Monday 20 October 2014

Experiments with Twitter

The other day, prompted by a comment from a colleague, I decided to experiment with live tweeting during one of my workshops.

I sent participants a note in advance explaining that, and mentioning a few ways it might be used, including questions, feedback to me, and so on, but saying I did not wish to constrain them and would be interested to see what happened. I told them the hashtag we would use.

So on the day, as well as the projector connected to my laptop for a few slides, I had a second projector and screen in the corner of the room, to which I connected my iPad, which had Twitter open, displaying tweets with the appropriate hashtag (initially, just one from me).

I mentioned the Twitter experiment again at the start of the workshop, including the hashtag on an introductory slide, and then waited to see what happened.

In the event, there were just two tweets from participants, to which I replied.

At the end of the day I asked participants for their views on the experiment, and they said:
  • It had not been a distraction
  • It was interesting to see what others had commented on (and I, too, had found that interesting to see)
  • It had not really been necessary for questions etc as the session had been so interactive and participative: perhaps it would be more valuable for a larger group (nb there were 14 people on the workshop).
I learned a number of things from the experiment. Firstly here are things I noticed and will do differently:

1  My iPad ran out of power before the end of the day (and the charger uses the same slot as the output for the projector, so I had to re-charge during sessions which meant the tweets were not visible, which was a disincentive to tweet further). So next time I think I'll alternate between my iPad and my iPhone being connected to the projector.

2  The image size was much better when the iPad was in Landscape rather than Portrait orientation.  So next time, I'll make sure it is Landscape from the start.

3  Even so the image size was a bit small: so next time I will find a better position for the projector so tweets are easily read from the back of the room.

4  I initially replied to the tweets without using the hashtag, so my replies did not show up on screen. I then retweeted the replies with the hashtag, but as tweets rather than replies, so they did not 'nest' with the tweets to which I was replying. So next time I will reply with the hashtag included.

NB One thing I got right which I must remember next time is to use a unique hashtag that is unlikely to be used by anyone else, and to check that it is not being used.

I was lucky, too, to have Janet Lavery on the workshop. Janet has some expertise in using technology to enhance learning, and gave me some valuable tips at the end of the day, for which I am very grateful:

1  It would have been better to state the purpose of using twitter in the introductory letter, not say it was an experiment (apparently, experiments demonstrate that the word experiment lowers participation rates!)

2  It would have been better still to have given them specific things to tweet about: eg when doing group activities, the observers could have tweeted observations, and these could have been reviewed together after the activity. It is important to make clear that it is not compulsory - some people don't like social media.

3  It would have been better at the start of the day, when I asked people to put their phones on silent, to have encouraged them to leave them on the table, so they were accessible for tweeting (most people put their phones away, once on silent mode, from force of habit).

4    It would have been better to set aside some time (say just before each break) at least to acknowledge, and if appropriate discuss, tweets so far.

5  It is important to do a screengrab quite promptly, if you wish to save the conversation, as things may disappear.

I'll be very interested to hear from anyone else who encourages live tweeting during workshops; or anyone who has experimented with this and decided to stop.

I'm inclined to give the experiment another outing, informed by the learning so far, and see if it does add anything of value to the workshop. What I'd like, in particular, is if it develops into a conversation that lasts beyond the workshop, which might help with the retention, and transfer, of learning.

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