Being a huge fan of succinct communications and plain language, I was drawn to the ideas behind the 3 Minute Thesis contests, developed originally (and trademarked??) at the University of Queensland in Australia and now supported international from  Since their development in 2008 the idea has spread globally with 3 minute thesis contests happening in many countries including Canada.

However, the origional model doesn’t really fit Athabasca University – or other online institutions, as these contests have all taken place on campus and face-to-face. Our students are located mostly in Canada, but we have students enrolled in many locations around the world as well. Thus, last fall I organized a small Online 3 minute Thesis contest using web conferencing for students in our own Master and Doctorate Program at Athabasca.  With that positive experience, I wanted to expand and take advantage of the international scope of the Net, to invite colleagues and students from other online universities to participate (and of course help organize the event).

I recruited colleagues from Open University of Catalonia, Open University United Kingdom and DaVinci University of Mexico.  We established a web site for the event, where we provided links to the rules, details of participation, a WIKI for organizing contestants names and titles of their presentations and provided links from YouTube recordings of other 3MT contests (not online) to serve as models.

Traditionally 3 Minute Thesis contest run at a single university and benefit from a wide variety of interdisciplinary contestants – the English student up against the Physics student. However, we decided to change the format slightly by focusing only on students researching in Education and given the specialized nature of these institutions, this is primarily focused on online learning, educational technology and other issues related to distance education.  We wanted to create possibilities for collaboration and networking among our students, that likely would not have developed in a fully interdisciplinary contest.

How did it go?  Well you might want to check it out yourself by listening to the recording at

Highlights and recommendations:

  • We had 13 contestants, 4 judges (one faculty member from each institution) and a People’s Choice Poll
  • The technology – Adobe Connect, (including webcam video) worked extremely well for 11 of the student contestants – two had major problems. Recommendation – insist that ALL participants (judges, host and contestants) test the equipment they will use to access to conference.
  • The whole event took just under 2 hours. As host, I gave a sentence or two feedback to each presenter, before moving to the next contestant.
  • The contestants were required to submit a single Powerpoint or PDF slide to us 24 hours before the event and we organized these into a single file in the order of presentation (alphabetical by first name of the contestants). This worked very well.
  • We assigned one judge (randomly) to be the “responding judge” for each contestant, so that they received a couple of minutes of detailed and individual feedback, without the time involved in multiple responses and turn taking issues from the judges.
  • The judges deliberated for about 10 minutes in a private room in Connect, while the 65 or so members of the audience, voted using an EasyPoll, that we set up (free) with the name and the title of each contestant,in the order of presentation.
  • We offered a first prize of $500 Canadian to the winner selected by the judges (who also agreed on two honourable mentions) and a 300 BPS book prize from Amazon for the winner of the People’s Choice. Prices were donated by the institutions competing.
  • We may be courting privacy issue disaster, by not getting written permission to post publicly the recording and the 13 slides of the contestants, but we are all members of “open” universities. Perhaps we should attend to this next time.
  • The judges assessed students from their own institution as well as other institutions, but we didn’t allow judges to respond to any students who were directly supervised by them.
  • We allowed audience to use the chat box (some feedback/reactions) and the emoticons – clapping etc. for feedback
  • We allowed multiple simultaneous speakers, to avoid slow downs in turn taking and thus courted audio feedback issues from multiple open mice, but we only had a single site problem which we resolved after a couple of minutes of feedback pain.

From informal feedback I think the event was a great success.

This format (distributed and discipline specific) also might be useful for a whole new genre of Three Minute Thesis contests, as it allows specialized, global networking, not afforded by campus and interdisciplinary contests.