The Background:  National Oceanography Centre UK

National Oceanography Centre or NOC is the world’s renowned oceanographic facility in the UK. Very recently, it became an independent charitable organization. NOC serves the international science community and has the largest marine autonomous facility both in the UK and Europe. They are working on multiple government-funded projects to raise awareness of the issues in the ocean and how to solve them. Additionally, for NOC to continue to make a global impact through ocean research, they encourage public participation and contributions. Moreover, NOC makes sure that publicly funded data is openly accessible to everyone. 

Every year people and organizations around the world recognize World Oceans Day. That day, NOC hosted an event titled: NOC Virtual Open Day 2021 – for the general public where people of all ages are encouraged to participate. The event provides a space for their team of speakers to raise awareness and highlight the issues and a platform for everyone to connect.

Since they only do live events once a year for the public, in 2021 due to COVID-19 they haven’t been able to arrange an in-person event hence they too decided to go virtual like everybody else and chose vFairs as their online event hosting partner. 

National Oceanography Centre UK

The Goal: NOC Virtual Open Day 2021

The main goal of NOC Virtual Open Day was to bring schools, colleges, and universities together on a single digital platform for oceanographic educational talks, discussions, and virtual tours, and to replace in-person open days. Moreover, it offered a space for the NOC team of speakers to share their latest ocean science and technology with students and families across the world. 

The event had multiple sessions and each session was designed to cater to a specific age group. Although the event was open for people up to age 80, “some sections were predominantly for students till the age of 12, whereas other talks were more about colleges and universities.”, says Ian, Events Manager at National Oceanography Centre.

The Problem: To Reach a Global, & More Diverse Audience

In-person events limit event organizers to reach a wider, and diverse set of audiences. Therefore, NOC decided to go virtual this time around to host their NOC Open Day 2021. According to Ian, “When we were doing personal events we were pretty aware that we are restricted predominantly to UK visitors and probably within a 50-70 mile radius.” The idea this time around was to, “see how that spread will be affected but also to see the impact of going virtual and promoting virtual … we hoped for some international interaction, and raised our expectations,” Ian added. 

Why vFairs? 

National Oceanography Centre has hosted two of their events with vFairs so far. Last year it was a commercial industry event. Because they have had an amazing experience with vFairs before, they chose to use vFairs this time again to host NOC Virtual Open Day 2021: World Oceans Day. 

“One of the reasons we really liked that we used vFairs last year in November for our commercial industry event was the gamification technology. As you see youngsters are very engaged with the digital screens nowadays — they are far more involved than probably their grandparents would be, they are intelligent people to use this kind of technology, it’s so intuitive for them. It helped spread our outreach from that point of view.” says Ian, “Last time was particularly great, but this one it was very different,” he also added. 

Highlighting Some Important Features

1.1 Live & on-demand Sessions

NOC implemented the combination of both live and on-demand sessions which featured talks from the panel of ocean experts on climate change, innovative ocean tech, how they explore extreme environments in the ocean, and plastic pollution. The sessions were followed by a live Q&A session where students engaged with industry experts on the themes from ‘Science at Sea’ to ‘Ocean Robots’. 

National Oceanography Centre UK

Ian said, “Due to virtual events — this year’s reach has been so much wider. On-demand events are still available. Plus, we have got schools in the UK, India, Singapore et al and because of the time difference on demand is really helping us.” 

1.2 Virtual Tour

They also arranged a live guided virtual tour of two of their royal research ships — the RRS James Cook and the RRS Discovery between the scheduled talks. The virtual tours offered the most immersive experience to young participants. 

1.3 Exhibit Booths

National Oceanography Centre UK

Virtual booths were set up for prospective students and to inspire the next generation of marine scientists with a variety of downloadable content. Attendees visited the inspiring future exhibits to see what career paths the speakers have been on, from international degrees to apprenticeships. Students also engaged with scientists and engineers — asking questions about their education, qualifications, life at sea, and career experiences.

1.4 Scavenger Hunt

NOC also used vFairs gamification feature to arrange activities like a scavenger hunt. It not only increased the audience engagement especially youngsters but also enhanced satisfaction and promoted networking opportunities.

1.5 Chatrooms

Initially, they did not expect any potential benefit of having chat rooms but to their surprise, it turned out to be a great success. “Scientists and students reached out to each other through chat rooms, it was a nice-to-have function, we were glad we had it but we weren’t expecting it to be crazy busy,” commented Ian. 

The Spotlight: Seamless Setup & Navigation

vFairs provided all the essential tools to National Oceanography Centre for planning the event, driving registrations, and engagement. Additionally, it was easily navigable for attendees of all ages. Plus the ample customization options allowed them to set it up however they wanted. NOC really loved the flexibility of the platform, all in all.

“From my point of view, obviously I spent most of my life running live events but having a virtual system that is quite logical… and makes it much easier to navigate — certainly when you are doing lots of videos and that kind of thing, it’s great that it works, that’s it for me,” says Ian

NOC UK

When asked if they faced any challenges with the system or during the event, Ian said, “Project management was actually brilliant, we had no challenges.” Also, he loved the fact that the project manager quickly responded to any last-minute changes and the way he offered alternative options to demands was commendable

Key Takeaways from NOC Open Day 2021

For them the highlight is that they have used the vFairs platform twice now for two different audiences i.e. business industries and educational institutions and got great engagement metrics and results from those audiences. They found the platform to be very intuitive, for all ages and genders.

Since National Oceanography Centre is an environmental research facility, it has always been in their plans to start hosting events through virtual platforms from 2021 onwards but that changed very quickly because due to the pandemic everything went virtual anyway. 

They are excited to host virtual streams moving forward. Moreover, initially, their scientists believed in face-to-face meetings but ever since their first virtual event, their attitude changed, mentioned Ian. 

Moreover, from an environmental point of view, “virtual is here to stay because travel is no longer necessary for scientists from all around the world to participate”, “Also virtual events promote work-life balance and that’s something a lot of people we interact with really appreciate,” commented Ian. Last but not the least, he said, “Ocean day worked better with virtual events and we will definitely consider that for next year.”

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