In spring 2021, the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues is operating under a fully remote environment–a complete shift from how things looked this time last year. Though this has its challenges, there have been surprising benefits that come from working in an online environment.
For Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, the Clarke Forum has been hosting a plethora of events exclusively over Youtube Livestream. Unlike their previous format of live lectures on campus, this new format offers a safe way for students to feel connected with the school and hear from some impressive speakers. Some of the speakers include author Ibram X. Kendi, Clean Air Task Force Director Armond Cohen, and Google engineer Kelsey Hightower. In general, the Clarke Forum has hosted about one event a week.
Mark Aldrich, Executive Director of the Clarke Forum discussed how the Clarke Forum has adjusted since moving to an online format. Though not much has changed from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, the hardest shift was from the spring of 2020 to the fall of 2020. He said that “the pandemic in general has thrown people for a loop, so communication has not been as fluid as it has been in the past.” Additionally, he mentioned the technological difficulties that came from creating YouTube Livestreams, noting that creating Zoom calls and linking them to a YouTube livestream created a large learning curve.
Aldrich said that one positive of the situation is that the “pool of potential speakers is much bigger” because only a laptop is required to be a speaker. Rather than “a three day commitment” that it takes to come to campus, speakers can easily Zoom in for the evening.
Aldrich added that the turnout changes drastically with each event. Some events have large turnouts, while others have much fewer participants. He said that a few things might contribute to this, like factors including Zoom fatigue and limited advertising on campus. Even when turnout is low, the livestreams are permanent on YouTube and they receive a lot of views.
Overall, the Clarke Forum is hoping to be back on a normal format in the Fall, but these last two semesters have been a general success. Though the team that works on the Clarke Forum is small, they work well together to create great events. Aldrich said, “Kim Flinchbaugh and Sara Markowitz are both critically important to our ability to function. We could not do any of this without them. There are also important contributions from many faculty. It’s a team effort.”