Virtual conference connects occupational therapists across the world for free

Holly Gray - 02 November 2010

Most people wouldn't wear pajamas to a world-wide conference, but some occupational therapy faculty members and students at the University of Alberta did just that.

Anita Hamilton and Susan Burwash, both assistant professors at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, helped plan and host this pajama-optional conference which was held online and lasted 24 hours.

"For some people, going to a World Federation of Occupational Therapists Congress, which they have every four years, would be the equivalent of a year's salary," says Burwash. "We wanted to really say, 'Here's a way to have a conference that you don't have to pay any money to come to because it's free and you don't have to pay any money to get to because it's on your computer. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.'"
The conference allowed occupational therapy practitioners, researchers, and students from around the globe to come together and share knowledge for free during International Occupational Therapy Day on October 27.
The conference was the first of its kind, allowing presenters to speak, share slides, and respond to viewer's comments through Elluminate, a web-conferencing program. The 24 lectures attracted over 1,000 live views from over 30 countries as diverse as Pakistan, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Columbia, to name a few.
Among the presenters were Hamilton and her master's students Judy Lin, Erika Bannert, Sarah Langenhoff and Nicole Anstey. University of Alberta associate professor in occupational therapy Annette Rivard presented her PhD thesis. Sharon Brintnell, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine professor and current president of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, had the honor of wrapping up the day's event as the final speaker.
Planning for the conference started back in June when Hamilton and Burwash teamed up with four occupational therapy professionals: Merrolee Penman in New Zealand, Karen Jacobs in Boston, and Sarah Bodell and Angela Hook in England.
Burwash says they plan on hosting another conference next year, and they anticipate providing lectures in several languages other than English.
Presentations from the conference were saved and can still be viewed on the Online Technology for Occupational Therapy website.
About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.