What kind of light is there at the end of the tunnel?

Mary Beard:

But I see some far less desirable outcomes. How many universities (I hope not mine) will discover that online lectures are much cheaper and more “convenient” than the traditional face-to-face versions? And how many will discover that those large lecture buildings have a different, commercial potential? I am all in favour of exploiting online resources in teaching, but no one is going to tell me that face-to-face teaching has no advantage over the remote version. Lecturing and teaching is made special by real-time interaction.

Much the same goes for conferences. I think there is a hell of a lot the matter with some of the big international academic congresses and would be very happy to see some of them go (indeed I doubt I will ever/hope I will never go to another, for various reasons). But the idea that we can really productively thrash out academic issues via Skype, rather than face-to-face, over the seminar table and over the dinner table is impoverishing. Others may be more adept at this technology than I am, but I never found that a crackly Skype connection gets anywhere close to the progress you can make when you actually meet, and get that breakthrough over dinner late at night … 

The crowning example for me was my experience as an assessor for (the very generous) European Research Council awards. I am not sure how these are awarded now (and especially now), but a few years back the international assessors all met in Brussels and went through the applications together. A waste of time and a worrying carbon footprint, you might say. But two or three days together, dawn till late, fostered a communal project and a sense of understanding between the adjudicators that I don’t think it will ever be possible to achieve remotely.