Twitter in a learning context – the downside observed at ALT-C 2010.

Today I attended one the invited paper sessions at the ALT-C 2010 conference, that is on at Nottingham at the moment, as a “virtual” delegate. While not there, I observed something that I think is worth reporting and reflecting on.

I attended an invited session, which was being broadcast, via Elluminate, to the wider community. The first speaker was Dave White, of the Oxford University TALL project. He wowed the audience with his talk on distance learning and by giving away Pringles as rewards for audience participation. He was such a success in fact, that the audience (who for the most part where actually in the room*) twittered away continually right through the second speaker’s presentation.

This was interesting because there are parallels to be made with (the lack of) student engagement in lectures. If this had been my lecture and my students had been tweeting (or more likely Facebooking) about last night rather than my lesson, I’d be shocked. Yet this audience of learning technologists and educational professionals, where quite happy to totally ignore Hans-Peter Baumeister’s important concerns about the widening gap between how we think we should use technology with students and how students are using technology.

Now, admittedly, Hans-Peter could do with watching Chris Hall’s “Is Powerpoint evil?” video, but even so, this seemed a bit out or order. After all, this was an invited speaker deemed by the ALT community (or at least their representatives on the conference organizing committee) to be worth listening to and learning from.

There were other issues as well. The slides for Dave’s talk weren’t being displayed for much of the talk. If you watch the recording (when it is made available) … I assume that you’ll see the same as I saw. Which is very little. Also, in general, the slides shown in Elluminate seem to lag behind the speaker.

Then there is the question of the suitability of Twitter as a back channel. It works well for those watching and engaged in the conversation at the time that it is happening. It is almost useless as a context-dependent archive. For example, Elluminate records the chat contributions when they happen: viewers of the recording will at least get to see the conversation as it happened and in context of what the speaker was saying and the visuals being shown. It will be almost impossible to marry the Twitter back channel to the recorded session.

I must return to the conference now as Sugata Mitra is about to give his keynote.

*I assume this because the external audience had to watch the talks in Elluminate and would need to switch context from chat to twitter to contribute.

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