Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion: Using Twitter for Social Learning

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.
Overall, I was impressed by how much Twitter added to my conference-going experience. It took me a while to get into it. I needed to install Tweetdeck on my I-phone before it got really easy to use it for all the things above. It took me some time to find my "voice", make some personal policies about what, when and how I would engage with the community through Twitter. And suddenly, I wasn't learning alone anymore.

8 comments:

Frank said...

I couldn't agree more, Gillian. Attending conferences was my "way in" to the world of Twitter as well. I also spent time at Online Educa posting stuff on Yammer to my colleagues back home at the workplace. That increased the value of me going to Berlin alot.

On another note, there is a possibility Google Wave might compete with Twitter as a similar tool in the not-so-distant future. I'm not sure, Gillian, if it ws you that tweeted about invites for the Wave beta, but if it was, I do have an invite for you if you'd like it.

Back on topic; this was a very good post and a very good example on the value of Twitter. Could be my story too :-)

Cliff Atkinson said...

Great post, Gillian! There's been a lot of coverage lately about the "dark side" of the Twitter backchannel at conferences, as presenters and audiences sometimes come into conflict. But as you describe, there are plenty of benefits as well!

If you're interested in an in-depth exploration of the topic, I just came out with a new book titled The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever - you can download a sample chapter at http://www.backchannelbook.com

Tricia said...

This is a great post. I didn't come to Twitter-land willingly either (I was tasked with the responsibility to develop an e-learning course on how to use Twitter). I didn't get at first, then one day, voila! As you put it, "I wasn't learning alone anymore".

My company doesn't have the money to send me to conferences, but I use Twitter and follow hashtags...it's almost like I'm there!

My question would be from the presenters viewpoint - how distracting is it to present/facilitate to a bunch of people looking down at their phones instead of making eye-contact? Just curious.

Eric the Blog Man said...

Using Twitter has saved me from tuning out at conferences. I also like using other fun tools like emailing blog posts to Posterous.

I don't know if it's ADD or ADHD or too much MTV or maybe just blame Marilyn Manson, but I get bored and fidgety and even start to blurt out like I have Tourette's at conferences. That is, until Twitter and my HTC smart phone got together and occupied my thumbs.

I guess I still blurt out. But I like conferences a lot more now.

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Wow, excellent comments, thanks so much! I see that there is quite alot of shared experience around adopting Twitter and putting it to good use.

Cliff, my experience at Educa Online at least was that people were incredibly polite with their Tweets, not always positive, but very respectful, I felt the community in them, and at least I felt that it would not be ok to flame someone and I didn't notice others doing that. As people got to know each other through Twitter, there seemed to be more respect demonstrated. I will check out your book chapter, thanks for adding that link.

Tricia, in one session where we were using Backnoise.com one participant asked a panelist who was not speaking what it was like to look at an audience on their phones and laptops (that was Jane Hart I believe), and she wrote back that she didn't notice as she was on hers too! (or something like that). Even I have much more tolerance now with people using their equipment in sessions.

Eric, thanks for the Posterous tip,I will check that out. I also get very fidgetly, although in the session where we were also using Backnoise, it took me 10 minutes to tune into the speakers. I wished they would have given us 10 min just to play with the technology before starting, then I could have concentrated more.

Frank, that was indeed me! And I would be delighted to receive your wave invitation, thank you so much. I was a bit frustrated by the invitation thing, no one I know has received one, so thanks in advance for this opportunity and for your kind comments!

Frank said...

I'll send you an invite to Google Wave as soon as I get an email address from you. I'm following you on Twitter, so you can always send a DM to @frabud there.

private schools in Gwinnett County said...

Ditto Twitters to you!

Your explanation of the value of Twitter is a solid one. Twitter has deep opportunity and, therefore, requires some deep immersion to "get it."

I appreciate your well-written post.

Ranganath said...
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