I have always enjoyed educational conferences. In a profession that has traditionally left practitioners relatively isolated (this is changing), conferences present an opportunity to share ideas, network with fellow educators and return to classrooms and schools rejuvenated and excited about implementing new concepts. This weekend I will be attending the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) annual conference in San Francisco, California. I am very excited about the wide variety of lectures, demonstrations, presentations and learning sessions available at this year’s conference–lot’s of good stuff. Therein lies the problem – I have already spent hours mapping out sessions and trying to squeeze as much into the next four day’s as possible (I have even resorted to a Google spreadsheet. I know…pretty geeky) and still I feel like I am going to miss out on a lot of valuable information.
One potential solution: backchanneling. Wikipedia defines the term as follows:
The practice of using networked computers (or other electronic devices) to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.
Backchanneling enhances the conference experience by making presentations more dynamic and interactive. In addition, it allows the user to build upon their personal learning network, interacting with others and, most importantly, sharing information. I generally find that my PLN expands by leaps and bounds during conferences, largely due to impromptu discussions on Twitter. While backchanneling does not replace actual presence at conference sessions, it does allow a glimpse into the topics discussed at presentations you are unable to attend.
So how does one participate in backchanneling? Twitter is widely used by educators in tune with social media and seems to be the tool of choice for backchanneling conference sessions. Again, allow me to reference a statement from Wikipedia.
Twitter is also widely used today by audiences to create backchannels at technology conferences. When audience members add an event hashtag to their tweets (for example, #w2e was the hashtag used for the Web 2.0 Expo New York in 2009), anyone can run a Twitter search to review all the backchannel tweets related to that event.
By searching for a specific hashtag, it is possible to view all associated tweets and thus expand discussions from a single session to the entire conference audience. For the upcoming ASCD conference, the majority of back channeling will occur with the hashtag #ascd11. Simply drop #ascd11 into a Twitter search (or add a column in TweetDeck) and follow along.
While backchanneling provides an exciting way to enhance your conference experience, it is important to remember appropriate etiquette during presentations. Be sure you remain engaged and attentive to the speaker, but don’t worry, backchanneling conversations are generally ongoing – even after sessions have come to a close.
Regardless of your conference “strategy,” I encourage you to take advantage of the wealth of conference resources, connect (virtually and in person) with colleagues and catch a glimpse of the future (as well as diverse sessions) using backchanneling. Need help getting started, just drop me a note on Twitter: @azjd