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

Getting a bad name? Social networking and Micro-blogging

I’m a big fan of social networking and I’m slowly becoming hooked on micro-blogging as an essential mechanism of staying in touch with people and finding out what they are researching or challenges they face in their daily lives. If you were to look at my old technologies, i.e. my bookshelf, you will see a massive collection of autobiographies, so you can no doubt see my fascination with the new way of telling the world all about yourself!

But are these technologies getting a bad name, and if so is it fair or just a result of some miss-informed individual’s?

In the last 48 hours there have been two major stories breaking here in the UK. The first being personal details about the life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, having to be removed from Facebook amid security concerns after his wife had posted details about their children and the location of their flat on the site. Maybe not a good idea at the best of times but are you seriously telling me that special forces from the around world do not have other mechanisms to find this information out?

The second case actually stems from Australia, where Twitter users who lack an audience for their messages can now buy followers. A social media marketing company is offering a service that finds followers for users of the micro-blogging service. Followers are available in blocks of 1,000 starting at £53. Why?

OK, so I have some people on my Facebook account I do not know really well and maybe should not have linked but then I do not put anything on my Facebook that I would not share in other ways. There are many people who follow me on Twitter that I do not know but that is the idea – you have followers who are interested in what you are writing about and you can share resources and ideas.


Keeper of the Media Zoo

A tale of Ning and Skype – e-learning for Dementia Care

I was at the University of Bradford distance and e-learning conference on the 23rd of April.

I attended a very interesting workshop and a presentation done by the Dementia Group at Bradford where they talked about how they use Ning (a social networking site) and Skype to teach groups of adults practioner-learners studying M-level courses. The students are not your usual digital generation learners. They are older, with work, family and social responsibilities in addition to study commitments. Most of the students on the programme have never met each other or their tutors in real, physical life.

It was heart-warming to hear two of the students explaining to the audience how they learn and engage in the social networking platform and Skype, and how they enjoy learning. One student, told that he gave up his studies 45 years ago (at another university) after receiving feedback for his second assignment, and another course much later. So the course he is taking on Dementia Care is the third attempt to learn. He enjoys it because of the flexibility and the social nature of learning available in the current form of e-learning. He said that he couldn’t believe that learning could be a fun, social and creative activity that he is able to incorporate into his daily routine of work, family and social life.

Before I forget I must write down the following (un-refined) thoughts that occurred to me, and notes that I took while listening to the presenters (I also incorporate some of the quotes from students and staff).

The following are some of the key points that came from the students and staff when they talked about their experience of leaning online.

– Flexibility. The social networking site ‘brought the class to my home.’
– ‘Everything is on site. You can’t lose anything. It is all there!
– ‘Most of us are on it [Ning and Skype] everyday.
– ‘It does help you develop your own time’.
– Ability to support each other. ‘No matter what time of the day, there is always someone there – online [either on Skype or on Ning]. [The social network] helps me to do the degree while bringing up two kids and working 40+ hours a week’. Students also tend to create their own little study groups / peer support groups independent of the tutors.
– Provides a platform / tools for the distance learners to talk to each other from a wider geographical area, and across national and international boundaries, across cultural barriers; ability to create a shared experience. This seems to be an important element, because the students’ work was based on various practices, and on a daily basis they had a lot of work, and study-related experiences to share with each other. Without the e-learning platform, this valuable learning resource and knowledge can remain unused.
– Ability to create a new form of online identity (an identity that is much related to the ‘third culture’ developed online)

The module site showed students’ personal / individual and collaborative pieces of writing. One of the important things that I noticed was that students were gradually becoming skillfull authors, reflective practitioners and creators of practice-based knowledge. These are important learning outcomes relevant to their professional and academic development.

Many apologies to the Dementia Care group at Bradford if I have missed  important things that the group had said about their e-learning and e-teaching experience. And thanks Will (Will Stuart) for inviting to me to do a keynote at the conference.

Palitha Edirisingha (25 Apr 2009).

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