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Saturday, September 14 • 3:01pm - 3:20pm
"Tweeting to learn: An exploration of Twitter-based learning during conferences”

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Twitter is an integral part of conference activities, acting as a communication backchannel for attendees and non-attendees (Ross, Terras, Warwick & Welsh, 2011) and is often promoted by organizers before a conference begins through the creation of official conference hashtags. But why is Twitter used at conferences? This paper examines learning as a potential purpose for Twitter use and explores how Twitter might facilitate overall conference learning experiences. 

Various aspects of Twitter use by conference attendees have been explored in the literature. Ross, et al. (2011) found that conference attendees tweeted to discuss conference-related topics, share information, and build a community; through discontinuous conversations, Twitter users were able expand communication networks. Ebner, Mühlburger, Schaffert, Schiefner, Reinhardt, and Wheeler (2010) examined tweet contents to determine the usefulness of tweets to non-attendees and found that many tweets would not be helpful due to a lack of context; rather, the Twitter backchannel provided an opportunity to establish an online presence for conference attendees. Chen (2011) conducted a network analysis to identify four types of conference tweeters. 

While these studies provide a descriptive analysis of Twitter use at conferences, they provide only an introduction to potential benefits of Twitter. Gao, Luo, and Zhang’s (2012) review of microblogging in education literature provides an outline of the ways students learn using Twitter in a classroom setting, but do not extend this analysis to Twitter-based learning at academic conferences. Since one of the primary motivations for attending a conference is to learn through presentations and interactions with colleagues, the proposed study will use theories of social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978) and connectivism (Siemens, 2005) as a basis to examine how Twitter use at conferences can promote learning through sharing information, encouraging informal learning, and establishing networks of interactive co-learners. This study seeks to respond to the question “Can, and how does tweeting facilitate learning during conferences?” 

To map learning through Tweeting, we will examine changes of three indicators of learning over the duration of a conference. We will conduct a quantitative analysis of hashtags to examine changing themes discussed by Twitter attendees; we will conduct a content analysis to examine the development of concepts learned over time and connect these concepts to conference themes; finally, we will conduct a social network analysis, mapping re-Tweets and @replies to explore the development of relationships throughout the conference—are conference attendees broadening their networks or are attendees reinforcing established cliques? (Ross et al., 2011). Data will be collected from the 2013 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences through the use of a Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet (Hawksey, 2013). This conference represents a wide variety of perspectives and scholarly interests and is particularly well suited to this analysis as our conclusions will not be limited by the behavior of members of a specific discipline. 

Through the exploration and examination of Twitter-based learning exhibited in tweets associated with the 2013 Congress conference, this project will shed light on whether, and how, Twitter use can facilitate or extend learning experiences at academic conferences. 


Chen, B. (April 2011). Is the backchannel enabled? Using Twitter at academic 
conferences. Paper presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Retrieved from: http://www.bodongchen.com/file/Chen_AERA2011_Twitter_backchannel.pdf

Ebner, M., Mühlburger, H., Schaffert, S., Schiefner, M., Reinhardt, W., & Wheeler, S. 
(2010). Getting granular on twitter: tweets from a conference and their limited usefulness for non-participants. In Key Competencies in the Knowledge Society (pp. 102-113). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 

Gao, F., Luo, T., & Zhang, K. (2012). Tweeting for learning: A critical analysis of research on microblogging in education published in 2008-2011. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(5), 783–801. 

Hawksey, M. (2013). Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet TAGS v5. In Jisc CETIS MASHe, retrieved from: http://mashe.hawksey.info/2013/02/twitter-archive-tagsv5/ 

Reinhardt, W., Ebner, M., Beham, G., & Costa, C. (2009). How people are using 
Twitter during conferences. In Proceedings of 5. Edumedia Conference (pp.145-156). Retrieved from http://elearningblog.tugraz.at/scms/data/alt/publication/09_edumedia.pdf 

Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., & Welsh, A. (2011). Enabled backchannel: 
Conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation, 67(2), 214-237. doi: 10.1108/00220411111109449 

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2 (1). Retrieved from http://itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/ article01.htm

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological 
Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 


Sarah Gilbert

University of British Columbia, Canada

Drew Paulin

University of British Columbia, Canada

Saturday September 14, 2013 3:01pm - 3:20pm EDT
ROWE 1020

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