Online workshops cannot hope to match the experience of an in-person AIM-style workshop. But given the likelihood that COVID-19 will disrupt the research endeavor for a long time, AIM felt the need to develop an approach that could serve as a reasonable substitute until direct meetings become possible again.
Our measure of success for all AIM-style workshops is the same: participants should begin work on new problems, with new collaborators, and the work should continue long after the week of the workshop. This goal is facilitated by significant time for work in small groups, supported by a few lectures and large group discussions.
The format and schedule of an online workshop must take into account the realities of time zones, people's unavoidable commitments, the variety of technology and experience using that technology, and the fact that certain activities, like hanging out at happy hour, are beyond current technology.
We have begun the process of developing productive and enjoyable online workshops. Much like the AIM-style workshops which were created through an iterative process involving experimentation, evaluation, and iteration, the online AIM-style workshops will continually improve over time.
After a while the Sococo space starts to seem like a real place. Sitting in your office feels different than being with a few other people in a breakout room, or being with a larger number of people in the lecture room.
Sococo provides the infrastructure for keeping track of people and activities. Typically it is other tools that are used in the course of doing work.
Other notable tools we use are Zulip, a threaded group chat platform which is particularly helpful for organizing collaborative work that is taking place asynchronously, and Gather.town, a video-game-like interface that simulates being at a large party where you can see who is there, but you can only talk with the people in your immediate vicinity.
Virtual collaboration for groups of any size
AIM also uses Sococo for smaller collaborations, such as SQuaREs,
and larger collaborations, such as AIM Research Communities.