The CONFER Sessions subseries is comprised of paper printouts from a subset of computer-based conferences that ran on the University of Michigan mainframe computing system (Michigan Terminal System) from 1975 to 1994. These were printed by Zinn, and are indicative of his involvement and interests. This subseries provides an informative view of the introduction, evolution and use of a new technology designed specifically to support computer-based communications. The subseries includes RP.CONFER the original conference that utilized the CONFER I application program; student administered conferences; conferences used to supplement class discussion; and a series of conferences designed for the International Science and Technology Assessment Congress held in Ann Arbor in 1976. The CONFER Sessions subseries is divided into Public Conferences and University of Michigan Class Conferences. Access to the latter is restricted in accord with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The CONFER paper printouts are essentially a static snapshot of an asynchronous communications system. The term "snapshot" is used as the original functionality of the CONFER II system are features that could not be replicated in the paper printouts. In addition, not all entries, once posted within the system, could be captured in the paper printout as some entries were time-dependent and were deleted on a specific schedule. Lastly, the interactive nature of CONFER can not be adequately captured in a static document. As Zinn describes in a welcome message, literally "hundreds of participants passed by this electronic bulletin board from day to day."7 A sense of the features and the evolution of the use and functionality of the system can be gained by consulting the User Reference Documentation series and Robert Parnes' dissertation. The features and use of the technology can also be realized through some of the CONFERS themselves. Robert Parnes used CONFER as a testbed and one will often see Parnes "step" into a particular session to query users about the functionality of specific features and to announce changes to the system.
CONFER printouts are available in two sizes. For the most part, conferences dating from 1975 to about 1980 were printed on 15" x 11" paper, and conferences dating after 1980 were printed on standard 8 1/2" x 11" paper. For the larger sized conferences, the cover sheet of the printout includes the job number that produced the conference report, the system source, and the date and time the report was generated. Later printouts do not include all of this information but do include the date the session was printed to paper.
Entries within conferences generally include the item number, date and time, number of lines for a particular entry, author, subject line and a calculation of the number of related items on this topic within the conference. Many of the conferences include an index of topics discussed and a directory of participants. The index is generally found at the start of the conference and the directory of participants at the end. In addition, many conferences also include as one of the first entries a welcome message from the conference organizer that includes a brief description of the purpose of the conference. CONFER II and later CONFER U were in use at the University of Michigan from 1975 until September 1, 1999. A summary of the CONFER sessions located in this collection appears below.
[Sources: CRLT:MICROS, Volume IV, A snapshot of dialogue on microcomputers in education, ca. October 1983 and USER:FORUM, Recent changes to Confer, Item 6, 05:09 Sep08/82, posted by Bob Parnes.]
Public Conferences 1975-circa 1980
Activity Report 1977
CAP: SHARE August 1976-June 1977
CAP: WAR 1976-1977
CAP: SUMMER June-July 1978
CONFER, List of Conferences at the University of Michigan 1976-1977