A few months ago, I attended Computers and Writing 2011 in Ann Arbor. I went at the suggestion of James Schirmer, who correctly thought I’d find the topics there interesting. But this story is not about that conference … much.
A few weeks ago, I was asked by Jacob Blumner to attend the Lilly Conference in Traverse City, and also to fill in for his role in a joint presentation with faculty connected to the Doctor of Nursing Practice/Marian E. Wright Writing Center online writing collaboration. But this story is not about that conference … much.
What this story is about is the role of Twitter in such academic venues. In the case of one conference, the role was robust, and in the other practically non-existent. The only detour into the actual conference content I’ll take is to acknowledge that I was frankly far more interested in the C&W schedule, being that it aligns so closely with my own interests, both personally and academically. The Lilly schedule was much more multi-disciplinary, its strength lying in drawing ideas from multiple systems of thought. I should probably note that, given the groups the conferences would attract, it’s probably not surprising that C&W was the conference big on tweets.
What strikes me is the opportunity missed by Lilly organizers and attendees to enhance their conference discussions. The rich, swift moving Twitter backchannel discussion at C&W stands out as one of the best experiences related to the conference. Not only was I benefitting from the enriching discussions from attendees and presenters of the sessions I was personally attending in the physical world, but I was also gleaning additional insights from the same people in the digital space concurrently. Twitter also offered benefits not possible in the physical space: participants who didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in the session, or who missed the opportunity to contribute in a timely manner but still wanted to offer a comment, and participants who wanted to distill the proceedings into salient takeaways all had a venue in which to speak. And as a bonus, pearls of insight freshly shucked in other concurrent sessions had an outlet to attendees who may have wanted to join in, but chose to participate in other, equally-tempting sessions. At C&W, thousands of #cwcon tweets created an entirely secondary conference experience over the course of four days, not even accounting for the days leading up to and weeks after. Any combination of search terms you can think of related to the Lilly Conference, including the official Twitter account, produces barely a dozen relevant results – two of them were my own, and there were hundreds of attendees there.
This comes just a month shy of my trip to the National Conference on Peer Tutoring and Writing in Miami (shameless plug: join me for “Tutoring Across the Spectrum of Directivity,” tentatively scheduled for Saturday morning, Session B at 8 am – stay tuned for changes!). I anticipate that just like the C&W conference in May, the NCPTW conference is more applicable to a narrower group of subjects, which may bolster the interest all attendees may have in most sessions, both in sharing and learning from second-hand. By contrast, the sessions at Lilly were much more varied in subject and scope, so the universality of interest must have been lower. I think the fate of Lilly can be easily avoided at NCPTW, and I think the conference experience would be better for it.
Unfortunately, at this moment there’s nothing to indicate an official Twitter presence for this upcoming NCPTW conference. Being the busy body I can be sometimes, I’ve just emailed the social networking coordinator for NCPTW, suggesting a more formal effort here. Until I get a response, I’m going to start tweeting with the #NCPTW tag. I do hope something official is announced soon, and well before the actual start date. *** Beside the obvious benefits of a concurrent conference backchannel, Twitter functions well in its most basic role as a social network, allowing attendees to connect before they arrive, plan what they intend to do during non-conference times, and to build networks of like minds to carry with them beyond the sessions.
I truly hope that either #NCPTW or something similar can take off as an umbrella hashtag. Even if I’m surrounded by those of a similar interest in Miami, I’d hate to feel as detached from other attendees as I did at the Lilly Conference.
*** EDIT: I’ve had the pleasure of learning from the NCPTW Social Networking Coordinator that they’ve taken my suggestion and created @NCPTW. Now to swell the following ranks…