Call for Session Proposals
33rd Annual Visitor Studies Association Conference
Virtual • July 13-15, 2021

"Reimagining and Rebuilding: Visitor Studies After a Year of Change"

Submit your Session Proposals Here
Deadline for Submission: December 16, 2020 Deadline Extended: January 6, 2021 11:59 pm PST

The past year has been one of rapid and significant change. A global pandemic that has affected the lives of billions. Protests in over 30 countries that have called for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. As a result of these worldwide events, the informal learning field has seen an immense amount of change, including loss of jobs, taking on new or different roles, and helping institutions address complex questions around equity and racial justice. Now more than ever, society demands that cultural organizations support anti-racist practices that establish more equitable spaces that ultimately benefit the communities they serve. Researchers, evaluators, and all museum professionals have been faced with the question of how we can create more relevant and socially conscious organizations, but given extensive layoffs and institutional restructuring, how can this work happen with fewer resources and competing priorities? This year, the Visitor Studies Association will not only reflect on current crises in the informal learning field but also look to the future. How can we confront and dismantle oppressive structures in our field; recover from months of closures, extensive layoffs, and lost funding; and re-envision our organizations and the visitor studies field at large, ultimately rebuilding them for a better and more just society?

We invite attendees to consider how the past year of change has led (and might lead) to structural changes within their organizations and how they are re-imagining the fields of informal learning and visitor studies. This year’s conference will allow speakers and presenters to address questions like the following:

  • How has the national conversation around systemic racism played out in our organizations, and how can we continue to grow as a field to better reflect the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and continue to address systemic racism within our field and institutions?
  • How can staff engaged in (or who want to engage in) research and evaluation help guide the necessary transformation of institutions towards equitable and inclusive spaces? What data-driven approaches have worked and what have been missed opportunities?
  • How has the work of research and evaluation changed? What practices and tasks have stopped or started? What new expectations have been set regarding the quantity and levels of work when many organizations have experienced staffing reductions?
  • How do we build and report to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or metrics of success when the goals are unclear and the ground keeps shifting? How do we measure engagement in highly digital spaces where large portions of our audience no longer attend in person? Are there new ways of thinking about metrics of success?
  • What role can organizations like VSA play in supporting the visitor research community during these times of rapid change?

Thinking about submitting a proposal for VSA 2021? Check out a recording of the recent webchat "Submitting a VSA Session Proposal".

Evaluation Criteria

Proposals will be rated on the following criteria:

  • The proposal provides a clear picture of what to expect during the virtual session, including how presenters will elicit dialogue with the audience about project relevance and implications.
  • The proposal articulates how it is aligned (directly or indirectly) with this year’s theme.
  • The proposed learning objectives are realistic and achievable.
  • The proposal should represent diverse perspectives.
  • The proposal demonstrates presenters’ knowledge of and experience with the topic, including relevant methodologies, sources of evidence, and/or literature.
  • The proposal highlights specific findings and conclusions and their relevance to the visitor studies/informal learning field.
  • All presenters should be confirmed by date of submission.


December 16, 2020 11:59 pm PST: Deadline for Submission Extended: January 6, 2021

January 2021: Sessions undergo peer review

February 2021: Program Committee finalizes decisions and arranges program schedule. If there are any special presenter circumstances that would impact scheduling, presenters should list them in the submission form.

Mid-March 2021: Notifications sent to applicants

Questions? If you have questions or require additional information, please e-mail VSA Headquarters at [email protected].

Session Proposal Guidelines:
We encourage the inclusion of substantial audience discussion within sessions. We are especially looking for ways to involve participants through thought-provoking, reflective conversations related to key ideas and issues raised during your session.

This year, we are using an online submission form. Read through the guidelines below; the complete this form to submit your proposal. Please note that special formatting, such as bullets, is not transferred in the online form.

All proposals must include the following:

1. Session Chair: The session chair is the principal contact person for communications between VSA and presenters and is responsible for sharing logistical information with co-presenters. Please be sure to list the individual who will serve in this organizing role in the “Session Chair” field.

2. Confirmed Presenters: Presenters should represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives and come both from the museum world and outside it. Proposals with confirmed presenters will be rated more highly. Please note: In order to encourage diverse perspectives, VSA has instituted a participation limit for individual presenters. Individuals may only appear on 2 session proposals total. If an individual is listed as a session chair or presenter on more than 2 proposals, none of the proposals will be considered until that individual has withdrawn his/her name from the appropriate number of proposals. Posters do not count toward the two session limit.

3. Title of your session: 10 word maximum

4. Program description: Please provide a high level description of your session for inclusion in the Preliminary and Final Programs (50 word maximum). This description may be edited by the Program Chairs for clarity.

5. Session format: Your session should acknowledge and build upon the participants’ own knowledge and experiences. They should be able to clearly connect with your material and apply it to their own situations. Most conference sessions should be designed so that participants are actively engaged rather than passively receiving information. You must indicate one preferred format from the list below for your proposal.

The session format options are: A) hosted presentation B) panel presentation, C) individual paper presentation, D) facilitated discussion. More details on each of these options are below:
A) Hosted Presentation
        • A single presenter or group-led presentation detailing or examining a specific methodology, instrument, or process. Generally, this will educate attendees on integrating similar steps into their work. 
        • Maximum of 4 presenters, including session chair
        • 60-minute recommended session length
While this may include traditional presentations, we encourage presenters to consider alternative techniques that incorporate greater audience engagement, discussion, and interaction on the topic. Presenters should reserve sufficient time for audience discussion and Q&A within the session. Presenters should describe the format in the “Session Plan” section.
B) Panel Presentation:
        • A moderated discussion that serves as an opportunity for multiple presenters to examine a specific issue, topic, or theme from a variety of perspectives
        • Maximum of 4 presenters, including session chair 
        • 60-minute recommended session length
We encourage presenters to consider alternative techniques that incorporate greater audience engagement, discussion, and interaction on the topic. Presenters should reserve sufficient time for audience discussion and Q&A within the session. Presenters should describe the format in the “Session Plan” section.

C) Individual Paper Presentation:
    • An opportunity to present on a single topic, project, or study
    • Individual presenter or 2 presenters from the same institution or project team
    • 30-minute recommended session length
Generally, this will include a presentation of completed, or mostly completed work, including findings, lessons learned, and next steps. Presenters will be responsible for facilitating audience discussion, and should reserve sufficient time for Q&A within the session. Presenters do not need to complete the “Session Plan” portion of the proposal.

D) Facilitated Discussion:
        • Informal group discussion with participants around key topic or area of interest in the field, lead by single presenter or group
        • Maximum of 3 presenters, including session chair
        • May include a brief introductory presentation to set up the topic to be discussed, but the majority of session should be devoted to dialogue among attendees
        • 45-minute recommended session length
Presenters should describe how they will frame the topic, facilitate discussion, and wrap up the conversation in the “Session Plan” section. In this plan, presenters should also explain how they will adapt their discussion for varying audience sizes (e.g., small break out groups, pair and share, digital polls, chat functionality, etc.).
Note: Poster presentations will be invited through a separate solicitation in mid-March.

6. Length of Session: As part of the virtual conference, VSA wants to offer as much flexibility as possible to presenters. Please use the recommended session times in each session format description as a guideline for selecting the length of the session below. 

  • 30 minutes
  • 45 minutes
  • 60 minutes

Program Chairs may recommend changes to session length if the selected time does not seem to align with the session plan. 

7.  Intended Audience: Indicate via checkboxes which audience(s) will benefit most from this session. Consider level of material, job focus, etc. You may make up to three selections.

  • Experienced evaluators and researchers
  • Novice evaluators and researchers
  • Emerging museum professionals
  • Visitor-facing practitioners (e.g., educators, visitor experience staff, etc.)
  • Experience designers (e.g., exhibit designers, program developers, etc.)
  • Museum administrators
  • Another audience (please describe) 

8. Learning Outcomes: What will participants know or be able to do as a result of attending your session? You should have two or three learning outcomes, each a separate thought. At least one should relate to VSA’s learning competencies, as described here: 

9. Proposal Narrative: Provide a summary of the content of your presentation. Please include how your session relates to this year’s theme.

Word Limit (excluding references):

    • 300 words for an Individual Paper or Facilitated Discussion.
    • They should not exceed 750 words for Hosted Presentation or Panel Presentation.

Please observe these word limits out of respect to our volunteer reviewers.

10. Session Plan (for Hosted Presentation, Panel Presentation, and Facilitated Discussion Formats): Describe what will happen during your session. Be sure to include your strategies for audience involvement and interaction, as well as a breakdown of how you intend to use the time allotted. Detail any plans to incorporate online resources and other technologies, as well as how you expect attendees to participate.

Technology Guidelines

All sessions will be presented virtually using a mixture of video and chat functionality. All presenters will have the ability to:

  • Share screens
  • Create breakout rooms
  • Utilize chat functionality
  • Request attendee input via polls

Any specific needs or requests should be emailed to [email protected] 

Presenters are expected to provide a personal device capable of video and audio recording.

Your session will be recorded and made available to attendees and VSA members throughout the conference and after. Sessions will be shared digitally with attendees via a virtual platform during the conference, as well as recorded for review after the session. VSA will not present the recorded session outside of the conference context, without requesting permission from the session chair.

Submission Agreement: 

In order to submit your proposal, you will need to read and agree to the following six statements: 

  1. I understand that as the session chair, it is my responsibility to secure session presenters and to disseminate all logistical and other information to session presenters. 
  2. I understand that the session will be presented virtually and recorded for access by registered attendees and VSA members. 
  3. I agree that neither I nor my participating session presenters will use the session as a platform to promote products or services of any kind. 
  4. I understand that presenters do not receive complimentary registrations, honoraria, or paid expenses to speak at the VSA Conference.  
  5. I understand it is my responsibility to register myself for the conference and to inform all presenters that they too are solely responsible for registering themselves for the conference by the Early Bird Registration deadline. 
  6. I agree that all presenters for this session will be fully informed that they must be available to present any day of the general conference programming (July 13-15, 2021) and that they will not be permitted to participate in more than two proposals.  

I confirm that I have read and agree with the six statements listed and that I am responsible for sharing this information with all presenters for this session.

Proposal Submission Process:

Proposal Review Process:  

  • Program Chairs may return or reject proposals without review if the proposals do not address all required information, include presenters listed on more than two proposals, or exceed the word limits specified above
  • Peer-review of proposals will not include presenter identification
  • Reviewers will evaluate each proposal they receive according to the criteria listed above

For more information about VSA, including updates related to the 2021 conference, please visit our website.