By @mhawksey

‘Activity’ in the Twitter backchannel at #altc2012 day 1

Poh, Swenson & Picard (2010) Brain ActivityThe graph on the right is taken from a paper mentioned in Eric Mazur’s keynote from the first day of the ALT* Conference 2012. The paper, A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-Term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity (Poh, Swenson & Picard, 2010), reports the study of an experimental wristband which can record brain activity. Mazur used the paper to highlight that often being in class generates less brain activity than when asleep and similar levels to when watching TV. Mazur went on to describe the theory and techniques, including Peer Instruction, for moving lectures away from a broadcast mode into a richer interactive experience.
Unfortunately Mazur was unable to incorporate some of these techniques into his keynote and so, enjoyable as it was, I found myself on a verge of a TV watching state. As is becoming increasingly common when watching the box this was augmented by the ‘second screen’, in this case the #altc2012 twitter stream.
Had I been hooked up to a brain monitor I sure it would have recorded frantic activity trying to report some of the c.170 spam tweets (over 20%) pushed into a UK trending stream. But did I learn anything from the remaining c.600 legitimate tweets? On reflection I don’t recall ‘learning’ anything from the backchannel. One theory is that the backchannel is just an amplifier or repeater. As I recently noted in Notes from the Twitter backchannel at eAssessment Scotland 2012 #eas12 the audience is largely in a rebroadcast or note collection mode which could is evident in the lack of @relies. So there is less peer dialogue, but this doesn’t mean other processes aren’t at work. For example, there may some level of cognition in forming a 140 character tweet which provides the opportunity for internal self dialogue.
So I think I’m adjusting my expectation of the backchannel and taking a leaf out of Sheila MacNeill’s Confessions of a selfish conference tweeter. I still think there are opportunities unpick the discourse from Twitter communities, but just when people are in a different mode like in #moocmooc. 
[I really need to blog about how I calculated the number of spam tweets. In the meantime here is a graph of Twitter activity during Eric’s keynote]

Interactive version of Tweets, Replies and Spam for #altc2012 during Eric Mazur’s Keynote

*ALT is the Association of Learning Technologists

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