Twitter at a conference

Any gathering of educationalists with a specialism in technology these days is an occasion to further explore the possibilities presented by Twitter. Twitter is an online microblogging platform – you post timestamped updates pared down to 140 characters or less, and you can follow the updates of other people, reply directly or even private message.

Up-to-date conference organisers will make known a hashtag (keyword) for the event, and participants can incorporate this into each update. Together, participants spontaneously build an informal record of the event. Of course, a conference such as this is attended by people who are well tooled up – many faces bathed in the glow of their notebooks and netbooks, others with smartphones, and more than a few with iTouches. You can have Twitter open and follow all posts with a given hashtag in real time. My setup allows me to post updates on that page.

The outcome is a para-conference (there must be a better word) which may include the following highly helpful types of update. Running commentary – good for navigating the podcasts later and helpful for people following the conference from their desks – particularly if some considerate soul notes when each session begins. Requests for clarification and responses (“Did he say ‘Videobeard’?”). Asides. Supplementary material – links, pictures, alternatives. Wonderings. Critique. Responses to wonderings and critique. The inclusion of folks-back-home – one learning technologist friend in another institution tweeted it was quiet in his office – he took a picture of himself with his finger to his lips, posted via TwitPic and hashtagged it with the conference tag. I was next to his colleague and I took a still of us doing the same pose with my webcam and posted it back. I didn’t tag it because it was the middle of a session. Another learning technologist we all know from yet another institution tweeted a response to us. The sense of connectedness and community was strong.

The first day I sat next to an organiser. After he’d done chairing his session, he was following Twitter.

The presenters noted Twitter but didn’t change their behaviour. I reckon something will have to give here. It is very positive for people to engage with your presentation. The back-channel contributions are manifestations of active participation in your session. But occasionally you want to make eye contact with your audience. Occasionally you may even want your audience’s undivided attention. The etiquette is still up in the air. Being educationalists, presenters are reluctant to dampen the hive of responses evidenced only by the light tapping of 100 quiet keyboards and downcast eyes. But sooner or later I predict somebody will empirically discover that if you attend the tweets of others during a presentation which is not accommodating Twitter, then in terms of concentration you may as well be attending while drunk, or having had no sleep.

We spontaneously and collaboratively ended up with pretty good notes for posterity with plenty of links out, questions, comments, and discussion points. Now we need a tool which inverts the posts so that they are in the correct chronological order rather than reverse chronological order. I have no doubt such a tool exists.

I went searching for other (non e-learning) conferences friends had attended recently. Were they twittering? Not so much as a “If you would like to, may we suggest this hashtag”. Imagine.

More on this from the OU.

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2 thoughts on “Twitter at a conference

  1. The time they are a changing and quickly. There are so many good reasons to Tweet during presentations, in fact, I think it really provides the presenter with more interactivity. People tend to ask more questions, make comments. Etiquette is an issue only if it bothers the presenter or the listeners and some very good segway will be adopted if you want full attention. As far as attending to “the tweets of others during a presentation which is not accommodating Twitter, then in terms of concentration you may as well be attending while drunk, or having had no sleep”. While this is rude, I think we all are guilty of not listening to a speaker – afterall not everyone can garner our attention.

    • I didn’t mean rude so much as detrimental – if you aren’t concentrating on the presentation then your responses may be more obtuse. And in fact this year (the conf is an annual thing) I found the questions less biting, and certainly less numerous than they have been in previous years – though obviously I can’t relate this to Twitter with any confidence. I would hate to think that organisers were allowing less time for questions because of Twitter…

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