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Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Backchannel Conversations?

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On two ways to see our Twitter conversations, and then a third level.
As the conference went along, an interesting running joke developed: that the Twitter feed was “unhappy with X”; that presenter Y was worried that he/she was “not doing well on Twitter” (and/or was reassured by another presenter that “Twitter likes you”); that, in short, the “backchannel conversations” (as such conference Twitter feeds and other electronic responses to in-person presentations have come to be known) offered consistent counter-arguments and challenges to the presentations and presenters. I think that’s an accurate assessment of much of the Twitter response, as provided both by us Social Media Fellows and by others (at the conference and elsewhere) weighing in, and that thread culminated in a very specific moment during the conference’s final panel, which featured six of the prior keynote speakers and moderators: I raised issues of contingent faculty, faculty with heavy teaching loads (such as my own 4/4), and related questions of academic labor; and when the panelists acknowledged but offered no thoughts on those issues, the Twitter feed more or less exploded.
As it did so, however, another conference attendee and frequent Tweeter, Dr. Derek Bruff (director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching), rose and asked the question again; after Bruff’s follow up (which, to be fair to the panel, was more of a question than my own series of statements), most of the panel did respond, and did so with some interesting perspectives to be sure. Moreover, I’m not sure that my phrasing in that prior sentence was quite right—it’s perhaps more accurate to say that because the Twitter feed erupted, Bruff raised the question a second time (at the very least, he was engaging with his fellow Tweeters while waiting in line to ask his question), and thus that in a key way the panel conversation proceeded as a result of, not just in response to but literally because of, the Twitter conversation. And if we see the conversation as unfolding in that way, it casts a different light on the running jokes about the Twitter feed—which, seen in this light, offered a humorous but clear and striking recognition of the way in which the Twitter conversations were contributing to the in-person ones (as well as vice versa, which is the more obvious direction).
I would argue that both of these perspectives—the Twitter feed as backchannel challenge to the presentations; the feed and presentations as codependent conversations—have validity and value. But I would also take a step back and make one more connection. The Twitter conversations included not only us Social Media Fellows and many other conference attendees, but also a number of colleagues around the country and world; some of these colleagues commented throughout the conference, others added their voices at particular moments, and (I’m quite sure) others never Tweeted but followed the hashtag and conversations nonetheless. Virtually all of the conference’s presenters highlighted the role that technology and online spaces/communities will play in the future of higher education, not (as I noted in Wednesday’s post) as an alternative to traditional in-person institutions, but rather as a complementary part of those institutions. And in every way, the presence, role, and relationship of our conference Twitter feed helped model the complexity, challenge, and value of such in-person and online hybridity.
Special post on my fellow Social Media Fellows this weekend,
PS. What do you think?

PPS. For the perspective of one of my co-Social Media Fellows, Dr. Jason Jones, on many of these same questions, see this ProfHacker post of his.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent capture and analysis of the backchannel dynamics at the conference, Ben. I'll confirm your suspicion that it was indeed because of the backchannel's reaction to the panel's non-response to the contingent faculty issue that I stood up and asked the question again. Moreover, I'll lend some weight to your final point: It was only after someone not physically at the conference favorited this tweet of mine expressing disbelief at the non-response, that I decided to re-ask the question. Certainly, the local backchannel response motivated me to do so, but it was the fave from afar that was the tipping point.

    The interaction between the "frontchannel" and backchannel at the De Lange conference was fascinating. Thanks for capturing some of the complexities in this post.