Live-tweeting at academic conferences: a response to @GdnHigherEd & @ernestopriego

Last week, the Guardian reported on academics and their use of twitter at conferences. Posted by Ernesto Priego, the article presents 10 points to bear in mind when tweeting at conferences, and it starts with:

On Sunday, 30 September, a debate began on Twitter – later dubbed #Twittergate – about the etiquette and ethics of live-tweeting academic conferences. Summarising the crux of the matter, journalist Steve Kolowich later writes: “Scholars often present unpublished work at conferences. But while they may be willing to expose an unpolished set of ideas to a group of peers, academics may be less eager to have those peers turn around and broadcast those ideas to the world”.

Below are the top tips from the freelance researcher (affiliated with the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities) who tweets as @ernestopriego, along with some commentary from my own perspective.

1. If you are an event organiser, decide in advance if you will allow tweeting. I personally believe ‘live-tweeting encouraged’ should be the default mode for most large arts and humanities conferences.

Great, but it seems a bit totalitarian to talk about “allowing” delegates to tweet. I agree with the default suggestion and that conferences where sensitive research may be presented might wish to limit reporting in any format, and not just twitter, but I suspect this would be an atypical academic conference and the onus would rest firmly on the presenter to add the occasional prefix “please don’t report on this yet, as…” with a brief explanation as to the level of sensitivity. My caution here is to the presenter, not to the tweeter.

2. There is no way you will be able to completely stop it from happening, but it’s the organisers’ prerogative to set your own guidelines and standards. The hashtag should be advertised in advance, making sure it’s relevant, easy to type and does not have alternative meanings or uses on Twitter. To help ensure that the key points you want disseminated from the conference get out, appoint some experienced social media users to be your ‘official’ live-tweeterers.

In my experience, hashtags have a life of their own and often new ones spring up organically for parallel streams but a nice short easily identifiable hashtag in advance or at the start of a conference is a great way to pull things together. Good conference organisers have not only official tweeters but might also use Storify or blog posts as a means to collect and curate various tweets into a sensible story for that day, that session or even that keynote. Organisers might disseminate an official hashtag, but just watch out for unofficial ones creeping in.

3. If you are going to take photos, whether you intend to post them online or not, always ask if it’s OK first, even if it’s impractical to do so. If anyone doesn’t want other scholars promoting their papers online, maybe they should reconsider what conferences are for in the first instance. It’s better not to take photos of large groups (i.e. the audience) unless you have permission from all of them to do so. If they ask you to please not tweet, you should try to respect that.

I have a habit of photographing slides – usually for my own note-taking purposes – and occasionally tweet the image as an easy way to get more information across in under 140 characters, or if the visual adds more than the written word. This avoids snapping people, or if delegates are in view, the contrast is usually so high that the outline is unrecognisable or can be cropped accordingly. More often than not, the content could have been written down and reported, but I will ask permission and especially so for visual representations: the only downside is that twitter can be very real-time-oriented and the back channel discussions can take place instantaneously (especially if several tweeters are in the audience) often making permission seeking impossible rather than impractical if the back channel is to work effectively. If in doubt, then the back channel may just have to wait.

4. If you will be in charge of live-tweeting the whole event or individual sessions, take it seriously. It’s a cliche but with great power comes great responsibility.

True. Also, make sure you are disseminating widely. Not everyone will use twitter, but can you embed recent tweets on the conference website, or use them to advertise your event more widely?

5. Attribution is key: Be clear in your tweets about who is saying what. If you don’t attribute and/or use quotation marks when reporting what has been said, people can (and rightly will) assume it’s you saying it. If the speaker is on Twitter, find out what they are called on Twitter in advance, as their ‘handle’ will often be shorter than their name.

Difficult in 140 characters, but my rule of thumb is to question the relevance and weight of the tweet and decide what is worth putting out there. A shortened link (bitly etc) to the online conference abstract can capture the real name, affiliation and summary of speaker’s presentation quite nicely, which is useful whether they tweet or not.

6. If you are quoting directly, use quotation marks. Think direct and indirect reported speech. Never assume anything you read online is from the public demain. Attribute other people’s ideas or anything else you quote. It’s not just good manners, it’s professional ethics.

Attribution again Only applicable for the shortest of quotes – I find most tweets have an element of paraphrasing but then will quote the “odd” word as directly attributable. I think it’s safe to assume everything you read online is in the public domain, but be wary about how long it will stay in the public domain, or who put it there.

7. Even if you completely disagree with what is being said, always be polite and respectful. Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say to a person or group face-to-face.

My acid test for tweets is to feed them directly into my LinkedIn profile. That way I’m always cautious to avoid saying anything that would reflect badly on me in the eyes of my carefully groomed list of personal and professional contacts. Polite and respectful dissent is an art-form!

8. If you are live-tweeting an event, assume that people outside the conference will be interested and/or will read your tweets. This includes people who don’t follow you directly. Explain frequently what that obscure hashtag means, so the hashtag achieves the purpose of promoting the event and ideas outside the four walls of the event venue.

Good thinking – perhaps introduce your followers and the world at large to new events and set up your market stall early in the day so that they know what you might be tweeting about. The hashtag itself can be followed so it can be useful to give a heads up warning for when your flow of information will recommence the next day, or following a lengthy break.

9. Link liberally. Search for references as speakers present. Share with your followers the resources the presenters are showing in the room – unless you are not meant to and one should expect speakers and/or organisers to indicate this in advance.

I agree wholeheartedly with this suggestion. On personal experience, these links are just as much for my own personal benefit as a set of notes for myself, even more so if I then draw them together with either Storify or in a blog post. Links to the conference website/abstract, university homepages, profiles or slideshare content can be useful as well as the resources that are presented in the room.

10. Enjoy it. Live-tweeting should be fun, empowering and inspiring. It should create positive opportunities. It’s all about engagement, community building and widening participation.

If you don’t enjoy it, then why do it? My only sense of labour is when I’m tweeting in an official capacity (perhaps as part of the conference team, or running an organisation’s own twitter feed) and I get the feeling of “I’ve started so I’ll finish”! Followers may be expecting full conference coverage, speakers may be disheartened if you don’t tweet something about their presentation, and fellow tweeters may also need that additional encouragement to keep going into the graveyard slot.

Finally, a thought to the afterlife of all these tweets. I mentioned earlier about curating them into Storify, a blog post or some other asset with a longer lifespan than a tweet. It is often disappointing to see a conference hashtag fizzle out like a low-level radioactive isotope half-life, ending out with pleasantries like “didn’t we have a lovely time” and “weren’t the organisers nice” eaking out the hashtag’s dying hours as we all take the train home.

HEA Secondment

From the start of August 2011, I will be on a secondment to the Higher Education Academy as the Discipline Lead for Law.  This sees the end of the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE), the subject centre based at the University of Warwick, which was supported by HEA funding.

In more than 10 years of innovation in legal education, UKCLE has:

  • provided over 158 events
  • published 33 publications
  • funded over 45 projects
  • kept over 1,100 contacts up to date
  • published more than 1,000 web pages
  • created over 380 web resources
  • received funding worth over £4,800,000
  • attended over 320 events

I was the UKCLE Scotland Consultant until the Centre closed and I will be taking forward many of the initiatives and projects which the Centre started, as well as promoting the HEA priorities across the UK for legal education.

The UKCLE website remains as an archived site, with many of the resources now transferred to the HEA’s bank of law resources, which can be searched in-depth by subject or thematic areas:

  • Assessment and feedback
  • Education for sustainable development
  • Flexibly learning
  • Employability
  • Internationalisation
  • Retention and success
  • Reward and recognition

The twitter account for @hea_ukcle has been renamed and will continue as @hea_law with the regular tweets including the #FollowFriday and #WebWednesday regular entries.  I should also point out the excellent review of the earlier @hea_ukcle account compiled by @annindk at her Danegeld blog.

Anyone wishing to get in touch can do so with the usual GCU  email and phone numbers, or via the HEA as detailed on their website.

Social Media Map

My take on a social media strategy for academics!  Or, at least, this is how I’ve used Twitter as my main channel of communication, to aggregate stuff from elsewhere into Twitter automatically, and to send it all out again to other networks.

Over the past few years I’ve found Twitter to be the most versatile and useful social media tool for professional use.  I can make quick and easy comments on “what’s happening”, put in hyperlinks or images, reply and re-tweet, categorise use hashtags etc, etc.  It’s main benefit is probably the 14o characters – this helps me to be concise as short means quick (usually) and there are fewer unfinished drafts hanging about in the ether.

As an academic, I use all of these tools in a professional sense, so I’m content to allow each one to interface with another and share content around.  However, the map illustrated above comes partly serendipitous and partly planned that way.

The people whom I follow, and by and large those who follow me, on Twitter are professional, work-related or interested in some way, shape or form in law, legal education, technology and the like.  I keep in mind what I think these followers would be interested in when I compose a tweet, but as my account is not locked down, the entire stream is open and publicly viewable.  In fact, by using tags and re-tweeting, there is a wider unknown audience who may pick up on some tweets in this way.

Twitterfeed is a great tool for taking RSS content and automatically generating a tweet whenever new content is made available.  I’ve used the service sparingly, and only for trusted sources (either my own self-controlled source or a seriously trustworthy third party) to save me from writing tweets, and to auto-tweet when I’m not really around to do so!

The Slideshare and SSRN sources are my own powerpoint presentations and published papers, so they don’t cause a major content overload.  My favourites from YouTube and Google Reader depend wholly on how often I use the ‘star’ function for each one, so there does need to be some care to avoid a Twitter overload.

The final automated twitterfeed item consists of news items from an organisation I work for, so I know by and large what to expect with their news items and have faith that their news will a) be reliable, and b) be of interest to my followers on twitter.  Experience has confirmed this belief, thankfully!

Content that does not come through twitterfeed includes this blog and a blog I run for another organisation and I will add occasional location-based comments using Foursquare that post directly to twitter, as most social networking tools can.

As I’m happy using twitter as my primary method of communicating, I tend not to use other networks on a regular basis – other than to update the profile once in a while.  Although, I do wish to maintain a presence on these other sites, and will occasionally make more or less use of them, depending on my needs and preferences.

Linking Twitter to these accounts in the opposite direction, to send tweets outwards into these other networks allows me to have some presence without having to create content.

LinkedIn started as, and so remains, a network of professional associations.  I find their weekly digests (emailed to me) to be extremely useful as an overview of what’s been happening with my connections.  Yes, there will be overlap with those who are on twitter, but not everyone is, and also I’ve found twitter to be largely dependent on ‘here and now’, whereas LinkedIn gives me a brief and informative summing up of the recent past.

And finally, Facebook.  Again, a largely professional network but with a wider net capturing a few friends, colleagues, ex-students  (never current students, it’s enough to see what they do post-graduation) and the like.  Also, Facebook is a better environment for posting or sharing work-related content (images of slides, presenters, delegates at conferences or events perhaps) that are of less value to a wider audience (eg Twitter) and are maybe more appropriately restricted to friends and friends-of-friends, or groups and associations etc.

As I said at the start, this is my take on social media, and it works well for me.  Mapping it out helped slightly to ensure that there were no endless loops where content could be re-tweeted in a never ending cycle, and to see that I was using what I think are appropriate tools in an appropriate way.

So, If you’re reading this, give some consideration as to whether you’ve come here by way of my:

1 – Blog
2 – Twitter
3 – LinkedIn
4 – Facebook

QR Codes in Education

I’ve been playing with QR codes for a while, certainly since owning an iPhone, and thinking about how they can be used in education.  This week, a tweet from @hopkinsdavid and an accompanied blog post reminded me to re-visit these odd two-dimensional barcodes in time for teaching in September.

I had previously been using the code generator, and Qrafter to scan QR Codes on the old iPhone.  Worked well for me.  However, the poster from Hopkins and Bobeva brought a new service to my attention – – little difference, other than the addition of a short url below the image, and to go with that, the ability to track usage.

Bingo, now I can check to see if the effort involved in decorating module handbooks (minimal effort to be honest, and gives a bit of artistic ‘edginess’ to the printed pages) is worth doing, in terms of student use.  The one given above will take you… well I’m not telling, go find out!  For those who are curious and lacking in smart phone capacity there is the short-url, handy for making sure students aren’t disadvantaged in any way.  The trouble is, how do I know whether you’ve zapped it, or typed the url…?!

Next challenge – what’s worth translating into QR?

To be honest, with so much material being made available online, is there little benefit to this little mozaic that can’t be gotten from the good old-fashioned hyperlink?

A working paper from Ramsden, A., 2008. The use of QR codes in Education: A getting started guide for academics published as part of scoping study funded by JISC gives me some direction.  Firstly, the type of QR code, which I already knew (Hyperlink, Contact details, Telephone Number, Send SMS).  Secondly, a few ideas as to how to use them in practice.  I’ll elaborate on these ideas, and give some examples.

Contact details

I’m skeptical about giving students too many contact details for their mobile devices – least they contact me immediately once an issue arises that could satisfctorily be resolved with a little reading or research.

My name, email address and office phone are all given within the handbook, and all too-often students belate me that I wasn’t in my office when the passed the other day… so this one will go in the handbook and adorn the office door!

Events / Reminders

This came about as I was thinking ‘what should I put in the handbook that wouldn’t normally be available on the VLE?’, which has now changed to ‘what would anyone want on their mobile, rather than desktop?’ which stems from the idea of placing contact details on the office door.  I’ve created several, but had to revert to my original generator,,as my new friend doesn’t deal with vCalendar events.  This isn’t so much of a problem, as my only desire to use is based upon the short url which I could generate myself but would be rather pointless for an electronic calendar event wouldn’t it?!

Reading lists

My other potential use for mobile phones relates to books – either copies in the library, or ones to buy from Amazon.  Either way, I think that there is benefit to be gained fromcutting out the middle step – ie the library catelogue search engine or searching for the book by title/author etc.  The list can also be maintained and updated without the need for any changes to the code or to the printed material that is supplied.  Just to jazz things up a little, I’ve been pasting the QR code onto various logos etc as a transparent layer – seems to work okay, so long as there is a good level of contrast between the black code and whatever’s shown below.

Locations / Events

Finally, by using Google Maps or geographic co-ordinates, there is the option to give directions should an event be taking place somewhere out of the ordinary.  Useful for field trips and other off-campus events.

New Consultation on Twitter in Courtrooms

BILETA has been coordinating responses to consultations of law, technology and IT with the assistance of the SCRIPT centre at the University of Edinburgh (big-up to our newest exec member, Abbe Brown, for rejuvenating this!).

Recently, the Judicial Office for England and Wales has issued a consultation paper on the use of live, text-based communications from court for the purposes of fair and accurate reporting.

The consultation follows the publication of the Lord Chief Justice’s Interim Practice Guidance on live, text-based communications from court on 20 December 2010.

The consultation opens on 7 February 2011 and closes on 4 May 2011.

I’ll be assisting with collating opinions and putting together a response on behalf of BILETA,  so please get in touch if you have any comments!  There are six consultation questions, taken from this document, which are:

  1. Is there a legitimate demand for live, text‐based communications to be used from the courtroom?
  2. Under what circumstances should live, text‐based communications be permitted from the courtroom?
  3. Are there any other risks which derive from the use of live, text‐based
    communications from court?
  4. How should the courts approach with the different risks to proceedings posed by different platforms for live, text‐based communications from court?
  5. How should permitting the use of live, text‐based communications from court be reconciled with the prohibition against the use of mobile telephones in court?
  6. Should the use of live, text‐based communications from court be principally for the use of the media? How should the media be defined? Should persons other than the accredited media be permitted to engage in live, text‐based communications from court?