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From Egg to Twitterati: Turning Around the Tweet-less Conference

Recently I've been attending a number of conferences, both those focused on ed tech and those focused on other areas of education. What's interesting to me is the varying levels of social media use at different events—specifically Twitter. While I expected that all of the ed-tech events would feature heavy Twitter use, there were many of which where I was one of the lone faces on the feed. Conversely, some events focused on reading or math had heavy traffic on the hashtag.

The one factor that remained the same was the incredible community that was created as a result of Twitter activity. In all of the events where Twitter use was high, I saw a number of impromptu social events pop up: "Group of us headed over to ______ for a Tweet-up at 5pm after the keynote! Join us! #conferencehashtag" or "Great chat on ______ happening over at ______ on ______ street! Come on over! #conferencehashtag".

Better yet, participants were able to jump in on sessions they weren't able to attend. In skimming the event hashtag, you would find a wealth of resources being tweeted out from various sessions happening concurrently. In the best scenarios, a thoughtful attendee would have created an open Google doc for anyone in the session to add notes and comments to and anyone not in the session to view. I've even seen someone raise their hand to ask a question posed from Twitter directly to this session: "Hey can someone at the diverse learners session ask the presenter if he knows of good sites for ELLs? #conferencehashtag".

Finally, having such high Twitter use at the event created a sort of palpable energy and momentum for the participants. Excited tweets like the following made it clear that in this space, at this time, you had found your tribe: "OMG - MIND blown by this keynote! He totally is speaking to my classroom! Can't wait to try this on Mon! #conferencehashtag" or "I just found my #edusoulmate at #conferencehashtag! We're going to do a cross-school collaboration this quarter!"

So if Twitter is such a great professional learning tool, and is so powerful in face-to-face learning events like conferences, why isn't it a staple at all events? Most, if not all, conferences have a hashtag and try to encourage use, so why aren't folks more tuned in?

In my experience, it's a lack of clarity and confidence.

First off, not all educators have total clarity on what Twitter is and why it's important. They see it as a limiting tool (Only 140 characters?! How is anyone supposed to say anything important in 140 characters?!). They also see it as a platform for celebrities to tweet promotions for energy drinks or night clubs—not first grade teachers who want to share an exciting pedagogy.

Second, educators who may have clarity on the what and why may not have the confidence to send out messages on a public platform for all to see. The openness and transparency of Twitter is what makes it so powerfulbut it's also what makes it so daunting. Jumping into a stream of tweets when the concept of a hashtag is brand-new can be scary.

So what to do, conference organizers?

One great idea that I've seen is starting the day with a mini Twitter bootcamp. This isn't an optional pre-con but the first 10 minutes before a keynote. Everyone creates or logs into their Twitter account and the presenter on the keynote stage walks the audience through a series of "safe tweets" using the conference hashtag. They ask the audience to introduce themselves, tweet out their favorite book from their classroom library, or take a photo of their shoes and share it out.

This short activity can lay the foundation for the entire event. If the keynote can then incorporate prompts in their presentation asking the audience to tweet out their ideas and reactions, then it keeps the momentum going. Break-out presenters should continue this by giving cues to participants to tweet out ideas or reactions to their session content as well.

When done well, I've seen a conference take several hundred Twitter "eggs" to full-fledged Twitterati in just a few hours. The professional learning is shared beyond the walls of the event, and strangers become collaborators in an ongoing community.

So, what is your experience with using Twitter for professional learning? Do you have any tips or ideas to share? Please add them to the comments below!

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