Where’s My Backchannel?

It is amazing how quickly you grow accustomed to something and then how much you miss it when it is no longer available.


Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan via Compfight

I will be the first to admit that I have not been a serious user of Twitter for very long – since July 2012 which also happened to be the date of the CEGSA 2012 conference. It was there that I was convinced by George Couros (@gcouros) that there was more to Twitter than the following of celebrities that I had been doing up until then. I was following a very standard twitter adoption path similar to the one outlined by Daniel Edwards (@syded06here (by the way I am now somewhere between step 8 or 9)

Anyhow, it was while I was recently attending a non IT related conference ( yes I do go to PD that is related to other aspects of teaching too)  that  I realised how spoilt I have been in  regards to the use social media as a major part of my professional learning.

When I first arrived at the conference I noticed that I was one of the few pulling out my iPad to take notes on. That was ok. I am used to this, though it is nice now in staff meetings since our staff have been given iPads to use, that I am not the only one taking digital notes.

The next major difference I discovered was the wifi. After being at many conferences/PD days where good quality wifi access is the norm, it was quite a shock to discover that at this venue the wifi was locked down and you were expected to pay quite a lot of money to access it!  That was overcome too though as I just hooked the iPad up to the iPhone and voilà – internet access!
(We won’t talk about how doing this caused my phone’s battery to flatten very quickly!)

However all of these are very minor problems which, as I have said, were overcome quite easily. The biggest issue I faced at this conference was the fact that the backchannel I have become so accustomed to was missing. Compare this to when I was working for CEGSA in Perth for ACEC2012, I wasn’t even in the room for most of the keynotes or sessions but I had a great idea of what was going on because of all the people in the room who were sharing their ideas/thoughts and resources along with what the keynote/presenter was putting out there. Even when I have been in the room while a session was happening, Twitter has been an invaluable provider of extra information, understanding and resources as you are able to not only have the benefit of your own interpretation of what you are learning but also that of the rest of the backchannel!

To cut a long story short, there were two of us in the room who were tweeting – a very elite backchannel, and we did enjoy a bit of sharing and networking. But there was none of the sharing of ideas, thoughts and resources from a wide range people that I have grown accustomed to. There was also nothing to challenge what was being said or provide a different point of view to that of the one person standing before us. Even the digital resources that we were told we could access once we got home were provided to us on a piece of paper. There was no interactivity, I wanted web 2.0 and I was in a read only world. By mid morning our presenter, who had been telling us of the importance of including IT all morning, actually provided a hashtag for us to use but by then my phone had gone flat making Twitter inaccessible and I was back to taking notes by myself on the iPad, all the while wondering “Where’s my backchannel?”

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