Going Virtual! What we learned from the EFI-RCN Virtual Workshop

Date: May 21, 2020

Post by: Jody Peters1 and Quinn Thomas2

1 University of Notre Dame, 2Virginia Tech

On May 12 and 13 our NSF-funded EFI Research Coordination Network (RCN) hosted a virtual workshop, “Ecological Forecasting Initiative 2020: Coordinating the NEON-enabled forecasting challenge”. This workshop replaced the three day in-person workshop that was scheduled at the same time, but which was canceled due to COVID-19.  Going virtual allowed us to increase our participation and diversity. We were originally space-limited to 65 in-person participants, but with our virtual meeting, we had a little over 200 people register to access the workshop materials, with 150 individuals consistently joining on Day 1 and 110 individuals who consistently participated on Day 2.  We also welcomed participants from around the globe with almost 10% of participants calling in from outside the U.S. And instead of being limited to 15 graduate student participants, we ended up with over 50 graduate students who participated in the meeting.  While EFI has been using Zoom from the beginning and the EFI-RCN leadership committee members are constantly on Zoom for calls and online courses, this was a much larger gathering than any of us had organized previously.  To help others as their workshops are embracing the virtual format,  we reflected on the key elements that allowed the workshop logistics and technology flow smoothly. We hope you find our tips useful! If you have any additional questions feel free to reach out to us at eco4cast.initiative@gmail.com.

Thanks to Dave Klinges (University of Florida) who captured these screenshots of 6 screens of Zoom boxes.

Prepping for the Meeting

  1. Get input from many perspectives. There are a number of great suggestions online about hosting virtual workshops.  To prepare for the virtual format, multiple leadership committee members took a free 1 hr class on running virtual scientific meetings. You can find the video and slides from the class here https://knowinnovation.com/2020/03/you-too-can-go-virtual/. Alycia Crall from NEON was hugely helpful with ideas like QUBES and Poll Everywhere. Lauren Swanson from Poll Everywhere provided a tutorial on how to use the different features of Poll Everywhere and helped us to test the polls before the workshop.  Julie Vecchio, from the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship for the Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame, shared an example slide deck and script for sharing virtual logistics at the beginning of a workshop.  And Google was a great resource for finding additional input along the way.
  2. Scale your goals to the format and your objectives.  Our goal for the original in-person meeting was to finalize rules for the NEON Forecasting Challenge but we knew that this was not possible virtually.  However, the virtual meeting allowed us to have more people and more perspectives for idea generation.  Therefore, our goals shifted to brainstorming so that we could leverage perspectives from the diverse attendees.  We now have a ton of work to do synthesizing the input but we have a better pulse of what the community is interested in.  Recognizing the challenge of engaging attendees virtually over long periods of time, we reduced the original 3-day in person meeting to a 2-day meeting with a schedule that was conducive to participants from east to west coasts of the U.S.
  3. Virtual meetings require as much or more prep than in-person meetings.  Be prepared for a lot of planning before the meeting.  

General Meeting Set-up

  1. Don’t go all day.  Our first day was 6 hours and the second day was only 4 hours and the hours were set to accommodate people from the U.S. east and west coast time zones. Unfortunately, there is no good time for all global participants, but we were thrilled to see so many participants who woke up early or stayed up late to join us from outside the U.S.
  2. Incorporate plenty of breaks.  Virtual meetings are more tiring than in-person meetings. We had two longer 30-minute breaks that corresponded to lunch-times on the U.S. east and west coasts as well as shorter 15-minute breaks spread throughout both days.
  3. Have a production manager for the meeting. This person focuses on set up and running the technical logistics. For example, this person stays in the main room during breakouts to provide assistance and oversee the timing of activities. Having a production manager allows the meeting lead (i.e., project Principal Investigator) to be the M.C. of the meeting and do real time synthesis of the ideas without having to worry about meeting logistics.
  4. Create a minute-by-minute script for the entire meeting.  This includes both the public Agenda and the behind the scenes tasks.  For example, we wrote out the messages that would be sent through Zoom Chat/Breakout messaging with the time that each message would be sent. You should be able to articulate in writing what is going to happen at every moment of the meeting before the meeting starts and assign who is going to do each task.
  5. Pre-record talks and add edited closed captioning.  This prevents issues that come with live talks like bad mics or bad connections.  This also keeps the meeting on schedule and avoids the awkward need to cut someone off.  We felt the talks were better because they were pre-recorded and, for the talks that presenters agreed to share, we now have an excellent resource for folks that missed the meeting.  The pre-recorded talks may require editing, so find someone with resources and time to make edits prior to the meeting. We made playlists for each plenary session available as unlisted videos on YouTube for any workshop participant that had connection issues while the videos were being played.
  6. Be prepared to pay for a closed captioning service so that the meeting is accessible.  In the registration form for the meeting, ask if anyone needs CC and if they do, hire a service. We were able to find a service through our university (Virginia Tech) vendor system that worked well (www.ACSCaptions.com). The production manager moved the captioner to be in the same Breakout as those that requested the service.  CC is also nice, because you get the full record of text right after the meeting, instead of waiting for the Zoom transcript to come through, plus the captioner’s transcription is better than the automatic Zoom transcript.  
  7. Use hardwired internet.  Our production manager/meeting host used a computer that was connected to the internet via a wire – this will reduce the chance that the central person loses connection.
  8. Plan for leadership team meetings during the workshop. The leadership committee met for 1 hour before and 30 minutes after the meeting each day to go over last minute logistics and any adjustments that were needed. Set up a separate Zoom meeting for these calls to avoid participants joining at times when you are not prepared for them.
Welcome to Zoom
  1. Zoom worked great.  While we know that there are other conferencing platforms, we used Zoom Meeting with a 300 person limit, hosted through the University of Notre Dame.  We chose Zoom Meeting over Zoom Webinar, because we wanted the ability for workshop participants to interact during breakouts. Plus it was provided by the University, and did not require the additional set-up or payment that Zoom Webinar required. It worked very well. There were some individuals that could not access Zoom. Therefore, we also streamed the workshop from Zoom to YouTube and shared the YouTube live link with individuals in our group who had registered for the workshop materials. 
  2. But Zoom can break communication lines among the host and leadership committee. Have an off Zoom and off computer way for the leadership team to communicate throughout the meeting (like text messaging to phones).  It is important to turn off notifications on the host/co-hosts computer due to screen sharing and sounds, but that can leave the production manager or leadership team flying blind unless there is an alternative way to communicate.  Leadership committee members that are in Breakout Rooms are unable to message the host in Zoom.  
  3. Assign leadership committee members as co-hosts. Assign all leadership members as co-hosts and have them mute people who are not talking but have background sounds. Leadership members can also help with spotlighting the speakers and can also move from breakout room to breakout room if needed to check on how things are going.
  4. Give a brief Zoom training at the beginning.  At the beginning of the workshop, use a slide deck (and a written out script to go with it) to introduce all the features of Zoom you want people to use. While many of us use Zoom regularly, not everyone is on Zoom all the time, and it is important that these folks feel comfortable so they can fully participate.  
  5. Play videos directly from the production manager/meeting host’s computer. Make sure the videos are downloaded onto your computer hard drive and play them from there. We used a playlist that automatically advances to the next video.  In Zoom’s screen share settings, make sure to click both the “Share computer sound” and “Optimize Screen Sharing for Video Clip” options.  Do not play videos in Zoom from YouTube to avoid the video having to be played over multiple web services.

Zoom Breakout Rooms

  1. Keep Breakout Rooms small. To make the meeting feel smaller we only had a max of 9 people per breakout room.  Using random sorting, as we did on Day 1, was a great way to meet different people throughout the group.  We built in time for introductions during the breakouts because one of our goals was community building
  2. Clear and easy to find Breakout instructions. Have specific and easy to find instructions for each Breakout session.  If possible try to spread the leadership team among different Breakout Rooms. In practice, this is hard because the production manager has to find them in the list of random Breakout Rooms and reassign (but see point 4 below and have the leadership members rename themselves).  In reality, specific instructions that aren’t too complex will allow Breakout Rooms to work fine without a member of the leadership team.  Our instructions were located in an easy to find place on the meeting website.
  3. Prepare for providing assistance getting into Breakout Rooms. Some people may not see their notification to join a Breakout Room pop up, so the production manager may need to walk them through that. Include a screenshot in the introductory Zoom instructions of what the Breakout Room assignment notification looks like so people know where to look. 
  4. Give extra time if using manually assigned (non-random) Breakout Rooms.  Manually sorting Breakout Rooms takes longer to organize so be sure to include the sorting time in your plans. The assigning and sorting can be done at any time during the plenary, it does not need to happen right before the Breakout Rooms open.  Use the renaming feature of Zoom to ease the sorting.  If everyone changes their Zoom name (under the Participants tab) to start with their group name or number (e.g., A1 Jody) it is much much easier for the production manager to sort. 
  5. Create extra Breakout Rooms.  When setting up the manually sorted Breakout Rooms, create additional rooms that may stay empty. There may be groups that want to breakout further and if you did not create an extra room when you set up the manually sorted rooms, these additional rooms cannot be added after the rooms are opened.
  6. Character limits for messages to Breakout Rooms.  There is a character limit for the messages that can be sent to the Breakout Rooms, so keep them short.  
  7. Breakout Rooms are unable to communicate with the production manager. When individuals are in the Breakout Rooms, they cannot use the Zoom Chat to communicate with the production manager in the main room or anyone else in the workshop who is in another Breakout Room. This is important to mention in the introductory Zoom instructions. 

Communication throughout the Workshop: Poll Everywhere and QUBES

  1. Create a means for engagement.  It is important for attendees to feel like they are involved so that the workshop isn’t a one-way delivery of information.  We used an educational account of Poll Everywhere through the University of Notre Dame to help promote participation throughout the workshop in multiple ways, including brainstorming ideas with word clouds, submitting questions and voting on priority questions for panel members, and brainstormed priorities that also could be voted on.
  2. Define use of communication tools.  Use the Zoom Chat for logistics and supplemental information and Poll Everywhere for Q&A.  That way questions on science do not get lost in questions about links or timing etc. We also were able to download all the questions for the panelists to get their feedback on any questions that we did not have time for during the Q&A sessions. We will share this feedback with the workshop participants in the next month.
  3. Centralize meeting materials.  We used QUBES as a platform to organize and share materials easily in a centralized location.  The EFI-RCN QUBES site worked well because it was free (thanks NSF and Hewlett Foundation), easy to set up, and we were able to include links to videos, surveys, Zoom login, google documents, papers, etc. all in one place.  

EFI at AGU 2019

Date: December 6, 2019

EFI’s oral and poster sessions on “Ecological Forecasting in the Earth System” have been scheduled for Wednesday, December 11, 2019 from 4-6pm in Moscone 3001 (oral session) and on Wednesday morning from 8am-12:20pm(posters). We’re excited to have a great set of speakers that really span the full gradient from terrestrial to freshwater to marine. Come check out the following talks!

Wednesday EFI Oral Session (4-6pm, Moscone 3001)

16:00 Nicole Lovenduski – High predictability of terrestrial carbon fluxes from an initialized decadal prediction system
16:15 Ben Bond-Lamberty – Linking field, model, and remote sensing methods to understand when tree mortality breaks the forest carbon cycle
16:30 Zoey Werbin – Forecasting the Soil Microbiome
16:45 Brian Enquist – Forecasting future global biodiversity: Predicting current and future global plant distributions, community structure, and ecosystem function
17:00 Heather Welch – Managing the ocean in real-time: Ecological forecasts for dynamic management
17:15 Clarissa Anderson – Bringing new life to harmful algal bloom prediction after crossing the valley of death
17:30 Ryan McClure – Successful real-time prediction of methane ebullition rates in a eutrophic reservoir using temperature via iterative near-term forecasts
17:45 Carl Boettiger – Theoretical Limits to Forecasting in Ecological Systems (And What to Do About It)

Wednesday EFI Poster Session (8am-12:20pm, Moscone South Poster Hall)

Christopher Trisos – B31J-2509 The Projected Timing of Abrupt Ecological Disruption from Climate Change
Gleyce K. D. Araujo Figueiredo – B31J-2510 Spatial and temporal relationship between aboveground biomass and the enhanced vegetation index for a mixed pasture in a Brazilian integrated crop livestock system
Rafael Vasconcelos Valadares B31J-2511 Modeling Brazilian Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems
Zhao Qian – B31J-2512 An optimal projection of the changes in global leaf area index in the 21st century
Takeshi Ise – B31J-2513 Causal relationships in mesoscale teleconnections between land and sea: a study with satellite data
Hisashi Sato – B31J-2514 Reconstructing and predicting global potential natural vegetation with a deep neural network model
Masanori Onishi – B31J-2515 The combination of UAVs and deep neural networks has a potential as a new framework of vegetation monitoring
Yurika Oba – B31J-2516 VARENN: Graphical representation of spatiotemporal data and application to climate studies
Stephan Pietsch – B31J-2517 A Fast and Easy to use Method to Forecast the Risks of Loss of Ecosystem Stability: The Epsilon Section of Correlation Sums
Jake F Weltzin – B31J-2518 Developing capacity for applied ecological forecasting across the federal research and natural resource management community
Theresa M Crimmins – B31J-2519 What have we learned from two seasons of forecasting phenology? The USA National Phenology Network’s experience operationalizing Pheno Forecasts
Tim Sheehan – B31J-2520 Sharp Turn Ahead: Modeling the Risk of Sudden Forest Change in the Western Conterminous United States
Margaret Evans – B31J-2521 Continental-scale Projection of Future Douglas-fir Growth from Tree Rings: Testing the Limits of Space-for-Time Substitution
Ann Raiho – B31J-2522 Improving forecasting of biome shifts with data assimilation of paleoecological data
Quinn Thomas – B31J-2523 Near-term iterative forecasting of water quality in a reservoir reveals relative forecastability of physical, chemical, and biological dynamics
Alexey N Shiklomanov – B31J-2524 Structural and parameter uncertainty in centennial-scale simulations of community succession in Upper Midwest temperate forests
Peter Kalmus – B31J-2525 Identifying coral refugia from observationally weighted climate model ensembles
Jessica L O’Connell – B31J-2526 Spatiotemporal variation in site-wide Spartina alterniflora belowground biomass may provide an early warning of tidal marsh vulnerability to sea level rise
Rafael J. P. Schmitt – B31J-2527 Assessing existing and future dam impacts on the connectivity of freshwater fish ranges worldwide
Teng Keng Vang – B31J-2528 Site characteristics of beaver dams in southwest Ohio

Other Forecasting Presentations

Mon 13:40-15:40, Moscone South e-Lightning Theater: Alexandria Hounshell, ED13B-07 Macrosystems EDDIE: Using hands-on teaching modules to build computational literacy and water resources concepts in undergraduate curricula (Alex’s presentation will be at ~2pm)
Mon 13:40-18:00, Poster Hall: Hamze Dokoohaki B13F-2442 – A model–data fusion approach to estimating terrestrial carbon budgets across the contiguous U.S
Mon 14:25, Moscone 3005: Michael Dietze B13A-04 – Near real-time forecasting of terrestrial carbon and water pools and fluxes
Mon 17:40, Moscone 3003: Michael Dietze B14B-11 Near real-time forecasting in the biogeosciences: toward a more predictive and societally-relevant science
Tues 13:40-18:00, Poster Hall: Erin Conlisk B23F-2598 – Forecasting Wetland Habitat to Support Multi-Species Management Decisions in the Central Valley of California
Wed 08:00-12:20, Poster Hall: B31H Building Resilient Agricultural Systems Supported by Near-Term Climate and Yield Forecasts II [Poster Session]
Wed 13:55, Moscone 3005: Inez Fung B33A-02 – Towards verifying national CO2 emissions
Thurs 09:15, Moscone 3012: John Reager B41A-06 – Hydrological predictors of fire danger: using satellite observations for monthly to seasonal forecasting 
Fri 10:20-12:20, Moscone 3007: B52A Building Resilient Agricultural Systems Supported by Near-Term Climate and Yield Forecasts I [Oral Session]

EFI Social

Anyone who is available to meet up after the Forecasting Session on Wednesday, we’ll have a group getting together at Tempest starting around 6:30 pm. It’s an 8 minute walk. Find directions here.

Seeking Judges for Outstanding Student Presentations

We would like to recruit judges for the student presentations in our forecasting sessions at AGU this year. We have one candidate for Outstanding Student Presentation in our poster session on Wednesday morning (B31J) and two candidates in our oral session Wednesday afternoon (B34C). If you plan to attend either of these sessions, please consider helping to mentor a young researcher with some constructive feedback.
You can sign up to judge at https://ospa.agu.org/2019/ospa/judges/ to register and agree to the honor code by selecting “Register to Judge”.Once there, sign up for the student presentations you wish to evaluate. Every judge must sign up for at least three presentations to ensure that all students are provided with feedback. Select “Find Presentations”. You can search for presentations by B31J or B34C in the lower of the two “quick search” boxes.When you arrive for Fall Meeting, confirm the time and location of the presentations you are evaluating. You can sync your judging schedule to your personal calendar to ensure you don’t accidentally miss any presentations. Go to your OSPA schedule and click ‘Add to Calendar’ on the task bar. Your judging schedule will now be added to your Google Calendar, Outlook, or iCalendar.You will need to evaluate all presentations you volunteered to judge. Students depend on your feedback to assess their presentation skills, identify the areas in which they are performing well, and areas that need improvement.Either submit scores in real time on a tablet or mobile device or take notes while you evaluate students and enter the scores later. Do not rely on your memory alone to submit complete scores at a later time. Students participate in OSPA to improve their presentation skills, so please provide them with thorough feedback. This year, comments are required in addition to the numerical scores. All reviews must be entered into the OSPA site no later than Friday, 20 December 2019, at 11:59 p.m. EDT.Finally, be constructive! OSPA presenters range in education levels from undergraduate to Ph.D. students. There are also many presenters for whom English is not their first language. Keep these things in mind when providing feedback. Judges are asked to evaluate students at their current education and language proficiency levels.

Predicting Nature to improve environmental management: How close are we and how do we get there?

Original Date: October 17, 2019; Updated: October 22, 2019

Melissa Kenney from the University of Minnesota presented in the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis 2019 Seminar Series.

A recording of Melissa’s presentation can be found here: https://my.usgs.gov/confluence/display/PowellCenterAdmin/Powell+Center+Seminar+Series+2019

2019 Seminar Series

All seminars are presented online at: zoom.us/j/663855534

Predicting Nature to improve environmental management: How close are we and how do we get there?

When: Monday, October 21st, 11am MT/1pm ET

Presented by: Melissa Kenney – University of Minnesota

Dr. Melissa A. Kenney is an environmental decision scientist with expertise in multidisciplinary, team-based science approaches to solving sustainability challenges. Her research program broadly addresses how to integrate both scientific knowledge and societal values into policy decision-making under uncertainty. Dr. Kenney is also the Associate Director of Knowledge Initiatives at the University of Minnesota’s Institue on the Environment where she directs efforts to build synergy across IonE’s broad scientific research portfolio. She earned a Ph.D. from Duke University, focused on integrating water quality and decision models.

Powell Center Working Group: Operationalizing Ecological Forecasts

EFI Webinar: Dietze OneNOAA on Sept 12, 2018 12-1 ET

Date: August 31, 2018

OneNOAA Science Seminar Series

Title: Solving the Challenge of Predicting Nature: How Close are We and How Do We Get There?

Speaker: Michael Dietze, Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Environment, Boston University

Sponsor: NOAA’s National Ocean Service Science Seminar; moderator is Tracy.Gill@noaa.gov

Webinar Access: Mymeeting webinar uses phone for and internet.
Audio is only available over the phone: dial toll-free from US or CAN:1-877-708-1667.
Enter code 7028688# For the webcast, go to www.mymeetings.com Under “Participant Join”,
click “Join an Event”, then add conf no: 744925156. No passcode is needed for the web.
Be sure to install the correct plug‐in for WebEx when logging on – the temporary webex application works fine

Abstract: Is nature predictable? If so, can we use that understanding to better manage and conserve ecosystems? Near-term ecological forecasting is an emerging interdisciplinary research area that aims to improve our ability to predict ecological processes on timescales that can be meaningfully validated and iteratively updated. In this talk I argue that near-term forecasting is a win-win for accelerating basic science and making it more relevant to society. I will focus on the challenges and opportunities in this field, spanning advances in environmental monitoring, statistics, and cyberinfrastructure. I will present a first-principles framework for understanding the predictability of ecological processes and synthesizing this understanding across different systems. Finally, I will highlight ongoing efforts to build an ecological forecasting community of practice.

About the Speaker: Michael Dietze leads the Ecological Forecasting Laboratory at Boston University, whose mission is to better understand and predict ecological systems, and is author of the book “Ecological Forecasting”. He is interested in the ways that iterative forecasts, which are continually confronted with new data, can improve and accelerate basic science in ecology, while at the same time making that science more directly relevant to society. Much of the current work in the lab is organized within the Near-term Ecological Forecasting Initiative (NEFI) and the PEcAn project. NEFI is focused on addressing overarching questions about ecological predictability, while developing forecasts for a wide range of ecological processes (vegetation phenology and land-surface fluxes; ticks, tick-borne disease and small mammal hosts; soil microbiome; aquatic productivity and algal blooms) and advancing statistical and informatic tools for ecological forecasting. PEcAn is focused on the terrestrial carbon cycle, improving our capacity for carbon MRV (monitoring, reporting, verification), forecasting, data assimilation, and multi-model benchmarking and calibration within the land component of Earth System models.

Subscribe to the OneNOAA Science Seminar weekly email: Send an email to
OneNOAAscienceseminars-request@list.woc.noaa.gov with the word ‘subscribe’ in the subject or body.
See http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/seminars/