Use of Social Media at Events for the Learning Analytics Community

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About this Post

This post summarises the potential value of ‘event amplification’ for enhancing awareness of ideas described at events and enabling discussions and sharing of resources to include people who may not be physically present as well as facilitating networking for participants at events, especially large events. The post is based on experiences from the recent LAK14 conference and is aimed at those who make use of event amplification technologies, such as Twitter, and who may be interested in emerging best practices as well as those who may be sceptical of the benefits of such approaches who would like an insight into the potential benefits such practices may bring.

The Importance of “Event Amplification”

Events, such as the recent LAK 14 conference, provide a valuable opportunity for meeting people with similar professional interests, exchanging ideas, looking for new opportunities and even arguing and disagreeing. But we can’t afford the time or resources to attend all relevant events especially, as is the case with learning analytics, when there is a global community with interests in an area of growing interest. However over the past few years we have seen WiFi access at conferences becoming the norm which enables conference participants to exploit the potential provided by their laptops, tablet devices or smart phones to access popular collaborative technologies to enable people who may not be physically present to participate in the discussions. The term “amplified conference” has been coined to describe “a conference or similar event in which the talks and discussions at the conference are ‘amplified’ through use of networked technologies in order to extend the reach of the conference deliberations“. A Wikipedia article on amplified conferences explains the various ways in which conferences can be amplified through use of networked technologies: (a) Amplification of the audiences’ voice; (b) Amplification of the speaker’s talk; (c) Amplification across time; (d) Amplification of the speaker’s slides; (e) Amplification of feedback to the speaker; (f) Amplification of a conference’s collective memory; (g) Amplification of the learning and (h) Long term amplification of conference outputs.

What Can be Done?

The LAK14 conference provided an opportunity to explore how social networking tools could be used to amplify the conference in order to support the development and growth of a community with interests in learning analytics. Although the conference took place in the early days of the LACE Project, we were able to make use of a number of tools which are described in this post. We are also able to identify emerging best practices which can strengthen the value of event amplification which are summarised below.

Twitter and Twitter Archives

Twitter is nowadays regarded as the key technology for facilitating discussions and dissemination at events. Unlike dedicated instant messaging channels, Twitter can help to maximise participation by enabling Twitter users to serendipitously encounter discussions in areas of interests which are being tweeted by people they follow. The use of conference hashtags can help to follow a wider range of discussions about an event. Events, such as LAK14, which also recommend use of additional hashtags for workshops and tutorials can also help to identify focussed conversations covering the topic of the workshop or tutorial. Although Twitter is a very interactive tool, the value of Twitter archives should also be noted. For the LAK14 conference the Tubs archiving tool was used to archive the main #lak14 conference tweets as well as for the workshop on Connecting Levels of Analysis (#lak14cla), workshop on Discourse-Centric Learning Analytics (#dcla14), workshop on Learning Analytics and Machine Learning (#lak14ml) and the Data Challenge 2014 (#lakdata14). The following table provides links to the archives and summarises the number of Twitter contributors for each of the sessions.

Session Tag Nos. of contributors
LAK 14 Conference #lak14  26
Workshop on Connecting Levels of Analayisis #lak14cla  4
Workshop on Discourse-Centric Learning Analytics #dcla14 14
Workshop on Learning Analytics and Machine Learning #lak14ml   1
Data Challenge 2014 #lakdata14 12

As can be seen from Figure 1, Twubs archives contain images which have been tweeted and the avatars of the contributor in addition to an archive of the tweets.

Twubs archive for #lak14

Figure 1: Twubs archive for #lak14 tweets

Although Twubs archives are simple to set up (a new archive can be created in less than a minute) and the content of the archive can be tailored to a limited extent (a title and description can be provided and the appearance can be tweaked) the service does not enable the tweets to be selectively chosen for inclusion in the archive or annotated.

Storify summary of LAK14 data challenge

Figure 2: Storify summary of LAK14 data challenge

In contrast the Storify service can be used to create a story based on selected tweets and the story can be annotated.

This manual curation does mean that creating a Storify archive is normally more time-consuming, but if one wishes to have access to a record of discussions and resources shared which took place on Twitter the tool can be valuable. An example of the Storify archive for the LAK Data Challenge 2014 is illustrated. This example highlights some examples of best practices which those who are tweeting at events can use in order to make it easy for those who subsequently curate the discussions:

  • Summarising the event, including the hashtag, the date and time and links to relevant resources in advance of the event for example, on the day before the event starts).
  • Announcing details of the event shortly before it starts.

In addition to these two examples, a recent blog post on Emerging Best Practices for Using Storify For Archiving Event Tweets summarised examples of best practices:

  • Provide a meaningful summary of the event with appropriate links in advance
  • Announce participation at the event in the morning in order that interested parties are made aware of the event and the event’s hashtag
  • Provide a timestamp and, ideally, a photograph at the start of each talk
  • Flag the name of the speaker in Twitter summaries of talk which enable readers to be able to identify reported commentary (e.g.”Murray: Putting content in Wikipedia can challenge the unassailable voice of the academic, but this is no bad thing ” or “RM: Putting content in Wikipedia can challenge the unassailable voice of the academic, but this is no bad thing “).
  • Clearly signal the end of a talk and the event with an appropriate tweet (e.g. thanks speakers at the end of the event).

The following Storify archives were created for workshops held at the LAK 2014 conference:

  • All LAK 2014 tweets (#lak14) although note that the large number of tweets were captured automatically, which meant that they are in reverse chronological order.
  • The LAK Data Challenge 2014 (#lakdata14) described above.
  • The Computational Approaches to Connecting Levels of Analysis in Networked Learning Communities workshop (#lak14cla).
  • The Second International Workshop on Discourse-Centric Learning Analytics (#dcla14).

It should be noted that these stories were curated by myself, a remote participant at the workshops. Ideally Storify summaries will be created by someone who is physically present and who has a knowledge of the subject area being discussed at the event.

Slideshare

Although Twitter can be useful for all participants at an event the Slideshare service is primarily for use by speakers.

Figue 3: Slideshare use at LAK14Slideshare enables slide decks to be easily embedded in blog posts and Web sites. For this purpose alone, use of Slideshare can be recommended if you wish to maximise the visibility of the ideas described in a presentation.

However Slideshare provides other benefits, which will be relevant even if you tend to make use of slides containing mostly images and little textual content.

The slides hosted in Slideshare which were used by Hendrik Drachsler in the “LAK14 Data Challenge” at the LAK 2014 conference are shown in Figure 3.

As can be seen, the original presentation can be linked to other slides by the same speaker. In addition the metadata provided about the presentation enables slides on the same subject by others to be easily found.

Slideshare also provides usage metrics (as shown in Figure 3 there have been 290 views of the slides to date).

Lanyrd

Lanyrd is a social directory of conferences. As well as providing a directory service (for example see the guides to conferences on learning analytics) the service also enables organisers, speakers and participants at events to use their Twitter (or Lanyrd) ID to identify their involvement at an event which has been added to the Lanyrd directory. As use of this grows and reaches a critical mass it will enable links between speakers and participants to be depicted, as can be seen from my Lanyrd profile.

Lanyrd does not seem to be widely used within the learning analytics community. However members of the LACE project team do feel that it has potential and are encouraging further use of the service. In particular we invite those who wish to be administrators of the Learning Analytics guide to get in touch so that we can enhance the range of events covered.

How You Can Help

This post has described the social media tools which are felt to have the potential to enhance the outreach of the LACE project and help in the growth and development of a community with shared interests in learning analytics. However effective use of the tools is dependent on the tools being used! There is also a need to be able to identify patterns of use and to advise on emerging best practices.

Your thoughts on the services described in this blog post are welcome. In addition feel free to give suggestions on tools and approaches you have found useful or mention any concerns or reservations you may have.

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About Author

Brian Kelly is the Innovation Advocate at Cetis (Centre for Educational Technology, Interoperability and Standards). Brian has an interest in helping to embed innovative technologies and practices in higher education. Brian embraces open practices in his work, in particular through his UK Web Focus blog and his @briankelly Twitter account. Brian is managing the LACE WP2 on user engagement and outreach.

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