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How to use Twitter hashtags and the backchannel for professional development

If you have been following my posts, you have probably figured out that I am interested in professional development and how to use technology to leverage learning. I personally feel Twitter is one of the most powerful tools available to support learning. I also believe conferences are a great venue for picking up new ideas. Unfortunately, it can be tough to attend more than one conference per year… at least, in person. This is where hashtags and the backchannel come in handy.

Previously, I discussed how you could use Twitter lists to tap into groups of individuals who focus on a topic you are interested in. In this post, I will show you how to do something similar with hashtags. I will further explain how you can use them to benefit from or support a conference. First of all, what is a hashtag?

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a publicly agreed upon convention for filtering a conversation. What?!? Perhaps I can better explain with an example. When I deliver a Webinar, I ask participants to include the hashtag #uwces in their Twitter posts so that I can later benefit from their conversation. Why would I do this? I am interested in what is being said about my presentations so that I may benefit from the feedback.

Hashtags for conferences

Many conferences are using hashtags to help guide conversations before, during, and after the conference. Conferences will create a hashtag and announce it to participants with the hope they will use it. It is a great way to generate buzz about a conference. In May, I will be attending the ASTD conference in Florida. The ASTD conference has a hashtag associated with it, and it is still two months out. You can check out the posts so far by doing a Twitter search on #ASTD2011.

With hashtags you can keep an eye on long or short term events. Some events are cyclic such as #earthquake.  Some events, such as the ASTD conference will be finite and relatively short lived.

From the comfort of my desk, I was able to follow a three-day Air Force Public Affairs conference. It was fascinating because I was able to follow the discussion as if I was there. Key points were posted by a number of participants. Eventually, questions were being asked from people outside the proceedings into the actual conference.  This side conversation focusing on the conference occuring both in and outside of the conference is called the backchannel.  Derek Bruff posts great advice for getting the most of the backchannel in an education environment. His advice can be extended to following or supporting a conference.

Ongoing events using hashtags

Finally, a Twitter Chat Schedule has been created that relies entirely on the hashtag. These chats are on a myriad of different topics from aviation to women in business. You do not actually have to follow a chat as it is occurring, you can also check on it after the fact. However, Twitter feeds typically expire within a couple of days depending on the volume of training.

Why I am a fan of getting my news with

In Mashable, Jolie O-Dell wrote that “For the First Time, More People Get News Online Than From Newspapers.” I happen to be one of those people. In fact, I do not typically read a newspaper at all. I get virtually all my news online, and perhaps the evening news on television. However, more and more, I have been subscribing to virtual newspapers created in organizes links shared on Twitter and Facebook. There are times when I do not have time to sift through all of my Twitter feeds, provides me with a snapshot of feeds in a newspaper type of format. The 140 character Tweets are expanded based on the content in the Tweet. With this newspaper format, I can quickly review the news.

If you subscribe, a “newspaper” will be e-mailed to you daily. You can subscribe to newsletters created by others or you can create your own paper. You can create up to 10 papers based on a Twitter or Facebook account, a Twitter hashtag, or a Twitter list.

Here are the virtual papers I am currently following:

If you know of any good papers that you think I might be interested in, please leave a comment below.