Many people do not see the point of Twitter. I know this because I counted myself as a proud member of this large, non-plussed group until a few days ago. We had followed the hype and set up an account, followed some people (quickly stopped following some people), Tweeted a few times to see how it worked, and then thought, "so what?" Nobody tweeted back to me, most of my "followers" didn't know me, and it felt a little silly to be sending these cheeps out alone.
Using Twitter in a conference setting however completely changed my mind about its utility and possible applications for learning.
The Online Educa Conference was full of Tweeters. I know that because I spent a lot of time looking at the hashtag that was set up by the conference organizers (smart, they printed it in the front of the Conference Programme Catalogue in "Important Practical Information".) A hash tag – like #oeb2009 – is a tag that people include in their 140 character Tweets that is searchable on Twitter. If you put the hash tag in the search box on your home page, any post that includes it will come up in an aggregator window on Twitter. So you can keep track of the whole conversation happening in real time, even if you are not following the individual people Tweeting (yet).
Believe it or not, a big conference was a great place to be totally immersed in Twitter as it had so many useful applications at the event. Here is what I was noticing about how people were using Twitter for social learning in this setting (remember there were some 2000+ people attending).
- At any time, there were up to 10 sessions going on in parallel and obviously you could only attend one, but you could count on the fact that a dozen or so people in each session were Tweeting the main points, and if one of those sessions sounded better than yours you could always split and go find it. Twitter helped make more purposeful the Law of Two Feet.
- Speakers were using Twitter to publicise their sessions in advance (plenty of healthy competition with participants spoiled for choice). They also used Twitter to share their websites and papers. They even used them to announce changes to rooms, speakers line ups etc.
- Being active and thoughtful on Twitter helped people gain visibility in a large conference. In vast plenary halls, no one could really stand out, and very few got to make their points publically, but on Twitter anyone could jump in with good ideas, and be rewarded with comments and engagement.
- Participants were using Twitter to gather people together – for example plenty of Tweets announced snacks and discussion at a certain time at some stand in the Exhibition Hall, or at the bar. As one Tweeter lamented, "Shoot!!!.... i see i missed the Tweet meetup at the oeb bar yesterday...always good to meet tweeps in RL."
- In each session, there were assistants handing out paper feedback forms, but I noticed that not too many people were filling them in. I think they didn’t need to, people were giving real feedback to speakers and organizers on Twitter on everything from the quality of the presentations to lunch. One Tweeter wrote, "maybe we need an online course for silently closing the door!" (obviously sitting too close to some conference room exit).
- Panel Chairs could use Twitter to gather questions from the audience. At least one Chair monitored Twitter for questions, that she then used to launch discussion when the panelists were done with their formal presentations. One Tweeter even asked his "followers" (not at the conference), "going to mobile learning session- mates of mine, any questions I should ask?"
- People were using Twitter to be a part of the larger conversation and interact with many more interesting people. We noticed that we could talk to about 20 people face-to-face in the breaks during the two-day conference. However, we heard from and engaged in conversations with hundreds on Twitter.
- Now, after the conference, Twitter acts as an archive of content through Tweets, with their links, ideas, and connections to a previously unknown group of like-minded people.