This year’s Council of Advisory Boards (CAB) fair, held from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, traded tables sprawled across Healy and Copley Lawns advertising campus organizations for a series of virtual meeting rooms neatly listed on a website.
In order to give students the experience of clicking into a virtual environment with different options, the Center for Student Engagement (CSE) used Shindig, a webinar platform for group conferencing. While students could now experience the fair from their homes, some first-year students and club leaders found new technology awkward to utilize.
Brandon Gottlieb Yepez (MSB ’21), who worked for Shindig throughout the summer, helped the CSE implement the system in preparation for CAB Fair. According to Yepez, the vision of the organizers was to have one leader be logged into each Shindig room as an administrator, with new students or participating club members logged in as attendees. The goal was to allow interested students and club leaders to be able to engage in one-on-one conversations.
“While there may be a presentation or video in an event production atmosphere, we really did not see this as a big need for CAB fair,” Yepez said. “We really thought that what was important and what we were hoping students would get out of CAB Fair is just to socialize with club members.”
To attempt to mimic the on-campus CAB Fair socializing experience, Shindig rooms were structured to allow students to join private video chats up to a maximum of six students, by clicking on the pictures of other participants.
“It’s really based on whether or not you’re shy or you’re outgoing. You see 2,000 people at CAB fair in lines, but if you’re a shy person you might not want to talk to everyone. That’s the same thing that Shindig offers. It doesn’t force anyone in the conversation,” Yepez explained. “But if you’re really outgoing, and you’re really there to socialize and meet new people, all you have to do is simply click on someone else’s image to merge private video chats with them.”
Despite the goal of CAB Fair organizers to encourage social interaction, some first-year students felt confused and restricted when attempting to learn about various clubs through Shindig. While a training was offered for club leaders to use the platform prior to CAB Fair, incoming student Nirvana Khan (SFS ’24) expressed frustration at the platform’s lack of intuitiveness for attendees.
“I liked the actual content when I got to talk to people but I thought it was confusing and I had trouble talking to people one-on-one,” Khan said.
While the goal of Shindig was to allow students to ask club leaders questions, Khan explained that the limited group sizes resulted in a few students talking to club members for the entire time period. Those that were able to talk to club members were added to the group’s “podium” of speakers, while other attendees were unable to meet face to face but submit their questions over chat.
“Also anyone who did get to talk to club leaders were put up on the podium so everyone in the room could see and hear them,” Khan said. “As an incoming student that is pretty intimidating for asking questions.”
According to Khan, some clubs created a Zoom link for their informational sessions, with one leader in the Shindig directing students to the room. Even for larger clubs, the Zoom allowed participants to raise hands to ask questions and allowed everyone equal face-to-face interaction.
“That was a so much better experience because we were all familiar with it and it was much less chaotic.”
Incoming students were not the only CAB Fair participants to struggle with Shindig’s software. One club leader who wished to be anonymous due to his working relationships with CAB Fair organizers and is referred to as Will, explained the system made the welcoming environment of CAB Fair somewhat challenging to replicate.
“The organization I am involved in, what we like about CAB fair is the egalitarian feel about it, you feel like you are on the same level as those running the organization,” he said. “But the presentation podium gave an awkward vibe that counteracted that leveling of the playing field.”
Will explained that while training was offered, some club leaders were not available, and more questions about Shindig arose after CAB Fair began. He believes that offering a greater number of training sessions in the weeks before CAB Fair would have improved everyone’s experience with Shindig. He also criticized the system for its technological weaknesses.
“It was kind of laggy at times and peoples’ videos looked like really old gifs with slowly shifting positions. It did occasionally make things awkward for running conversations,” he said.
CAB Fair organizers such as Yepez worked throughout the four days to resolve technical issues as they arose. Yepez found it frustrating that some club leaders did not come to the training organizers provided for Shindig, and believes the system could have worked better had more leaders attended.
“It was hard to get them [club leaders] to invest in the education that we were trying to provide,” Yepez said. “It is very important to note that Shindig is a totally different experience from Zoom.”
While Will found Shindig challenging to use, he admitted that the circumstances for CAB Fair were far from normal and organizers did the best they could to make Shindig run seamlessly.
“In our circumstances it went as well as it could have. It’s a tricky time we are in and I think everyone is understanding of that.”
Georgetown University Student Association President Nico Ferretti (SFS ’21) also offered criticism of Shindig, despite his appreciation of the hard work that went into organizing this year’s CAB Fair.
“While we are deeply grateful for all the students that took the time out of their lives to work hard and organize CAB fair, we were largely disappointed with the way it played out,” Ferretti wrote in an email to The Voice.
While Ferretti is proud of student organizations for adapting well during the COVID-19 pandemic, he hopes that in the future, well-known platforms such as Zoom will be used for large scale virtual events.
“Shindig may be well-suited to presenting to large groups, but CAB fair is centered around one-one-one questions and conversations, and we found these to be very arduous through Shindig,” he added.