Virtual conferences, social media, and EdTech
Technology in education has transformed over time to better meet the needs of teachers and students. Dan Marrable, founder of 448 Studio in the United Kingdom talks how they’re jumping on this wave of technology to bring solutions for academic conferences and virtual events.
I met Dan back in 2020 when he invited me to speak at the All Day All Night 24 hour conference. It was a production to behold. Well managed, well organized. Speakers from all over the world joined in to share knowledge for Higher Education professionals. I’ve been on the steering committee ever since for this great online event.
In this interview, Dan Marrable opens up about some of the struggles professors have with virtual events (event organizers, speakers, and attendees). And, he asks for your help with their virtual teaching study funded by the Scottish Government and European Commission.
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Meet Dan Marrable
Jennifer: Hi everyone. My name is Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome back to the new season of The Social Academic. Today, I’m here with Dan Marrable, the founder of 448 Studio, who is an amazing person I met in 2020. We worked together on the All Day All Night Conference.
He’s here to tell you about some ed tech software today that’s really amazing for faculty, for professors. If you’re in Higher Ed, I’m excited to share this interview with you.
Dan, how are you today? Would you start us off by introducing yourself?
Dan: Sure. Well, first of all, Jennifer, thanks for having me on the podcast.
My name is Dan Marrable. I’m the founder and CEO of a company called 448 Studio, launched back in October 2018. After working a stint at the University of Glasgow, I launched it as a consultancy to, to work with a variety of different higher education institutions working on their social media strategy, working on the support for digital media within academia.
That’s been going on for the past 3 years. It’s been quite an interesting time.
Obviously everyone knows that the past 2 years a lot of things had to pivot and change. And I think that’s kind of why I’m really excited to speak to you today about the evolution of not only 448 Studio, but kind of how we managed to jump on that wave of technology in teaching and learning. And what education institutions have had to cope with and deal with them the past couple of years [during the pandemic].
Technology changes for education during the pandemic
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s been increasingly difficult for faculty, but I love that you’re creating solutions for them. I’d really like to just let other people know, you know, what does your company do? Who are you helping and why?
Dan: Yeah. So primarily at the moment, we are very much embedded within higher education.
We have done some work with further ed, and with schools and things like that. That’s kind of more on the horizon. But I think for the company to grow, we’ve had to really focus on what I know. And what the people that worked for me know. And that is within universities.
Primarily we help not only academics, but also people within professional services.
It started out as you know, as workshops and support for social media and working with academics to represent their research in a digestible manner for widening participation as well as for international connections. And we still do that. And it’s still very much the core of 448 Studio.
But two years ago, when everything went into lockdown, we launched a conference called All Day All Night, which is where I met you. That was for education professionals and academics based off the fact that I felt that the core of what we did and the core of networking and knowledge share had almost been stunted as soon as all these conferences closed. And as soon as you couldn’t meet people in person. So we launched this 24 hour conference.
That’s what started me on that journey of saying, okay, well what can we do? And what can we do better? Specifically for education. Now there’s a lot of solutions for private companies and for corporations. But it does seem like at the moment we’re trying to kind of cram corporate technology into education. And trying to kind of balance the two, which I find is working in various degrees, but not necessarily the most fit-for-purpose thing.
Jennifer: It feels like we’re at this explosion of all of this technology all at once. People aren’t always sure where to turn to. And with so much to learn it just becomes difficult because you’re finding lots of solutions for the same problem, not even sure which one to turn to.
Forumm, a solution for virtual events and conferences
Jennifer: I think that’s why I like what you’re doing with Forumm. Can you tell us a little bit about Forumm?
Dan: Yeah. No, of course. So off the back of All Day All Night I met with some of the guys that were doing the live streaming for it. And very quickly realized that there’s kind of two elements to a virtual event. One is a platform that you host the event on. But a very separate element that a lot of people overlook is a broadcast element of it. So I think we had the broadcast…
The platform that we were using wasn’t necessarily fit-for-purpose. It worked fine, but we just felt that maybe we could do a little bit better from an actual event perspective.
As of last year, January, we started Forumm, which is a virtual event space for the education sector. So something that’s fully customizable.
You’re able to change things like the registration and the user journey. Been able to update simple things like branding and stuff like that.
But also have elements, for example, PDF readers or PDF things for journals. We had academic poster competition within the platform. And 3D and virtual spaces as well, embedded in.
So it’s really focusing on the technology and seeing where the technology can make a virtual event better, as opposed to trying to replicate a physical event virtually.
It’s really trying to find those core things that people within education struggle with and try to find a solution for them on a virtual event in space.
It’s been quite a journey. Yeah. We’ve been doing it for a year and a half and learning as we go. We get so much feedback from the institutions and the people that we work with that it’s great. It really feels like a partnership there. They know that we’re dedicated to the sector which I think makes a big difference as opposed to going for everything.
Jennifer: That does make a big difference, especially because it means that you know the types of struggles that professors, that faculty, that other educators are dealing with when they attend virtual conferences. You’re finding solutions to those.
One of the things that I really like about it is that it’s the kind of this all in one platform. Like if you need that conference space to fit a certain way or to fit your needs. Maybe you’re a journal and you have a series of publications to share. Or again, like that poster competition.
Jennifer: That can make a really big difference in higher education for researchers and for professors to really create that engaging space. I love that.
Dan: Yeah, no. I think it’s been a real learning experience, Jennifer. And I think the big thing that’s come out of it is how much professional services within universities find it a challenge to run events.
It’s either the fact that you know, that they need a bit of upskilling, which we’re happy to do.
It could be a case that, you know, they’ve got a million and 1 different jobs. And all of a sudden they’re like, okay, now I’ve got to run a virtual event.
Where I think we’ve been able to support that. Show that and set and support where we’ll come alongside you help you
- Plan the event
- Build the platform
- Run it
- Broadcast it
So then that’s where we’ve realized we can really provide a lot of support because when you do boil it down to an event platform, they are starting to pop up everywhere. And they do seem a dime a dozen at the moment. But a lot of times it’s just, you know, “Here are the tools,” and they’ll just step away.
Dan: And then everyone has to become a professional virtual event individual, whereas maybe they’re doing physical events to begin with and now they have to switch over.
Then obviously now, we can go down that hybrid route, which means so many things to so many different people. That’s that’s another challenge.
I think one of the vast refreshing things that I have seen is the fact that we’re not constrained by geolocation anymore. We’re not restrained by how much is it going to take to fly someone over and put them up and speak?
And, I think it also broadened your access to knowledge because you would get speakers that are like, “Sure, I can give you half an hour, 45 minutes of a talk.” Whereas before it would be a major thing saying to bring someone like that in.
I mean, we’ve had events hosted by hosts in Sydney, in Australia, with the actual event taking place in the United Kingdom. They’ll have the event. Then they’ll go into breakout rooms, which need to be recorded with transcripts done because it influences policy decisions.
That was amazing to see, you know, somebody’s hosting it in a completely different time zone, but still being able to, you know, gain the knowledge that they need from individuals within the UK. I think it’s just opening up that space right now.
Jennifer: And with the All Day All Night Conference, you had people coming in from all over the world. And we had presenters in how many different countries? I mean, it was truly amazing to see the power of that kind of platform and that kind of organization.
So it sounds like it’s not just the platform that you’ve created. It’s the system for really supporting the people who are creating that virtual event. So that together with the platform, it can really produce something that’s engaging for all of the participants.
Dan: Yeah. I think that, and that’s just the whole thing as well, Jennifer.
Obviously we would love everyone to use our platform. But some people, you know, they’ve got their own things set up. Maybe they’ve actually developed their own space within university, the university team on the website. Which I think is great. It’s truly ambitious.
And obviously our platform is great, but I think where we’re really leaning to as well is that support mechanism to help people manage and run the events that they need to run.
And I think it does fit hand in hand with what we’re doing as a consultancy at the very beginning and being embedded within higher education. Now we’re continuing that, but then we’re adding on more layers of support where people need it.
Jennifer: Yeah. Well, I like it because it’s almost like the software production of this idea of how can people connect better online? How can people share their research online?
And this product is almost, it feels to me like this evolution of like here we can create this space in which this knowledge sharing can happen in real time. Asynchronously, it can happen. You can have your recordings and go back later and watch those as well. I just think that that’s so cool.
Compared to all of those other platforms for events. You’re actually focused on education in a way that many of the others are not. And I think that stands you apart, especially when paired with that support.
That’s what I would do. I did events like physical events for my university. And I loved that.
But virtual events presents is like whole new set of challenges. And really getting people engaged. Well, that takes extra planning and extra work and creativity to figure out how these academic spaces can also be online.
Dan: Yeah, and I think the physical event in my opinion can, can never really be replaced. I think there is a space for that. Nothing really compares to just being able to sit in a room with someone and just share knowledge and share information and talk about specific tailored topics and things like that based off of conferences.
But, I think in its own right, a virtual event needs to be looked at with different eyes. Trying to run a virtual event the way you would run a physical event is almost impossible.
Yes, there’s probably some crossover in terms of registration. There’s probably some crossover in terms of some of the communication that you send out to people.
But when it actually comes to the event itself, you know, having to organize different broadcasts of things, different tracks. The support that comes alongside of it as well from a technical perspective, when people aren’t able to log in or having trouble doing different things.
And then dealing with your speakers as well. You know, making sure that they’re up to speed on the technology, making sure everything’s running.
So there’s a lot of things from a virtual event in space that people have had to learn quite quickly.
Where we’re talking about the hybrid space, it’s such a broad term. I’m hoping that people are understanding that, you know, a hybrid isn’t just trying to replicate a physical event to virtual audience. Because I’ve found time and time again one of the audiences loses out.
Whether it’s the virtual guys at home where they don’t feel like they’re part of the event. Or maybe the people in person feel like too many things are catered towards making sure the live streaming is happening, everything’s working properly. So that could even cause delays in, in the event.
So I think it’s still just trying to crack that kind of where those two types of events interact with each other. And I think our platform where we’re trying our hardest to try and figure that out. And I think a lot of other people are trying to figure it out too. But yeah. It’s quite an interesting space to be involved in and to watch.
Jennifer: That’s fascinating.
Struggles with virtual events, the problems people encounter often
Can I ask what are some of the biggest struggles that you’re seeing people have with these virtual events? The educators that you work with.
Dan: I think it depends on the question I guess, Jennifer. I think that the struggles are different for an event organizer, as opposed to a participant, as opposed to maybe a speaker.
Jennifer: Oooh, ok.
Dan: I think from an event organizer point of view. Yes, there’s a lot of technical challenges that need to happen. In terms of making sure everyone’s prepared for the event, making sure speakers are ready, making sure all the right communications are going out to the attendees. Not to mention having to promote it and things like that.
But I think the challenges for people that are speaking is the fact that without maybe more of a guiding hand, sometimes they’ll just have to show up and do everything themselves. I think that can be a huge challenge and a bit frustrating from a technical point of view.
Dan: I think there’s a bit of a barrier as well from the audience. And I think this is something that people have been seeing for the past couple of years, you know, from a webinar perspective. Not necessarily getting that instantaneous feedback. So you’re almost just sitting there talking to a screen and trying to be animated for it.
I think from an attendee point of view, some of the challenges are again from the technical side. Being able to even just simple things like log in, and network, and connect.
But also to be able to get as much out of it as possible from a networking point of view. I think a lot of people go to these events or virtual events hoping to make those connections. But we find time and time again, you know, you have your breakout rooms that people can join. But they’re really under utilized. People are scared to go into these spaces and just turn their camera on and talk to people.
We’ve been advising event organizers to really structure those breakout spaces and say, this is a topic. One of our guys will be in there and we’ll make sure that everything’s fine. And trying to facilitate that networking.
I think, yeah, as soon as they try to replicate a physical event, virtually it shows up a whole lot of challenges for organizers.
So I think their approach should be: We’re going to focus on a virtual or focus on a physical event with maybe some virtual elements to it.
Jennifer: Oh, that makes sense. Hearing all of those struggles also makes me understand why as an event organizer, you know, really thinking about the participants and the speakers is why going with something with support like 448 Studio offers, that can be beneficial.
Educators, university staff. They’re so busy. They’re overworked. And they need help and support with this kind of event. So I just love what you’re bringing to the table. And I’m really glad that you joined me for today’s interview.
Developing a new teaching and learning tool for lecturers
Dan: One of our core focuses over the next nine months because we received a grant from the European Commission to actually do a feasibility study.
Jennifer: Oh, congratulations!
Dan: Thank you. Yeah, it was about a year long process that gets it. But I think we realized quite quickly during the pandemic that the traditional tools that were being used by universities had pretty big barriers when it came to actually teaching.
So I guess aside from the event side of things and conferences side, I think, you know, university students and lecturers were really struggling.
I do commend all of the Higher Ed institutions, and further education, and schools as well for trying to utilize the tools that were given to them. And it ends up being, you know, the Teams or Zoom or something like that, where they really had to completely change the curriculum and the way that they taught to adapt to these tools.
Dan: We’re really focusing a lot over the next 9 months on understanding that learning and teaching process, that hybrid learning teaching process. And hopefully trying to develop a tool specifically for lecturers.
At the moment we’re doing a lot of sending out surveys to different academics and lecturers to find out where their pain points are. And we’ll hopefully have something to show for it,
I just think there’s quite an interesting time from a learning and teaching perspective. And yeah, just seeing if there’s better ways for tools.
Obviously, I think there’s overlap between learning a teaching platform and Forumm. But learning teaching is really is kind of its own space. It needs its own tools as well.
Jennifer: Yeah, I think that’s fascinating.
How are you soliciting those surveys? Do you want people who are listening to, to reach out to you?
Dan: Yeah, of course I would! I’d love to. I’ll send it across to you to share.
Dan: We’re definitely trying to get as much feedback as possible. We just kind of polished it up as of actually today. So we’ll hopefully in the next week or so we’ll be putting it out.
Jennifer: Yay! [Claps.]
Dan: Yeah, no, I think finding as much information as possible is really key for us at the moment. And then we’ll be developing something closer to the end of the year.
We’re really excited about it and really grateful to the European Commission and Scottish government as well for supporting us on this. It’ll be quite an interesting journey as well.
Jennifer: That is excellent. I love seeing how your business is growing, and changing, and adapting to meet the needs of the people that you serve.
I’m so glad that you’re working on all of that. And congratulations on that grant. That is so exciting. I can’t wait to see what you build.
Dan: Thanks. I know. I think it’ll be quite interesting because I think we’re definitely embracing the flexibility of it. I think, you know, going in with blinders on to say we’re going to create a live streaming that does X, Y, and Z that’s going to do this will be detrimental.
I think trying to find as much out as possible from lecturers and from people on the ground is really important.
And really exploiting technology as opposed to trying to replicate things. Getting that application to do things with the tech that you could never do in person. I think that’s what I really want to explore. As opposed to trying to find a way to replicate things.
So, yeah. It’s been a really interesting. We’re in the real thick of it for research at the moment. So it’ll be really interesting. I’ll make sure to keep being informed when we start to release some of the information.
Jennifer: Yes, I’d love to hear more about it. And I think that everyone listening will be very excited as well.
Yeah. Thanks for sharing that sneak peek with us. [Laughs.]
All Day All Night Conference
Jennifer: Well, Dan Marrable of 448 Studio, thank you so much for coming on The Social Academic blog podcast, YouTube channel. It’s going to be on all of it.
Where can people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about 448 Studio or Forumm?
We also have All Day All Night coming up on November 10, 2022. So we’ll, we’ll be sending more information out about that as well. Which I’m very sure you’ll be involved in some capacity, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Yes. I would love to be involved!
Just for everyone who’s listening. They might not know what All Day All Night is. So could you just end us with a couple of sentences about it?
Dan: Yeah, of course. So it’s a conference for the education sector. This year steam is regrowth. It’s a 24 hour virtual conference that starts in the United Kingdom. And then follows the sun around the world with speakers from Canada, United States, Australia, South Africa. Well, people from all over the place, I think.
It’s fully live, 24 hours. And again, it’s hosted on Forumm.
It really is out there for them for digital knowledge sharing. And I think it’ll be a really great event on the 10th of November.
Jennifer: I love it. November 10th, adding it to my calendar now.
Dan, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you have a great rest of your day!
Dan: Great. Thanks, Jennifer!
Bio for Dan Marrable
Dan Mararable is the founder of 448 Studio, an EdTech company that is committed to the future of knowledge sharing with a product called Forumm; a ground-breaking virtual event platform designed for the education sector.
The company supports institutions such as the University of Glasgow, University of Leeds, LSE, Lancaster University, the Welsh Parliament and Cornell University.
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.
Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com