits of having a strong network, networking is one of the Big 3 career skills (knowledge building and gaining experience being the other two).

The Challenge: Alleviating Networking Expenses

For the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Psi Chi Chapter, providing members with sufficient networking opportunities has always been a major challenge. Creating meaningful interactions for our members requires that we get them and those with whom they need to network in the same place, either by us going to them or them coming to us. As going to them or bringing them to us requires travel, networking becomes a substantial investment of time, money, and resources.

For example, consider the challenges of bringing a speaker to UCA’s relatively rural campus. Due to our location, most speakers have to stay overnight. This costs money for travel, lodging, and meals, plus any speaker fees. Expensive! Even local speakers are difficult to coordinate because the travel time requires them to miss a substantial amount of work. Speakers paid based on client contact hours, commission, hourly, or other performance based system are hesitant to give away a large portion of their work day.

In addition to financial cost, traveling takes time. If we hold events during the week, speakers have to miss at least two days of work. These challenges put major constraints on the traditional networking opportunities we can offer our students.

The Solution: Virtual Colloquium Events

Recognizing the importance of networking to professional development, our chapter committed to come up with an “outside the box” solution to our networking problems. The solution we came up with is actually inside the box, if we consider a computer CPU to be a box. Our chapter decided to take advantage of modern technology and host a series of Virtual Colloquium Events. Thanks to webcams and the Internet, we can be in the same room with anyone, anywhere in the world, who has similar access to these technologies.

We launched these virtual events in spring 2016 with two invited professionals: Dr. Cade Charlton from Brigham Young University, and Dr. Stephen Gillaspy at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Although the technology used in each event was similar, the events were designed to provide our members with two different experiences.

Presentations. Our first virtual event was a set presentation of empirical research. Dr. Cade Charlton discussed factors that lead to school success. His presentation was hosted on Google Hangouts. The Google Hangout platform allows PowerPoint presentations to be viewed by the audience through a built-in screen sharing function. This allowed students to easily view the presented data while Dr. Charlton expounded on the significance of the findings.

After the formal presentation, the audience participated in a question and answer session. Dr. Charlton’s event was an excellent demonstration of the use of psychological methods to address real world problems.

Open discussions. Dr. Stephen Gillaspy’s event was an open forum over Skype. Dr. Gillaspy began the event spending a few minutes describing his work as a pediatric clinical psychologist. The remainder of the event was an open discussion. Students engaged in conversation with Dr. Gillaspy as they discussed his work and training. Students learned how flexible the field of psychology can be because his role allows him to conduct research and do business work in addition to his work in the clinic.

Dr. Gillaspy also gave a short preview of what capacity psychologists may serve in the future and what skills will be necessary for students to develop in their undergraduate and graduate studies. Dr. Gillaspy’s event was a wonderful career building opportunity because students were able to interact directly with a psychologist whose work is very different from anything done by the faculty in our department.

Benefits and Obstacles to Consider

Virtual events reduce cost, but do not eliminate it. Although Google Hangouts and Skype are both free services, the hardware can be costly. We used a Logitech BCC950 ConferenceCam for audio and video. This webcam is built specifically for web conferencing. The camera has a built-in microphone that picked up questions asked by students as far as 30 feet from the camera. The camera includes a remote that allows for a facilitator to pan and zoom the image. Both presenters used general webcams connected to their office computers. Previously, we have conducted virtual meetings with officers from other Psi Chi chapters where both groups had basic webcams. The more basic cameras also work, but do not allow for as dynamic a conversation as a dedicated conference webcam.

Our virtual events have focused on a one-on-one exchange, but available software allows for a broader connection. Google Hangouts allows for up to 10 cameras on each conversation. Skype similarly allows for multiple people to join the conversation (as do other free and paid web conferencing programs). Facebook Live and YouTube both allow for live streaming of events. Using these additional resources, it would be possible to do virtual conferences with multiple chapters. A similar concept to these virtual events is the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s (www.teachpsych.org) International Twitter Poster Conference. Instead of a live streaming event, this conference consists of tweets that include graphics of academic posters relevant to the teaching of psychology. Participants from all around the world can view these tweets and engage in dialogs with the virtual presenters.

Although virtual colloquiums save on time and money, and provide excellent networking opportunities, there are a few issues to consider before conducting these events. Web events can be hard to get connected, both electronically and interpersonally. We experienced technical difficulties with getting sound and a good Internet connection at the start of both events. Our activities period is only 50 minutes long, so delays result in a costly loss of networking time. Also, personal virtual connections are not perfect substitutes for face-to-face interactions. During our events, it was difficult to get every student into the camera area and the slight delays in video and audio kept the conversation from flowing naturally. Neither of these problems are insurmountable, but they are considerations that must be addressed during planning and preparation meetings.

Overall, we found the virtual events to be excellent networking and development opportunities for our chapter. Virtual events allow chapters to overcome geographical and financial challenges that often force students to feel disconnected from the larger academic community. The bridges that can be created by virtual events are especially important as Psi Chi continues to expand internationally. We will continue to use Virtual Colloquium as a major part of our chapter programming. Please join us!


Shawn R. Charlton, PhD, earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from Utah State University (2001) and both a master’s of science and doctorate from the University of California, San Diego (2006). He serves as the director of undergraduate studies in the University of Central Arkansas psychology department and as director of the Behavioral and Social Decisions Laboratory. His research interests explore decision making across a variety of contexts. Over the past 2 years, his laboratory has begun studying professional development among psychology majors.

Savannah Cavender is a senior psychology major with plans to graduate in spring 2017. After graduating, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology en route to her doctorate degree. She is assistant lab manager of the Behavioral and Social Decisions Laboratory where she is lead investigator on a project exploring the immunizing effects of gratitude on social ostracism. She is an active member of the University of Central Arkansas Psi Chi Chapter where she is chair of research and awards.

Copyright 2017 (Vol. 21, Iss. 2) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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