Meetings in hybrid format

There are new challenges and problems for international conferences and workshops because of the corona crisis. In order to adapt to the new situation, the MFO has introduced new hygiene measures to make a research stay at Oberwolfach as safe as possible. Concerning international travel restrictions and quarantine rules, please have a look at our general measures concerning the corona crisis.

In accordance with the gradual opening of restrictions in Germany due to the corona crisis, since end of June 2020 the MFO is allowed to host research groups again. The allowed total capacity in person at the MFO can be smaller than in former times and depends on current developments. The new hybrid format (mixed personal/online) can compensate this lack.

Future format of meetings: Although the precise further development of the pandemic remains uncertain with regard to new mutants, we are optimistic that we can progressively move back to our traditional workshop format with emphasis on participation in person during 2022. As initially there will still be invitees who cannot travel due to government restrictions or for strong personal reasons we will retain a small hybrid component of the workshop so that organizers can issue invitations to a restricted number of selected online participants who had to decline the original invitation to the MFO due to the Pandemic. 

Contents:

 

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Participation and capacity

In accordance with the regulations of the German government due to the pandemic, the MFO is allowed to host research groups, workshops and seminars also during the pandemic. The allowed total capacity can be smaller than in pre-pandemic times and depends on current developments and rules (e.g. concerning distancing and hygiene).

As an example, in many weeks 2020-21 the MFO could host about 40 guest researchers in total at the MFO (e.g. 30 workshop participants and 10 persons in our long-term research programs). Sometimes these numbers were even larger - also in some weeks where the pandemic development was strong.

In agreement with the workshop organizers, the MFO realizes workshops in a hybrid format (mixed personal/online): For some of the invited participants of a workshop who cannot come in person, the MFO will provide modern video conferencing tools (Zoom) such that they can actively attend the lectures in the large lecture hall as well as discussion sessions that the organizers and other participants initiate. Remote talks given by online participants are also possible.

The total number of participants in person (I) and online (II) should not exceed 60 in order to maintain the research character of an Oberwolfach Workshop. According to the "Oberwolfach spirit", our emphasis is on participation in person. In 2020-21, most hybrid workshops covered a spectrum of I = 15 - 40 and II = 40 - 15 depending on the current pandemic status and international travel restrictions. In this way cancellations or "fully online" formats of workshops could be almost completely avoided since June 2020.

The new format does not intend to open the workshop online to the general public. As usual for Oberwolfach workshops, the organizers select and suggest international experts in the field who are personally invited by the institute's director. All talks and lectures are restricted to the invited participants and are not authorized for outside users. The mathematical community is informed about the content of all talks in our Oberwolfach Reports which are available open access as pdf on the wokshop's web site about 3 months after a workshop.

Participation in person or online

Currently we ask invited participants some weeks prior to a workshop if they are able to attend the workshop in person or if they wish for online participation. Access information will be sent to the registered online participants in the week prior to the workshop.

Because of ongoing international travel restrictions, in particular for participants coming to the MFO from outside Europe, it was decided to change the deadline for a response to the invitation from 9 months to 6 months in order to give participants more flexibility.

Please inform us prior to the deadline via our electronic registration system on your principal willingness to attend the workshop in person.

As travel restrictions can change quickly, we will ask all invitees about 4 weeks prior to the workshop, who will be able to come in person and who can only attend online. About 2 weeks later we will send out a list of participants (in person and online) and additional information. Those who can only attend online will be informed on the zoom contact information about 1 week prior to the workshop.

The video conference tools can transmit the talks of the speakers (blackboards, including a tablet screen or slides, if these are shown during the talk) and a picture from the audience. In turn, the connected online participants are shown on a screen in the lecture hall such that an active participation in a discussion session is possible.

Optional recording of talks

If the speaker agrees, it is possible to record a talk such that online participants in a different time zone can see the talk later. If all participants agree, it is also possible to record the discussion after a talk. The copyright on the recorded talk (not on the following discussion!) belongs to the respective speaker. The video recordings may be viewed by the registered participants of the workshop. Publication of the videos or transmission to third parties is not permitted. In order to protect the speakers and their copyright, about one week after the workshop the MFO disables the access to the recorded talks.

Practical recommendations/best practices

Based on the experiences of previous hybrid meetings we provide this collection of best practices for organizers and participants.

In particular, as online talks are more exhausting to attend than talks in person, we recommend to restrict the length of all talks to 20-50 minutes. As a courtesy to all participants, online participants should enable their own video picture if possible, but mute their own microphone until a discussion session starts.

Discussion sessions with international online participants are often scheduled to the afternoon because of the time delay (America: local time is 6-9 hours earlier than the local time in Oberwolfach; Asia and Australia: about 5-9 hours later than local time in Oberwolfach). It is also possible to have special "virtual" coffee-breaks with the online participants.

Video Conference Assistants

In order to help the organizers with the new video conferencing activities the MFO funds one or two graduate students or postdocs selected by the organisers as Video Conference Assistant (VCA) - in addition to the "Workshop Reporter" who is in charge for collection the abstracts of talks for the workshop report. The VCAs can serve as an intermediary to our IT and take care for example of zoom-invitations (including the zoom waiting room), notifying schedules and help organizers and participants to hold these sessions. We will contact the organizers about 1-2 weeks prior to the workshop concerning this matter.

Freedom of the organizers

Concerning the scientific structure of the workshop, the organizers will have all freedom to create a program that fits to the mix and the preferences of participants present personally and online - in particular the organizers can choose their own mix of lectures at the MFO, online zoom presentations and discussions for all or in smaller groups.

According to the Oberwolfach tradition, the schedule should allow plenty of time for interaction in small groups or individually. Many organizers and participants rate the intensive discussions as the most important aspect of the MFO.

We hope that the situation will stabilize further such that the possible number of guest researchers at the MFO will increase in future such that most participants can attend workshops in person. The concept of hybrid workshops is flexible enough such that we can quickly react to changes in the restricions defined by the governments.

Technical details on our hard- and software

For each lecture hall, there is a Zoom business license available. The technical set-up in each room includes a total of three interlinked units, each of which is represented in the conference by a zoom client. They include the following technical components:

  1. For the video conference assistant (VCA)
    • 1 x Dell Vostro 5590 notebook
    • 1 x Elgato Stream-Deck-XL (20GAT9901)
  2. For the audience
    • 1 x NUC-Mini-PC (NUC8BEK)
    • 1 x TV Sony 85“
    • 1 x Logitech GROUP videoconference system
    • 1 x media trolley
  3. For the lecturer
    • 1 x Lenovo ThinkCentre M75q Gen2 desktop PC
    • 1 x AOC U27P2 27“ flat screen
    • 1 x Shure MXA 910AL ceiling array microphone
    • 1 x Shure P300 control unit for MXA910AL ceiling array microphone
    • 1 x Aver PTC310U tracking camera
    • 2 x Fohhn LX-150 passive 2-way line source speaker
    • 2 x Fohhn XS-22 active subwoofer
    • 1 x 19” EDV/15 ZB, office cabinet
    • 1 x Netgear GS418TPP network switch
    • 1 x Epson EB-5530U projector
      or 1 x Samsung QE82T 82-Zoll flat screen

How it works:

On all workstations Windows 10 Pro and Zoom is running. The meeting is started and operated via the Zoom client of the VCA. The VCA lets participants join the meeting and records the lectures in the Zoom cloud. With the stream deck the VCA controls the tracking camera in the lecture hall.

The PC for the audience connects to the meeting that the VCA has started via Zoom. The video conference system’s camera records the participants in the lecture hall. The online participants and all other connected clients of the meeting are shown in gallery view on the screen.

The PC of the lecturer also connects to the meeting that the VCA has started via Zoom. The tracking camera, which is connected to the PC of the lecturer, streams the lecture held at the blackboard or the slide presentation in the lecture hall to the online participants. The ceiling microphone, which is also connected to the PC of the lecturer, sends the audio signal of the lecturer or the audience in the lecture hall to the online participants. The questions from the online participants are also played back via the PC of the lecturer. The screen display of the lecturer PC is mirrored either by the ceiling projector or the flat screen for the participants in the lecture hall.