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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tweets and Real Learning - a Rant

An analogy first:
Some people refer to their professional or classroom presentations by saying something akin to, "I have a power-point presentation about ...."  The subtle emphasize is on the fact that it is a "power-point."  That is a major criticism of the use of this technology, some think the technology is the focus.  In reality, the vehicle should not be the focus -- the information shared should be front and center.  The goal should not be to produce a "power-point" presentation but rather a presentation that conveys meaning on the topic at hand, regardless of the methodology.  In order to effectively convey the meaning or information one might need to create some unique presentation techniques and that may well be using a power-point.  But the point is NOT the power-point, it is the meaning and information conveyed.

And now twitter and real learning:
I find the twitter concept to be of much interest, it does allow one to present "text-bites" about many topics.  And some insist that sending out "tweets" during professional presentations to be of service to their colleagues.  As "that's how some people learn."  My question is "what are they learning."  Let me take an example of a few tweets from a recent conference:
  • strategic plan discussion @ RUSA, strat plan discussions are . . . difficult
  • Standing in a long line.
  • Wandering exhibit hall
  • Inspiring conclusion to Al Gore speech
  • Gina Millsap needs help finding iPhone w brown/pink flower cover, left in cab (not sure what cab)
  • Qs re Ithaka Rpt on future of FDLP? goto FDTF mtg 4pm today or ping me
  • Stopped at census 2010 Booth and got my data geek fix. I love census data.
  • this woman keeps pulling out shawls to wrap around her, where are they coming from?
  • Gina Millsap needs help finding iPhone w brown/pink flower cover, left in cab (not sure what cab)
  • I heart MT Anderson.
  • He is a snazzy dresser. RT @oodja Is it wrong that I want to raid @cyriloberlander's tie collection?
  • I'm not even [on the conference tweet site] & have seen 3 tweets re missing/mislaid cellphones there. Funny world, when I know about missing items in Boston.
  • I'm missing limb/iphone. In a metallic purple case. Think it fell out of pocket on bus #3
  •  [conference attendee] is having a great time at today's Alex meeting. Wishes it was a public meeting
  •  See a live demo of Gale's new language-learning resource, Powerspeak Languages in booth 1732 at 3:30p.

Now do you know anything more about libraries and books than you knew before?  I found out that librarians lose their phones; and that at least one attendee loves M.T. Anderson -- but I don't know why.  The "he" as in the snazzy dresser tweet isn't from the same person so it doesn't appear that the "he" is necessarily Anderson, but who knows.  The ALEX meeting was good but again we have no clue as to why.  Now it does not appear that many (if any) of these are coming from actual presentations, where tweeting (IMHO) is a rude behavior.  It's like texting while I'm having a conversation with you.  Better to connect information the presenter is giving with your own knowledge and information from other sources and then putting the message/ideas in that context of your own knowledge.  Follow that analysis by publishing a reaction/comments to the information. Publishing only the "text-bites," out of context, does few people any good.
Olivia Mitchell tries to present a compelling argument for actually becoming engaged with the "back-channeling."  (see  I don't buy it.  If the session is a panel presentation, with questions and answers, by all means ask someone (the moderator perferrably) to use technology to channel questions to the panel -- that is a good idea IMHO.  To encourage participants to tweet/blog with one another outside of such a forum  reminds me of the kindergartener who is so focused on what he/she is going to say when the child next to him stops talking, that he/she forgets to listen to what is being said/shared.  Somewhat like those who are "back-channeling" who are so busy communicating with "other participants" or those that aren't in the room, that they forget to focus in on the speaker's information.
I came across an article about live twittering at a conference, authored by Danny Sullivan.  ( it seemed to have promise but when I clicked on links for more information -- many of the links I was most interested in were dead.  So much for that.  I don't want to read too much into that but can't help but think that more appropriate venues might have been found.  Hopefully, it is old-fashioned note taking (however, that is accomplished-paper/pen, computer, iphone notes, or whatever) and then a reflective thoughtful blog entry or article or other method of communication using the notes, your considered expertise, and your thoughtful analysis.  That moves the experience of sharing information with your colleagues from the regurgitation level (recall) to the analysis, synthesis, and evaluative level.  That I support and in fact, will gladly encourage.
Tom Johnson on his "I'd Rather Be Writing" blog does make some excellent points at -- but notice he has many other "conference uses" beyond sitting in the presentation and tweeting while the presentation is ongoing.  Be sure to check out his section subtitled "7 Good Reasons to Twit." (Maybe in 2008 the terminology was "twit" now it would be "tweet.")

Those who think that "back-channeling" is a good thing often pull out the "out-of-touch" with new technology defense, to refute any comments to the contrary regarding the practice of tweeting or blogging  DURING a presentation.  I must hasten to point out that I teach on-line courses and they get rave reviews, I have twitter accounts and tweet regularly, I blog (not as regularly as I would like), I utilize technology every day (and most all day) in my daily activities.  I operate an on-line business.  What more can I say to convince anyone that I am not anti-technology? I am just opposed to someone half-listening and then thinking they have attended a specific presentation -- and the presenter should not have to ask participants in the conference session to NOT tweet during the presentation (if you don't think the presenter will notice your preoccupation, don't kid yourself) -- anymore than a CEO of a business should have to ask their sales people to stop conversing with their assistant while he/she is presenting the company's new product line.  Time enough to synthesis and evaluate the information AFTER they have all the facts.  Press conferences invite immediate releases of their information but those feeds are sent to parent news agencies who are ready to digest the information, know the context of tweets, and have back-up material ready to put  the tweet in context for the wider general audience.

Other articles you may wish to investigate:
Stephen Abrams article "Conference Twittering"  in Stephen Lighthouse blog at

So in short after all the investigation I must have concluded that presentation attendees should please take notes, then present your peers with your comments in context, with your careful analysis.  Your comments will then have some substance and credibility and the tweets won't be just more "text-bites" cluttering up the twitter channels.   If you wish to twitter about the conference in general, suggest a wonderful presentation to attend, hook-up for a dinner get-together, check where the publisher's party is, by all means use twitter to your heart's content.

In the end it is not the twitter technology that should be the focus, it must be the quality and usefulness of information that being dispensed that should be the focus.

And don't expect to find out where I had lunch by following my tweets.

Comments (pro or con) are welcome.


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