Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Twitter back channels, conferences, sessions and engaging the audience

A couple of days ago we did an experiment around presentations that included the use of a twitter back channel (hashtag: #eair). The following is a reflection on what that allowed me to do and implications for conferences.

The question I end up at is “Should conferences have twitter hash tags for individual sessions?”

What I could do

After I finished the presentation I was able to review the tweet stream and see what people had said. This gave me a different and much greater understanding of what some of the audience were thinking and talking about. It was also frustrating because it revealed that I hadn’t effectively engaged some of the audience, they didn’t get “it”. I did end up replying to a number of tweets to expand on ideas or give alternate perspectives. The tweet stream enabled me to extend the conversation.

This ability has given me a better understanding of what worked and didn’t work for the presentation. I plan to try and use this for all my presentations.

The problem

It was easy to do this because I used a hash tag that was unique to my presentation – #eair. As I’m the only one use that tag for my local presentations, that should be ok. But conferences are difference. I’m just back from EDUCAUSE’09 which used the tag #educause09 for all discussion. There wasn’t a tag for individual sessions. So I couldn’t easily couldn’t easily find what people had said about a particular session, including the one I gave.

This absence/difficulty of tracking tweets for a particular session reduces the number of possible conversations.

Ignorance alert

I haven’t really gotten into the Twitter thing as much as others and was pre-occupied during much of EDUCAUSE’09. Is there a simple, well-known solution that I’m missing?

Solutions oriented

I keep being told I should be solutions oriented – apparently I’m cynical/pessimistic. So here’s my initial idea.

Each session at a conference get a unique number. That session number get added to the conference hash tag.

Example, ASCILITE’09 is using (I think) #ascilite09. If I’m tweeting in session 55, I’d be using a tag something like #ascilite09s55 or #ascilite09#55.

The drawback, based on very little testing, is that this would split off the conference tweets into the sessions. Perhaps the conference would need an aggregator? Perhaps, people just have two different searches? Perhaps the conference creates a Twitter list?

Don’t know enough to say. But the ability for each session tweet stream to be identifiable would be something I’d use.


Reflection on alternatives and experiments


Web 2.0 tools in assessment in higher education


  1. I guess the problem is keeping the name short enough due to the word limit but still descriptive. #ascilite09#s55 is already 15 characters. Does the lack of a space between the two hash tags make a difference? I guess we need some kind of nested tagging.

    an @ would also help in finding everything related to your presentation, but again you’d be chewing up characters

    I might also try and do something with Twitter for my ascilite presentation.

    • Just having people tweet what they’re thinking is value enough for me.

      The space between tags was based on the idea that perhaps that would create two tags, so the conference tag would work as well as the session tag….

      but the typing thing does cause problems.

  2. gardnercampbell

    Descriptive hashtags work best in my experience. Instead of a session number, it might be better to come up with a short descriptor, announce it at the beginning of the session (and reinforce the oral announcement with the hashtag on the title slide), and away you go. For the Mile High Twitter Showdown I participated in at EDUCAUSE, I and my co-presenter settled on #edtwitter for the hashtag. Not perfect (no doubt it’s not unique), but it worked. We also seeded the conversation and modeled the hashtag earlier with short tweets that used both the conference hashtag *and* the session hashtag, thus training the tweeters, or trying to.

    We used Twittercamp for a visualization of the session tweets while the session was going on. It’s a nice tool and it probably drove more tweeting; I imagine people wanted to see their tweets up on the big screen.

    I find Twitter to be a wonderful “cognitive snapshot” tool and it’s by far the best formative assessment tool for me going forward, as the “in the moment” tweets give me a richer dataset than I typically get with Lickert scales and such, at least in terms of a portrait of understanding and response moment-by-moment, which is where I think the groundwork must be laid for later reflection and building. It’s pretty good for public-speaking lessons too, as I can tell when I mumbled or went too fast.

    Between backchannels and asynchronous online communication, I think we’re closing in on telepathy in some useful ways.

    • G’day Gardner,

      As with the earlier comments, I wonder about the extra typing/space consumed, but you’ve used it and it seems to still be going on. So a meaningful descriptor could enable that on-going discussion beyond the session…a big plus.

      One of the drawbacks of not teaching is that I haven’t tried this out in my own courses. But the recent presentation experience has really opened my eyes.

      I’m wondering how/what would be required to encourage other academics to use this approach. Will have to follow up some more.

      Thanks for sharing.


  3. I’d personally go with both tags (conference and session) and advocate a means of keeping the tags added automatically like on the ustream social feed.

    Another alternative is to go to a much more real-time, non-limiting format that can enhance the backchannel in almost any way the participants want: Google Wave.

    • G’day Tony,

      I wonder about wave in this context. It ratchets up the level of collaboration. It’s almost a different type of interaction.

      On Twitter, at least from my perspective/use, it’s essentially a reflective tool. I’m writing what I think in part to record it and in part because writing it will create additional thinking. Also because someone else might pick up and add something.

      But with a Wave, you’re starting to work on a collaborative document. A much more difficult/higher order type of task. I wonder how folk will take to that sort of task? How will it scale? Twitter’s much more light weight.

      But then again, that’s said with little knowledge.


    • Although I really think the power of wave is in adjusting to the collaborative document mindset, you can quite effectively use it as a thought dump between a number of people and get back to editing it later on. It looks as though that was how they approached the issue in the link; just get people to plonk down points of interest into the blip to form a skeleton of what is going on in the talk. Then, if people feel more compelled to debate a topic, add additional threaded comments with a bit more structure.

      So far it seems that wave’s problem is that people are unsure of the conventions and social ettiquette of how to form a proper wave. I believe that getitng in there and adding anything, even agreeing to another person’s observation, or a fixing a spelling mistake, or a little bit of tidy up, all add up to more collaboration and more engagement.

      Probably the most limiting thing would be the static nature of a traditional presentation. What do you do when more people are focused on the backchannel than the actual speaker? Having the wave exposed as part of the presentation, or through curation by the lecturer or someone on the sidelenes, the backchannel is no longer reflective but an active shaper of the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén