Starting a Twitter chat

Two months ago I became the manager of the Twitter account of the Mexican chapter of an international society. It has been a fun experience. I actually read the tweets of our followers, most of whom I follow back.

One day I posted an article (in Spanish) about one of our youngest members, who is 6 years old and has an IQ of 150. It included a video in which the boy answers questions. Someone replied, arguing that the boy was not a genius, that he was merely showing good memorization skills. I disagreed with his comment. However, instead of starting an argument with him, I conceded that intelligence is more than just memorizing. After that, I tweeted a question: What defines a genius?

I got lots of replies. Several interesting discussions arose from that simple question. Considering that one of the objectives of the group is to promote stimulating intellectual and social opportunities for its members, it was a great activity.

And so I decided to start a Twitter chat. While I am familiar with some Twitter chats (e.g., #phdchat), there are not many in Spanish (none that I know of, actually). I had never moderated a Twitter chat before. Getting ready was a challenge.

Fortunately, I had help. I got some advice from Terese Bird (@tbirdcymru), Tony Ratcliffe (@AERatcliffe), and Nasima Riazat (@NSRiazat). I defined some steps to follow:

  1. Decide the basics. The goal of the chat is to generate intellectually stimulating discussions between members and the general community. I set up a hashtag (#mensachat) and tweeted about it.
  2. Get people involved. I asked our Twitter followers for schedule and topic suggestions.
  3. Make sure the conversation can get going. I got a small core group together, members who agreed to participate.
  4. Explain the procedure. I didn’t expect any of our followers to be familiar with a Twitter chat. As I said, there are not many in Spanish (maybe none). I started by asking them to include the hashtag #mensachat in their tweets.
  5. Ask the question. I have a list of recommended topics to choose from.
  6. Moderate. This implies asking follow-up questions, making summaries of what is being said and answering when needed.
  7. Finish. I thought it would be good to end with a reminder of the next chat and with a tweet saying that the conversation would be saved. People can keep chatting if they want after the moderated session is over.

Last Monday was the first #mensachat. Twelve people participated and shared 79 posts in 1 hour. At first, I retweeted their replies to the question. I did some follow-up questions as well, when I felt the conversation was slowing down… Instead of just tweeting using the hashtag, they kept replying to the account of the group (fortunately, they did use the hashtag). I assumed that they were not searching the hashtag, but only reading their usual feed. By the end, they got it and were talking between themselves. I did a couple of summaries to update latecomers. Lots of interesting ideas were dicussed.

At some point I thought they were straying away from the original topic, but before I had to do anything about it, someone did. He brought everyone back. It was a really great experience. 🙂

After it had ended I got a tweet from a lurker: “It was a pleasure to read you”. He has no idea of how much his tweet means to me. It gives evidence of a small success. I will accept that I was worried that the Twitter chat wouldn’t work, but it did. I am happy.

This chat takes place every Monday at 8 pm (Mexico time, which is 2 am UK time; I know, I know). If you speak Spanish and would like to join, please do so! The more, the merrier!

– Brenda Padilla

Online Seminars: Better than being there…

On 3 March 2010, Beyond Distance (funded by the Higher Education Academy) hosted a Podcasting in Assessment Seminar (PANTHER) which was both face-to-face and online. 35 delegates gathered at the University of Leicester to share experience and evidence gathered in the use of podcasts for assessment. 31 delegates from around the world joined in by means of the web classroom software ‘Wimba.’ The blended nature of this seminar gave us the opportunity for some comparison between its face-to-face and online  experiences.

Before the seminar started, people came into the room pretty much on time, spoke politely to those sitting nearby, sat down and individually quietly prepared for the seminar. In the Wimba online room, people logged in as much as 45 minutes early, and, using the chat, introduced themselves and talked to each. The online chat was easy-going and often informal. Everyone online could see what every other e-delegate typed into the chatbox, allowing for integrated communication. Pre-seminar communication was therefore more plentiful and inclusive amongst online participants than among face-to-face participants.

During the seminar, people in the physical university room were quiet until invited to submit questions. Online participants, however, were able to comment immediately and ask questions at anytime. Our e-moderator gathered up and submitted questions to the panel at the question time. In the morning session, there were more questions from the online participants than from those face-to-face; in the afternoon, there were more face-to-face questions. However, online participants constantly discussed with each other throughout the seminar, using Wimba chat facility as their ‘back channel’.  A few of the participants in the University room had laptops with them and took part online too. These dual-mode delegates acted as bridges between the two environments and engaged in discussion with both groupings. Our impression is that face-to-face participants took more time to get warmed up and inducted into the nature of the sessions, whereas the online participants jumped right in. Also, online participants benefited from the freedom to constantly comment and discuss during the seminar.

At one point in the seminar, participants in the live session were divided into groups and asked to work together to plan and record a podcast episode, and to share it with everyone. Online participants did the same – some in groups, some individually.  The resulting files were emailed to us. We received files in a variety of languages and formats including some enhanced podcasts (podcasts with added visuals). It was fascinating to see how varied, creative, and resourceful these submissions were. Once we received these files, we played them for the face-to-face participants and made sure Wimba transmitted them as well, so all participants could hear and see what everyone else had produced.

I would not suggest that all face-to-face, physically based conferences should be replaced by online or virtual conferences.  But we have demonstrated that e-conferencing offers special benefits: more and freer discussion, faster engagement with the presentations; access to all other computer- and internet-based resources close at hand during the session, and money, time and carbon saved from avoiding travel.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, Beyond Distance Research Alliance

 

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