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How Twitter has Changed my Conference Experience

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Twitter has really increased my enjoyment of academic conferences and made them much more useful learning experiences. I think Twitter has helped in the following ways:

Knowing  which papers to go to: through my twitter network I have build up a respect for certain people and so I know which sessions are going to be good. Before twitter I often chose sessions based on their titles, and have been hugely disappointed in the quality and lack of research people do before putting a conference paper forward – if only they would have taken a couple of hours to look at papers, they would have realised that what they are saying has been said many times before or even worse misguided. Anyway with twitter I have usually already earmarked which sessions would be useful for me – and am much less often disappointed.

Networking is much easier as you already (sort of) know a lot of people: It is really nice to attend a conference where you meet many of the people that you network with on twitter. Meeting people that you have only met on twitter is interesting and other people have already mentioned this in their blogs, but it is strange. You feel you know these people really well in some ways but not at all in others. Some people are very professional tweeters and you don’t get to see much of their personalities, most however reveal at least a bit of their personality and non-working life, so you do feel like you have got to know them. I always feel a bit strange talking to someone from twitter for the first time – where do you start? The other thing is that I am never sure if they follow me back, so may know absolutely nothing about me, and I know the name of their great-auntie’s cat. It is fun to sit in session and work out who is who, and see who else is tweeting in the room.

Use of twitter within a conference – backchannel. I love that you can interact with other twitter users whilst listening to a conference paper – get their thoughts and reflections about what is being said, seeing who agrees or disagrees with what is being said, and learning by discussing what the paper is about. The other benefit is that you can follow what is being said by people you don’t follow by following the hashtag on twitterfall or similar. Additionally if you are at a session which is a tad less inspiring, you can follow other sessions via twitter and engage with them.

Conferences you can’t attend:  One of the best things about twitter is you can get all the interesting things said at conferences that you can’t attend by following the hashtag, plus people kindly send you links to recordings of sessions, links to resources talked about, links to presentation slides etc, and their reflections on all of these,  so you really feel you benefit from the conference without having to attend. I am not suggesting that face to face conferences do not have their place, but if you can’t attend (and no one can attend them all) –this is a really good second best.

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