Should virtual events stay in the post-COVID world, or should they go?
If there is one good thing that happened during COVID, we learnt to stay connected and effectively interact without being physically in the same room. Technology provided tools and software that we’ve never fully explored before.
In the world of international schooling, CEESA members have always prided themselves on the activities organized for students outside of classroom time to foster their holistic development, and to be part of a larger international circle when students travel for CEESA events. Then COVID made us stop traveling, and the idea of continuing with events in virtual form came up. With the help of modern technology the transition was almost painless. For two years those virtual events became the core of CEESA extracurricular offerings within our region. Finally, we are now able to get out of the COVID bubble that trapped us within our current locations, and begin traveling again. So, is it time to abolish virtual events since COVID is now manageable and return to in-person experiences, or is there merit in virtual formats that we would want to maintain and continue to benefit from?
One can argue that face to face interactions may not be fully replaced by virtual means. There is a relationship aspect developed through in person interactions, which can’t be replicated virtually. The average length of an on-site CEESA event is 4 days, and this is only a short period of time when compared to the educational value of the season of academic preparation for competitions. The relationships developed within teams have a considerably greater lasting effect.
Another aspect of in-person events is the excitement about traveling to a new destination. This is seen as a major “carrot” by many. Yet, while participating in virtual events, many also came to a realization that the heart of the experience remains the showcasing of the skills students work so hard to develop. Participation data showed that there was no decrease in schools’ interest and the numbers of participants in each of the events were similar to the numbers of pre-COVID in-person competitions.
The financial merit of virtual format is obvious. Parents do not pay the cost of airline travel and hotel stay for their students to take part in a virtual competition. The cost of a trip to another CEESA school campus typically ranges between $200 and $1500 per trip, depending on the destination, accommodation type and means of transportation. Collectively, these are hundreds and thousands of dollars saved.Schools organizing virtual events require next to no budget for hosting. They do not need to provide meals for another 50-100 people that will stay for 3-5 days. No tournament paraphernalia, rental of private buses, increase in cleaning and utility expenses, etc.
Another significant benefit is that the staffing load gets shared by all schools participating. When hosting a virtual Speech and Debate this factor by itself makes hosting of the tournament much less of a burden and allows to increase the quality of tournament judging. In previous years the pool of judges was 50% of traveling coaches and the other 50% were from the hosting school; now the load is even. Each participating school provides three Speech and three Debate judges. For the most part, the judges are people with prior Speech and Debate experience. For one school that hosts it would be impossible to provide so many experienced personnel. In short, virtual hosting for Speech and Debate increases the quality of judging.
On the side of participating schools, there is no longer a limit on how many or how few students can participate in certain events. For a larger school, there are opportunities to enter with more students as accommodations are no longer a limiting factor. For smaller schools, even 1-2 students can now enter an event and the school will not have the dilemma of whether to support such a small group or to save resources for a more popular activity. Those small schools, in fact, benefit the most from virtual events. When opportunities become equally available, it’s students from smaller schools that feel the most difference. The world of opportunities becomes their world as well.
Now let’s consider the carbon footprint implications. According to justenergy.com, one flight of 4 hours or less equals 1100 pounds of carbon dioxide per person. A flight of 4 hours and more equals 4400 pounds of carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gasses are the primary contributors to many of today’s environmental issues, including pollution, climate change, and global warming. With virtual events, the opportunity for the CEESA community to make a difference in fighting global warming becomes a reality. It is environmentally responsible to host some events virtually.
And last but not least, virtual events help us to depend less on world politics, natural disasters and pandemics. We can teach and learn. We can collaborate and compete. We can share our feelings and emotions in a safe environment filled with respect, curiosity, courage, integrity and care. All we need is a good spirit and strong WiFi signal. For these reasons and more, we should consider sustaining virtual events for students moving forward.