Redefining Conference Professional Respect

I’m not much of a contributor to mailing lists but I do read through some of the postings on the Oz-teachers list. There seemed to be very little about the recent ACEC08 conference in Canberra on the open web so I read some recent reflections with interest. One aspect of interest that came through in some of the reflections was an annoyance with delegates who chose to backchannel via twitter on laptops during some of the keynotes and presentations. Without directly quoting any of the responses, there was an opinion posed that these educators were lacking in professional respect, that they weren’t paying attention to what was being presented and that their activities were distracting for other delegates.

Anyway, I thought I would throw the latter half of my posting here for the wider edublogger community to ponder at their whim.

I am one of those educators who will always have his laptop open (wireless availability and battery life permitting) and use the web to connect to points of interest that a speaker might be mentioning, pulling in resources that come to mind when something crops up, making notes, trading ideas with any backchannel that exists and yes, delving into my RSS reader if the presentation becomes irrelevant to my learning. I do this quietly, without fanfare and certainly am unsure how this activity can become a distraction to others. This methodology has actually made me a more attentive participant at any conferences that I’ve attended.

Although I did not go to ACEC, I would say that any ICT conference that has a mobiles off, laptops off policy is not one that I’d bother attending.

However, this is just my opinion. What do others think? Laptop backchannelling – the way modern educators make conferences relevant or just plain bad manners?

Are those of us who are laptop-toting social media addicts helpful to the future of professional learning or adding a complicated layer that just scares or annoys others?

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14 Responses to “Redefining Conference Professional Respect”


  • Bagging people in public spaces will lead to problems I think. But when you are paying for something, and can’t get to all the sessions NECC style, then Twittering comments does help you decide to bail or stay where you currently are. Laptops and Phones are part of the territory. I for one paid good money for a lame session at NECC. I saw a Tweet from someone, and went to a brilliant free session about World of Warcraft.

    Twit-snobs do exist I guess.

  • Personally I think it essential to a good conference, shows people are engaging with the content in the immediacy of it’s delivery in a range of social media. As a presenter I welcome and invite people to engage in back channel conversations ie txt in an online sessions or blogging, instant messaging or twittering. I try to capture this and present it after the event.

    It’s a cultural shift I think, who can forget the clash between main stream media presenters and a connected audience using
    Twitter during The Mark Zuckerberg Interview @ the SXSW conference this year.

    http://www.webpronews.com/blogtalk/2008/03/11/twitter-and-the-mark-zuckerberg-interview

  • Most conferences I attend I have my laptop regardless of whether I have Internet access because I can type faster than I can write. I try hard to locate myself near the back to cause minimal impact on other users. When I have Internet access I’m the same as you adding links and information from the Internet as I’m writing which for me helps me understand better the information being shared.

    I know some people tend to twitter information about the presentation whereas I will twitter to ask my network their thoughts. For example if someone talks about a Web 2.0 tool and how they use it I will ask my network for examples of how they are using them.

    When I went to the aquaculture conference we had to do a group activity to create a presentation. My group loved the fact that I was able to pull the presentation together with my laptop which on the upside made lots of new friends :) .

    Having done presentations when participants are using computers does feel a bit intimidating. Reality — in time there will be more computers in classrooms with Internet access — we have to move with the times :)

  • NECC’08 provided high capacity wi-fi and encouraged unconference and conference within a conference sessions, twitter was buzzing(!) and backchannel was part of most presentations with an off-sider monitoring the comments and advising the presenter( live!) about the needs of the group

    spontaneously alteringthe session in response to a back channel comment was very impressive!! Adam Fey from wikispaces who showed John P terry the tennis ball as ‘the best’ example of an elementary school ( primary) …

    maybe those making the comment need to get out more…

    there are protocols necessary in someone saying they do not find the use /application of a particular technology or teaching/learning approach something they would do or not do

    usually simpler to just kick the activity to death…

    intolerant, closed mind approach.

    twitter often suffers this response…while it is something i have (so far) chosen not to do ..i can appreciate it fulfills a need for certain groups

    similarly blogging..i content my approach to adding comments from time to time…not reliable enough to maintain a consistent presence

    the intolerant comments appear to eminate from those less secure in their knowledge of the technologies…or a mis-placed sense of decorum which they feel can be imposed on others..

    as an aside…at a victorian school ( by name and nature!) i was visiting today, i was present while a haircut inspection took place..the irony was i would not have passed had i been a student rather than a visitor!!

    the coloured sock inspections had already been carried out….

    how many hours a year does this consume…thousands!! and it is a priority as senior staff are always involved to enforce the discipline

    makes one wonder…

  • Twittering during conferences is a great way to take notes. Limited to 140 characters you are forced to spout “just the facts”. Imagine a network being able to participate along with you as you are transcribing your presentation. Is it rude? Nope not if you are helping the rest of your network out.

    Many people do see it as being off task. They do not know what you are doing then.

    If you are off task then the presentation is not relevant to your pedagogy.

  • I totally agree with Chris Harbeck, twittering is the new way of taking notes, but instead of taking notes for yourself, you are sharing your notes with the “rest of the world”, which is the big wonderful change of this century.
    Twittering is not rude nor snob, it is the way forward!

  • Not only do I Twitter during a conference, I Skype, live-blog, txt people, and read things – preferably printed on scrolls.

    I’m a 22nd Century learner with a hint of 12th Century sprinkled in for millenial balance.

  • I am inclined to agree with the sentiments and the ideas of the other comments here as I also do lots of notetaking on the PC during conferences but I am surprised that noone has yet turned the tables and asked if you let your kids connect to their social networks during your classroom presentations?
    Now there is some food for thought!
    Before you start saying that they may not be sharing the content of your presentation, just reflect if you are always sharing the content of the presentation that you are in.
    Cheers
    Paul Mc in Hongkers.

  • Having just attended the Learn2.008 conference in Shangahi, where the majority of participants had their laptops, wireless connections, were twitter members, used backchannels,emails, blogs etc constantly and were actively encouraged to do so, by some of the top global presenters. Hence, I continued energetically in that ‘mode’ at the ACEC08 as did many others.
    Those who object, are educators who have not experienced the wonderful opportunites for sharing, collaboration and virtual teamwork. Obviously, have not experiemented with their digital students and therefore are not attune to their needs in the classroom setting. There is some concern perhaps, for appropriate protocol when using twitter, in that comments are not seen as ‘bullying’ or too negative but rather a chance to build a better educational platform for all.

  • Thanks for sharing this! I always enjoy your insights and don’t mind if you only blog once a month. Your posts are worth the wait.

    This one fired me up to such an extent I wrote an entire blog post questioning why we still structure these events with a font of all knowledge up front and rows of vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge… http://kerryj.com/2008/10/11/hypocrisy_of_web2and3_presentations/

  • I can see the point of the ICT conference rules. Cell phones and laptops can be distracting. People may be pre-occupied with their gadgets and not pay attention to the speaker. But, speakers can get boring after hearing lectures for hours. I think there should be a choice whether to use a laptop or not. It should be up to the listener. After all, some people learn while moving their hands like during typing. The laptop user could be using the internet to gain more knowledge about the topic. It would have to be based on the “honor system.” Hopefully, people would have enough respect to stick to the topic at hand.

  • Thank you all for your feedback – much to think through but of course, posting this idea through this blog is more likely to attract comments from progressive supporters than if I asked the opinion of other less connected educators. Some of the responses on the list-serv were less charitable – but maybe it is just reflective of teachers in general where some embrace technological change and the possibilities it offers for doing things better and differently while others don’t want to mess with formats that they believe already work.

  • I posted this over on KerryJs, but thought it worth a repost here as I am attempting to understand the middle ground that may exist in this issue

    I was shocked about a 8 months ago to witness a well known advocate of ‘network learning’ declare that he would not do a de-conference as he really preferred to just present and not get ‘caught up in discussions’.
    I think issues around ‘enabled devices in presentations’ are indicative of transition we are in the middle of. It goes to the heart of the pedagogic conflict and while many school leaders and academic advocates, talk the ‘collaboration’ talk – they do not walk the walk (possible because they have gone through content driven academic and management systems and their brains have just been shaped that way).
    The big question is where does the ‘knowledge’ originate?
    Your ‘empty vessel’ (KerryJ refers to)infers the Platonic view of knowledge that there is an ‘expert’ who understands the way the world is and we must dutifully await instruction. It is hard if you are an academic or a teacher ‘paid’ for your knowledge to get past the content delivery mode – sometimes it isn’t a sinister ‘control’ thing- more often it is the feeling that you have not done your job properly if you don’t finish the PowerPoint.
    If you believe the knowledge resides in the network (a more constructivist approach) then at these conferences and hopefully in our classroom ‘processes’ must occur to liberate and generate that knowledge. Again our presenters and colleagues are not necessarily predisposed to such skills.
    In any communication there is a sender and a receiver, and both have expectation of each other. While we feel that a more progressive attitude should prevail at such conferences – the complaints of others indicate that many in the audience expect to sit passively and be feed information.
    I do believe in experts and I do believe in knowledge residing in the collective – I do not believe the challenge is to eliminate one over the other. The real challenge to be faced (in conferences, classroom and work environments) is to find the right blend of didactic delivery and facilitated collaboration to meet the learning challenge at hand.

  • Let me say right up front that I am a total “newbie” when it comes to the topic of integrating technology in education. I am right now attending an educational technology course in order to renew my teaching license and am overwhelmed with how technologically inept I am. But it seems to me that what I keep hearing is that this generation of students are “hypercommunicators” and “multitaskers” and that we need to accept that fact and learn to work with it. Therefore, it seems to make sense to me that seeing open laptops and hearing keyboards click at an education conference fits right in with the same scenario. I’ll admit, my intital response to these situations is the more traditional tendency to turn around and “shhh” the individual. (I came from the generation that said “You can’t do your homework with the TV on.”) But I think we have to develop a new, more open-minded response. This conversation needs to happen so we can reach a new consensus about what’s appropriate behavior in such situations.

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