The World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic which is causing conferences around the world to be cancelled, leaving organizers scrambling to find ways to hold virtual conferences. Could Story Maps be part of the solution? I think so.

Story maps are a useful tool for communicating and engaging an audience through a combination of text, images, videos, and of course, maps. The most powerful aspect of Story Maps is the ability to tell a deep narrative without the need for a presenter to interpret figures and maps, which is an advantage over circulating PowerPoints (an idea I’ve seen floating around). With Story Maps, the context and the visuals are all in one place.

The web-based nature of Story Maps also makes them incredibly easy to share on social media, so coupled with a conference-specific hashtag (which most conferences these days already have), it would be easy to get them into the hands of interested folks.

One of the big draws of going virtual with conferences is the accessibility aspect. Story Maps have a number of features built into them to support users with impaired or no vision and/or limited mobility. This includes features like typography and colour schemes that maximize contrast and are colour-blind friendly and the ability to include alternative text for visuals that can be read by a screen reader. This excellent blog by Shana Crosson from the University Minnesota provides a lot of good tips of how to maximize your Story Maps for accessibility.

Of course Story Maps can’t replace chats over a beverage, but they could be a way to share our work without even having to leave our homes. Like a lot of folks, I am disappointed that one of my favourite conferences has been cancelled, but I’m looking forward to exploring how I can use story maps to connect with my colleagues from afar.