Drugs, Conferences and Twitter: A revisit
It’s almost twelve months ago since I wrote Drugs, Conferences and Twitter, an article contrasting the tweeting activities at two conferences, the first an e-learning conference, the second a national conference about alcohol and other drugs. At the time I was bemoaning the lack of people tweeting from the AOD conference, sharing their experience with a broader audience.
This week I had a different experience. I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at Innovation in Action: a seminar about innovation in the alcohol and other drugs sector. What placed this seminar apart from similar alcohol and other drug seminars I have attended in the past was the central part that Twitter played. The seminar hashtag #iAOD2011 was promoted in advance and attendees were encouraged to tweet questions and comments throughout the seminar. A second screen alongside the presenters’ slides displayed tweets with the seminar hashtag throughout each presentation and the Q&A panel. Both panellists and presenters responded to questions from the audience as well as questions posted via Twitter in response to audience tweets covering the conference.
It was the first time that I have seen something like this tried in an AOD seminar or conference and I wondered whether it would work. Over 10 accounts tweeted using the #iAOD2011 hashtag out of an audience of 80. While on the surface this seems a quite small number, it is actually a significant advancement when contrasted with the less than 1 % of the approximately 550 people attending last years Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) annual conference.
So what’s the big deal?
Imagine the team you work within for a minute. How many people are in that team? Imagine further that you have found a piece of information or resource that you think will be valuable to the team. How do you disseminate that information? You might bring it to the next team meeting or you might even post it to your team members via the organisation’s email system. So how many people has this valuable resource been disseminated to? I am guessing probably not too many.
As I pointed out in an earlier article about this topic, workers at the coalface of our sector are often inadequately resourced to be able to attend events such as seminars and conferences. Finding efficient ways to share learning then becomes critically important.
By utilising social networks like Twitter to disseminate the same information we can potentially deliver valuable information to hundreds even thousands of people. Additionally, the nearly synchronous dynamics of Twitter interactions enables people not attending the event to query the information by asking questions and receive fairly immediate responses making the information received even more valuable due to the increased relevancy a question can elicit.
Another bonus of the utilisation of Twitter at such learning events is the increased efficiencies that can be attained in relation to professional networking, not only with people who are physically attending the event, but also those people who are ‘listening in’ on the event hashtag and making comments.
Imagine again if you will that you are at a conference. You have a particular interest in alcohol and violence. You attend a session at the conference that deals directly with that topic. Chances are that you will meet people at that session that share a similar interest in that particular topic. How many people are in the session? How many of them will you have the opportunity to speak with directly? By tracking the tweets relevant to that particular session you can form networks with individuals both in attendance at the session but also other interested individuals who are not able to attend physically, increasing the efficiency of your networking in relation to this topic area.
The integration of virtual and physical spaces to share information and learn from each other can increase the size of the audience receiving the learning as well as enhancing our capacity to network professionally. While the integration of the use of social networks such as Twitter to support learning events in real time is already occurring in many sectors, it seems to be happening quite slowly within the Australian alcohol and other drugs sector. The Innovation in Action seminar is the first instance where I have seen a learning event organiser in the Australian AOD sector take this innovative leap (kind of fitting I guess given the topic of the seminar) and while there is still some progress to be made, I think it marks a changing attitude to the use of social networking technology in public learning spaces that will increase opportunities for informal learning within the sector.