Last month I wrote a post about extracting learning from a conference you are not attending. In it I explored a number of ways that non-attendees can learn a great deal, even without attending a conference.
Another important part of the program guide review is planning what sessions you want to learn from. This, again, is in some ways even more important for the backchannel learner. When I attend a conference in person, my ‘work calendar’ for those days consists of something like this:
There are a great number of desktop and online tools that provide additional Twitter functionality not found via Twitter.com. Leveraging these tools can greatly enhance backchannel learning.
The tool that I use is one of the most popular: TweetDeck. TweetDeck enables a user to follow multiple Twitter feeds simultaneously. At first glance TweetDeck may seem overwhelming; in reality, it is actually filtering the Twitter stream into more targeted and actionable information. Using TweetDeck, I can simultaneously monitor my primary Twitter feed, as well as various search options.
Another reason I like TweetDeck is that it very well supports the in-and-out nature of backchannel learning. I can very easily review the tweet stream for a bit, return to my regular work for a period of time, and come back to TweetDeck without missing a beat.
I leverage TweetDeck’s ‘Clear All’ button for this purpose. During DevLearn, I have TweetDeck running as shown in the above image. When I have the opportunity to review the backchannel, I do so. When I need to return to regular work, I click the Clear All button in each column to clear out the tweets. That way, when I return to TweetDeck later, I know anything on my screen is new and I should review.
Engage in Conference Learning Activities
DevLearn10 had a couple of excellent activities that expanded on the learning and engagement of the conference. One such activity that I participated in was called Backchatter.
Backchatter is an interesting game that further engages conference attendees. The idea behind Backchatter is simple: Participants think about the conference and choose the three words that they think will appear most often during the upcoming 60-90 minutes of backchannel. Those words are scored based on how many participants chose the word, and points are earned every time a tweet contains the word.
It was a simple game with real-time scoring that definitely added another leavel of engagement to the conference. It also enhanced backchannel learning.
For one thing, participating in this game put a backchannel participant on almost equal ground with an in-person attendee, at least in relation to the game. It also further enhanced backchannel learning. One basic rule of learning is just as true in the backchannel as it is in any other type of learning: If you are engaged, you have a better chance of learning. Backchatter definitely succeeds at increasing engagement.
Another way that Backchatter contributed to the learning was a subtle part of it’s home page. It included a tag cloud that showed the most commonly chosen words of the participants. Like the program guide, this tag cloud provided a glimpse into the overall themes and ideas that were floating through the minds of conference participants.
Search the Hashtag for Tweets with Links
Monitoring a conference backchannel can be time consuming. Doing so live is preferred, as it gives you the option to interact with conference attendees. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option.
When time is an issue, that doesn’t eliminate backchannel learning. You can make best use of your limited time by performing an advanced search for tweets that provide more detail for your backchannel learning.
In my previous post on learning from a conference you did not attend, I suggested performing an advanced search looking for blog posts about the conference. For DevLearn10, I used a different approach that I think casts a wider, and more effective, net.
Using the advanced search functionality of Twitter (available at http://search.twitter.com/), search on the conference hashtag. In addition, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the search options, you will see an check box option labelled ‘Containing Links’; check that. Here’s what the results of such a search look like:
Since most tweets referencing blog posts include a link, this search covers that. It also catches much more valuable information for backchannel learning, including:
- Photos from the conference, often including pictures of slides being displayed.
- Links to resources and tools that speakers recommend
- Links to videos that compliment the conference content.
These are just a few of the techniques that can be used for backchannel learning. I have found them very helpful in enabling me to learn a great deal from the DevLearn10 conference. I hope these tips help you learn from an upcoming conference.
If you have any additional tips for learning via the backchannel, please add it via a comment.