Wednesday 10th April, 2013
3:50pm to 4:20pm
The focus of this study is the conference behaviours of academic users of Twitter, a social networking/microblogging service that allows users to view and send short messages from mobile phones as well as computers and other internet-enabled devices. Twitter is being used increasingly as a means of continuing and extending dialogue, commentary and networking amongst academic conference participants and is rapidly becoming the default technology used to support what is known as the ‘backchannel’.
The backchannel is the term used to designate the digital communications space used to sustain primarily - but not exclusively - textual interactions alongside live spoken presentations delivered in a physical environment. The backchannel was first employed in large technology conferences in the USA and was enabled by lightweight synchronous communications tools such as IRC (internet-relay chat). The growing adoption of Twitter has led to Twitter-enabled backchannels – both ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ - becoming an increasingly common feature of many academic conferences all over the world. What was once a marginal practice specific to technology conferences is now moving into the mainstream.
There has been some debate in the blogosphere, as well as in academic publications, about the digital backchannel in general and the Twitter-enabled backchannel in particular. However, in the context of digital backchannel practices entering the mainstream as a result of the rapid uptake of Twitter and the ubiquity of portable and hand-held devices enabling its convenient use, it’s time to revisit the question of the conference backchannel and its contribution to conference participation and community learning.
This paper reports on my analysis of the backchannel interactions at one academic conference. I will argue that this Twitter-enabled backchannel constitutes a laminated discursive space in which the conference participants perform multiple identities. The Twitter-enabled backchannel raises some interesting questions about new forms of conference participation, about personal learning networks and the changing nature of collegiality in a digital age.
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