Is it polite to tweet during lectures?

This past ALT-C was the first conference I’ve attended at which I decided to tweet the proceedings. I wanted to see if tweeting at a conference would help me, would it help other people, does it make sense to do at all? I could not attend all of the conference days, so I figured I could follow via Twitter what I could not attend. And on a related note, following ALT-C via Twitter would give me a flavour of  experiencing an online conference rather than a face-to-face conference. Since we at Beyond Distance are holding our Learning Futures Festival 2010 online only, I thought I would try and see for myself what an online conference is like. And finally, if nothing else, my own tweets could serve as online notes for the conference, reminding me of what I learned.

I found that tweeting during keynote and other presentations helped me to digest what was being said. Perhaps the practice of distilling what I heard into 140-character tweets was forcing me to boil down the presentations into a series of take-home messages which I could retain more easily. Moreover, while I am excellent at losing pens and little notebooks, I can’t lose Twitter, so I can go back onto Twitter and re-read the notes I took at ALT-C.

But I found that the most valuable aspect of using Twitter was the social one. I was reading other delegates’ tweets, and could direct message them and thus establish a more direct connection with elearning practitioners who are definitely knowledgeable. I’m reaping the benefits now, continuing and building on Twitter some of the conversations begun during ALT-C.

I did not faithfully follow the Twitter backchannel during presentations. For myself, I felt I would miss too much of the presentation if I did, although I believe other users who claim they are so used to Twitter that they can tweet and read whilst still paying attention to the presenter. I’m also not so sure it’s always a good thing to post up the twitter feed at the front so everyone can follow it during the presentation.”I may not agree with what you tweet but will defend to the death your right to tweet it,” yet I don’t like it when backchannels get nasty as I don’t think it helps anyone.

What about lectures -are students tweeting during lectures? Some certainly are; I have read the “Can’t stay awake in this lecture, out too late last night” sort of tweet coming from a student or two. However, natural-born-students-who-tweet seem to be in the minority. As social networking sites go, Twitter is unusual in that it is not a “young” phenomenon; comScore and Nielsen report that most Twitter users are between 45 and 54 years old.

However, I think it is only a matter of time before students realise the learning and social power of Twitter. Instructors seem to be slightly ahead of the students this time: I’ve recently read of higher ed lecturers who are actively encouraging students to use Twitter, especially during lectures. For example Professor Monica Rankin at University of Texas at Dallas “uses a weekly hashtag to organize comments, questions and feedback posted by students to Twitter during class. Some of the students have downloaded Tweetdeck to their computers, others post by SMS or by writing questions on a piece of paper. Rankin then projects a giant image of live Tweets in the front of the class for discussion and suggests that students refer back to the messages later when studying.” Martin Hawksey blogs here about how to combine Twitter with Yahoo Pipes to approximate an audience response system – the students’ mobile phones are their “clickers.”

Tweet during lectures? It would be impolite not to!

(And no jokes about my surname, either!)

Terese Bird

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  1. Students have been texting (SMS) during lectures for years. Heads down, thumbs ablaze. Personally, I would be delighted if they swapped texts for twitter. I’d also live to put a live twitter hashtag stream up during my lectures, but very rarely are their dual projection facilities, so this is not possible, leaving people immersed in their own screens rather than sharing a more communal reality.

  2. Terese Bird

     /  October 13, 2009

    Many thanks for your comment! Yes, twitter stream posted up front would certainly be more communal. Do you see it as risky at all? I was thinking of negative situations such as at the HighEdWeb conference a short time ago:

  3. I like being able to challenge the ideas of the speaker (where previously, the opinion of the informed audience is usually left out of a keynote to audience “broadcast” model)- I wouldn’t say that was “negative” – if you present with the understanding that others will comment and perhaps critique your work, then surely that must be a good thing?

    It is certainly embarrassing having to sit through poor presentations of people who try and ignore the fact that there are those there looking to project the information to places outside the physical restraints of a lecture theatre?

    Where there is risk, there is an opportunity.

  4. Terese Bird

     /  October 15, 2009

    Jennifer, I wholeheartedly agree. Risk — Opportunity. I thought of the HighEdWeb Twitter-heckle experience as negative for the speaker. If a twitter stream for some reason became largely insulting, well to me that would be negative. But it is still right that the audience should be able to “challenge the ideas of the speaker” as you say, and Twitter offers that.

    On a different note, I went back to the website where I read about the HighEdWeb incident, and there I found a post from Timo Elliott, mentioning a software tool that embeds a twitter stream directly into a Powerpoint presentation (I think I’ve got that right):
    This is a possible solution for Alan! I will have to try it out!

  5. Unfortunately, there’s little prospect of UoL ITS installing this software, so no good for my lectures.

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