Saturday, 18 June 2011

The #nairtl11 backchannel

Last week we hosted the joint Galway Symposium/NAIRTL conference at NUIG, with the title Engaging Minds: Active learning, participation and collaboration in Higher education. Iain has already blogged about the event and the recordings of the keynotes will be available in the near future.

As part of the local organisation, and having participated in a number of very active conference backchannels in the last year (for example #pelc11), we wanted to ensure an active twitter experience. This was particularly important because one of our keynotes, Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University, has already written about Encouraging a Conference Backchannel on Twitter.
The strategy we used was based on Derek’s guide. Here’s what we did:

Hashtag: obviously, nothing can happen without a hashtag. It has to be short and easily remembered. With a joint conference, this can be tricky! So, I just proposed using #nairtl11, which was accepted, and it worked a treat! We started using this a couple of weeks before the conference, to build up awareness. We also made sure it was included on the conference programme, so nobody could be in doubt.

Twitter Team: About a week before the conference, I assembled my twitter team. This included a number of people who I know are active on twitter and have participated in backchannels before. Their role was to “keep the backchannel going” and to encourage others to join in. Recruits were @catherinecronin, @marloft, @kellycoate, @thecosmicfrog. We also let @iainmacl join in, though it took him a few attempts to get the hashtag right! A couple of days before the event, I pointed them to Derek’s Instructions to the Twitter Team

Twitter Display: During down time at the conference, before keynotes and at breaks, we displayed the twitter stream in the main venue and in the breakout rooms. We used Visible Tweets, and the rotation animation style, which I’d seen used at #pecl11 to great effect. This display had a number of positive effects:
  • It alerted participants to the existence of the backchannel and encouraged them to take part;
  • It illustrated the participation of people who were not at the conference at all, but were engaging with our reports;
  • It ensured that those tweeting were being polite, knowing that what they said could be projected in big letters on screen.
The backchannel conversation was very effective, with over 800 tweets generated, mostly over the two days of the conference. As well as tweeting what was happening and key points being made, there was a rich conversation going on as well. We got a good following from outside the conference location, including colleagues in DIT who couldn’t attend because of exam board meetings (@muireannok, @m_crehan) as well as contributions from tweeters outside Ireland, including the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand.

I used the Archivist to analyse the #nairtl11 tweets. It gives some pretty graphs to show, for example, tweet volume over time and top tweeters.

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