Today I was at the JISC Teaching and Learning Experts Group Meeting in Birmingham.
I always enjoy these meetings as you get a huge wealth of expertise, knowledge and examples to take away with you back to your own institution.
We used Twitter quite a bit today, so much so that the tag #jiscexperts09 became a trending tag on Twitter.
Lots of comments, discussions and conversations. Some went off tag and continued outside the event.
A really useful and interesting back channel to what was happening in front of us.
By the afternoon the stream of Twitter had declined considerably, in the main as we were in smaller groups with a lot more face to face interaction and conversations. We’re not talking about a small drop off, but a considerable drop, about 95%, in use of Twitter.
It’s not as though we weren’t finding Twitter useful, one delegate said to me that he saw me using Twitter as a way of asking a question without needing to put my hand up.
It did make me start thinking about how we use Twitter and the reasons for using Twitter.
In the morning session with presentations from the front, while we were a “passive” audience some of us were using Twitter to communicate what we were seeing to the Twitter community, discussing between ourselves and initiating conversations with other people not at the event.
Now were we doing this because we found the presenters boring? No because they weren’t, their presentations were very interesting. Much more as we were an audience we found the time to engage with Twitter and the Twitter community. Listening means that we can often add commentary and 140 characters means that it doesn’t take long or captures our attention away from the formal presentation at the front.
In the afternoon we split into smaller groups and discussed the three key areas, e-assessment, learning spaces and social software. As we discussed there was very little or no interaction on Twitter. We were “too busy” interacting and discussing.
Now this didn’t mean we didn’t want to share with Twitter, much more we were so busy we didn’t have the time.
What does this mean though when using Twitter at an event?
You do need to consider why you are using Twitter at an event. If using it as a record of the event, then it is a very poor tool for that, need to record an event then use a different tool.
If you are using Twitter to allow the delegates to converse about the event in a kind of back channel then the fact they are not using it, is probably not a bad thing, as they are probably interacting face to face. However the lack of Tweets in the afternoon in our session meant that I had very little idea what happened in the other parallel sessions. As for people outside the event, they had even less idea!
There may be an opportunity here to have (what I am going to call) social reporters in breakout sessions to record thoughts and discussions on Twitter. Downside for this is that Twitter is very much about the here and now and not really suited for looking back over or for engaging and interacting with even 15 minutes after an event. However will be useful for those outside the event.
One of the downsides of Twitter (which is also a plus point) is that it is just text and only 140 characters of just text. If you did use social reporters then they could also use other tools to help capture the event for both the delegates and others. They could be uploading presentations to Slideshare, posting photographs to Flickr, pushing videos to YouTube, broadcasting live using Qik, blogging, recording to Audioboo, etc…
You can often rely on the delegates to amplify a conference or an event through the use of Web 2.0 tools, should you be supporting the process with social reporting?