Use of Twitter at the ALTC 2009 Conference

Back After A Week Away

Last week was unusual – not a single blog post published in the week. Although there were suggestions at last week’s ALT-C 2009 conference that blogging is in decline with established bloggers making greater use of Twitter, my failure to blog last week was due to being away all week at the ALT-C conference followed by the ALPSP 2009 conference.  And although I’d brought along my ASUS EEE PC, I couldn’t get it connected to the network in my bedroom at either of the conferences. So my connectivity was restricted to use of my iPod Touch and HTC Magic mobile phone – which I used for reading email messages, tweets and RSS feeds and writing the occasional Twitter post.

ALT-C 2009 Summaries

A number of valuable summaries of the conference have already been published. I don’t intend to repeat what has already been said, apart from mentioning that the two plenary talks I saw (from Michael Wesch and Martin Bean ) were both excellent (I had to leave on the final morning and so unfortunately missed Terry Anderson’s closing plenary talk); the VLE is Dead debate was entertaining, with witty contributions made from the four speakers and was useful in raising issues and providing insights which I hadn’t previously considered.

Twitter at ALT-C 2009

But what of the use of Twitter at ALT-C 2009? Philip Paasuke, an e-learning enthusiast based in Adelaide, Australia, has described how he followed the conference from home using a variety of technologies: watching the keynote plenary talks on Elluminate and using Tweetdeck to follow the back channel discussions. As Philip describes: “The Twitter postings gave me an interesting perspective on what participants at the conference and those observing it remotely were thinking about the various presentations“. Philip went on to add that “Following ALT-C 2009 on Twitter has also led me to increase the number of people that I am following using this service from what might loosely be called ‘the elearning community’. The Twitter posts also included a lot of useful links to more detailed blog postings by some of the conference participants“.

Summary of #altc2009 usageBut how extensively was Twitter used at the conference? And what was the profile of its usage?

I have previously described how I used a variety of Twitter analysis and management tools to analyse use of Twitter at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event. For that event, which had 200 participants, there were 1,530 tweets. For the ALTC 2009 conference, with had over 700 participants, there were over 4,300 tweets published in a week! This figure, which was obtained using the wthashtag service, provides a summary, illustrated above, based on tweets posted from Monday 6 to Sunday 13 September. We can expected further tweets this week, as other participants get round to writing their reports on the conference and continue the discussions. And I should add that Philip Paasuke’s blog post mistakenly gives #altc09 as the official Twitter hashtag –  there were a further 128 tweets using this tag from 51 contributors.

During my analysis of #iwmw2009 event Tweets, I discovered that tweets seem to disappear after a short period of time. I subsequently came across a TechCrunch post which reported that tweets currently become unavailable from the Twitter search API after about 10 days.

In order to carry pout more detailed analyses, it will be necessary to ensure that a copy of the relevant tweets is kept, ideally in a format suitable for data analysis. I have therefore once again used the wthashtag, Twapperkeeper and Tweetdoc services to keep a local copy of the conference tweets. Links to the data and to these servicesis available on the UKOLN Web site.

Why The Interest?

What is the point of the analysis of the Twitter posts made at the ALTC 2009 conference? Isn’t the point of Twitter it’s spontaneity and perhaps its subversive use?

Trending words at ALTC 2009Well although that may be one use case for Twitter, it’s not the only one. The interest in use of Twitter as an educational tool can be gauged from the popularity of the Teaching With Twitter workshop facilitated by Steve Wheeler and colleague. And mining the data might also provide interesting insights into the event, the community and the ideas discussed and shared. Looking at the summary of trending words provided by the Tweetdocs service, for example, might indicate an interest in Twitter (to be expected) but also in openness and people. And the two people who seem to have been most discussed (or, in the case of James Clay, contributed to the discussions) seem to be James Clay and Anderson (probably Terry Anderson, the final plenary speaker).

The conference organisers might be pleased to see the popularity of the words “good” and “great” – but what about the criticisms that were made of the queues for the food and coffee and the conference accommodation? Will analysis of the Twitter discussions start to form part of an organisation’s debriefing after an event –  and might not the venue itself have an interest in what was said about the facilities?  Well the data is now available for reuse.


  1. Wonder if there might be a Pareto’s principle for tweeters? %80 of most clicked on tweets come from 20% of the community, or is it an inverse? e.g. ‘squeeky wheel’ priciple, 20% of tweeters make the most noise, ergo get followed? All stuff worth anaylising, of which lots of research into the instant message communities would be similar?

  2. arggh – apols – had to delete that distro chart; I couldn’t edit it and it was broken….:-(

  3. I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to go, but was able to follow (to some degree) the action on Twitter thanks to tweeters and hashtag.


  4. Wondering if I was as you say “have been most discussed” or whether I stimulated the most discussion rather than being the subject of the discussion.

    That might be a little more difficult to work out from the data.

  5. Is there a count of how much spam there was on the #altc2009 tag? That may skew the results. I’m interested to think about other ways we could analyse the data, but most the ideas I come up with a old fashioned content analysis, still this may be worth doing. We looked at how tweets were classified by several categories suggested by Thompson’s model for predicting a self-sustaining community (Thompson, 2008) 1. “Taking care of business” (TCB) or “getting things done”. 2. “Grooming”, nurturing relationships through trivia and small talk. 3.“Emoting”, sharing how participants feel, both good and bad. I suspect there was quite a lot of 2 going on at ALTC, given that many people were meeting their twitter network face to face.

    Thompson ref:

    • I should say – we looked at tweets in our student twitter project, not the ALTC tweets!

  6. I thought it was interesting hearing the rattle of keyboards in the last keynote speech that the audience were participating with each other in a ‘lecture’ thanks to twitter.



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