I’m fairly new to using Twitter for professional development having been actively experimenting with it since March 2014. One of the ways that Twitter is used is for real-time conversation during a conference, known as the ‘backchannel’. In My #ASTD2014 Backchannel Experience on 7 May I wrote about my experience of being a backchannel only conference participant. Since that time I’ve participated in two more backchannels – the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) conference (14-15 May) where I also physically attended the whole conference, and EduTech Brisbane (3-5 June) where I attended half a day of the two day event. Of the three events, I was most active in the AITD conference. I used Twitter to take notes by tweeting (or retweeting) key points at the sessions I attended. Following the conference I then used Storify to review tweets with the conference hashtag, and create a summary and reflection on my conference experience which I published as My #AITD2014 Experience. Using the backchannel in this way turned it into a sense-making activity. Watching and, in some cases responding to, what others were sharing in the backchannel extended and enriched my conference experience further by:
- making me aware of what others found important in the session content
- providing relevant examples
- providing me with links to additional resources
- introducing other points of view on topics being discussed
- helping me to network with other participants
- giving me the occasional laugh (good ingredient for learning)
I was speaking in a panel at EduTech on the afternoon of Day One and looked at the backchannel as I travelled in the morning to see if I could pick up on any themes or information that might connect to my topic. I noticed immediately how active the backchannel was – I had heard that educators were high Twitter users. Then I saw that there were 4000 attendees, so even if only 5% of attendees were tweeting across the 10 concurrent ‘congresses’ (separate conference streams) it was going to be a busy backchannel (I’ve since seen a claim that there were over 10,000 tweets at the 2 day conference). I struggled to unravel tweets from the different streams and make sense of what was going on (a plea to organisers of large conferences – stream or session-specific hashtags please!). What was helpful in the EduTECH backchannel (as well as visually attractive) was the summary of the first keynote session tweeted by @art_cathyhunt. Cathy’s sketch note summaries were so useful that they were shared in Twitter over 10,000 times and she’s published them as a collection.
Adding Backchannel Behaviours
Cathy’s sketch notes got me thinking about the different ways in which people add value in the backchannel. Here is a list of some value-adding backchannel behaviours, with examples.
Reporting – Tweeting key points made by presenters, sometimes with photos of slides. Context helps those participating in back channel only to make sense of the points. It’s useful to see the topic and presenter tweeted when a session is commencing, and when session has ended, and also a tweet when the presenter moves from one topic to another.
Applying – Tweeting examples of personal application of an approach, technique or tool that the presenter is discussing, with a short reflection on the good, bad and lessons learned.
Extending – Sharing links to additional resources and relevant internet sites.
Reflecting / Pondering – Asking ‘what if’ or ‘how could I’ type questions to prompt consideration of how the session content could be applied.
Connecting – Creating links between, for example, different conference sessions or linking the session to the conference theme.
Questioning – Posing questions to the backchannel. Sometimes these are hypothetical. What I enjoy more is those that generate tweeted responses & discussion.
Summarising – Summarising key themes and overall content of a session and sharing either shortly after a session (as per Cathy Hunt’s EduTECH examples) or in a blog within a few days of the session.
Collating / Curating – Publishing links to a set of conference and backchannel resources. Here’s a great example from ASTD2014 curated by David Kelly.
I was going to include Challenging / Provoking in this list – Thinking critically about session content and challenging the information or ideas in order to present counter-views or a different perspective. However, I couldn’t find a backchannel tweet representative of this behaviour. It’s not something I’ve seen done often; perhaps we’re too polite…..
Physical versus Backchannel Conference Participation
Kent Brooks lists 10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference, all of which ring true for me and are great reasons why I will continue to play in the backchannel when I attend conferences.
Joining via the backchannel only is not a substitute for physically being at a conference, fully immersed in the sessions, discussions and interactions. I have found following a backchannel in real time a fragmented, slightly disconnected, and sometimes chaotic experience. However, summaries and curated collections posted at the end of sessions, full days, or whole conferences provide a filtered presentation of themes and resources. In effect someone else has started the sense-making process for me, making it easier for me to access the best of the conference. It’s also a great way of interacting with those in my PLN who are attending, and finding more interesting people to follow. And it’s certainly better than not being able to join in conferences that I am interested in but not able to attend.
See you in the backchannel…..