Notes on IST Graduate Symposium Microblogging Panel

The 2009 IST Graduate Symposium was yesterday and today, and I completely forgot about it, even after my friend Tom suggested it earlier this week and I noticed that some State College folks I follow on Twitter were talking about it. When I finally realized it, it was a half hour before the final panel, on microblogging, so I set out across campus to attend.

The panel, moderated by Dr. Jim Jansen, included Dr. Abdur Chowdhury (Twitter), Dr. Rebecca Goolsby (ONR), Cole Camplese (ITS), Stevie Rocco (ITS), Mimi Zhang (IST), and Heather Hughes (Art Education) from Penn State. Each panelist had some introductory comments, and then the session opened to questions from the audience.

An interesting way in which new technologies are being integrated into academic work: while everyone was talking, panelists and attendees were twittering with the hashtag #istsymposium and those tweets were broadcast on a screen behind the panelists. (Tweets can be seen here). This made for an interesting experience, with people in the room interacting in multiple ways, other than the one-way approach of a presentation, and the two-way question-answer session. Audience members were interacting with each other and the panelists by asking questions and responding to each other on twitter.

I’ll just summarize a few brief points from the panel:

Stevie Rocco discussed the emotional participation of Twitter. She shared her experiences running a marathon and twittering during it, and receiving emotional support from people following her. Additionally, her friends were able to follow her progress during the marathon and felt emotionally connected to following her. The affective/emotional work of Twitter is an interesting avenue to explore.

Dr. Chowdhury noted the user-organized events on Twitter, and how a grassroots party was organized via Twitter that wound up raising $1 million for water supplies in Africa (if my notes are correct). Obviously, the social networking and activism potentials of web2.0 platforms are there and fascinating.

One common theme was the ways in which Twitter can be used for a variety of purposes, and also that various medium are necessary for different purposes. Twitter isn’t a catch-all (obviously), but can be used for a variety of purposes. An audience member asked the question about the inevitability of Twitter ā€” because some on the panel had used the word “yet” in reference to people who don’t use Twitter. Responses were smart, esp. later in the panel when Stevie Rocco discussed how one needs to choose the right medium for their rhetorical task (she didn’t say “rhetorical”) and understand that different medium and tools can serve different purposes.

Cole Camplese discussed his experience using Twitter in the classroom. The first few weeks students were complaining that it was pointless, but eventually, students started to feel more connected, and would tweet during lectures and share resources with each other, in ways that they wouldn’t on ANGEL or in a chatroom forum. He found that it helped to create a learning community. Others commented that they were able to participate with this class, despite not being in the class, because they could interact with the Twitter users.

Multitasking and attention were obvious anxieties of audience members. In fact, a woman sitting beside me asked about multitasking and not-so-subtly referenced me (I am sure), who was multitasking during the panel. She saw that I had multiple windows open on my laptop and was switching back and forth between them ā€” and expressed concern that some weren’t paying attention. What she might not have noticed is that during the whole hour, I checked my email once and read only three emails quickly. Otherwise, windows that were open: TextEdit document to type notes, my Twitter homepage to tweet from, the Twitter page with tweets about the panel, the pdf file of the symposium program (so I could reference panelists names), the website of the symposium, and Twitter profiles of those in the room. Almost every literacy activity of mine during that hour was related to the panel, yet it was read as multitasking and a distraction.

Camplese had a great point, that his job is to engage his students in technology in appropriate ways. He said that if his students get lost in their laptops, that it’s in part because he has not engaged with them. I think, while not completely true, this is true: that students are often distracted by online technologies because we have not fully engaged them as teachers. Of course, there are things that interject and distract students (like instant messages or text messages), but I think Camplese’s point is an important one.

Overall, I think this was the best panel I’ve ever attended that wasn’t a rhetoric and composition panel. Of course, I’m biased by my own academic interests (and I’d argue that this was a rhetoric panel, in some ways, though it lacked the explicit rhetorical approach that might have made it stronger in some ways).

Besides a rhetorical approach (though this was touched on by at least Stevie Rosso who understood the necessity of different medium for different purposes), I do think the panel would have benefited from a humanist/posthumanist approach that brought in some critical questions in rhetorical/philosophical traditions. Not that those weren’t there ā€” there were great critical questions asked! This isn’t a complaint about the panel so much as it is about the disciplinary boundaries of academia. Why isn’t there more conversation between Information Sciences and Technology one one hand and rhetoric/composition/philosophy on the other.

Overall, the panel was pretty cool. One complaint: Those who hack, do spam, and otherwise cause mischief of this sort on social networking sites were described as “evil” by someone. My jaw almost dropped because I hardly ever hear an academic refer to someone as “evil.” It seems so reductive and reactionary. Yeah, perhaps what they are doing is “wrong,” but it hardly seems to make sense to call them evil. (This was the particular moment when I wanted a humanities scholar on the panel who might have questioned this term. I guess I could have interjected with a tweet or comment, but I kind of liked where the conversation went after that.)

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4 Responses to Notes on IST Graduate Symposium Microblogging Panel

  1. Cole says:

    Michael … I enjoyed reading your review and I honestly really enjoyed the panel. I think in a lot of ways what is frustrating to me in situations like that is that we are asked to justify the use of a technology. What I really want to talk about are affordances and then explore them with people. I actually got a bit of a kick out of the woman calling you at as I am usually the one with the laptop in sessions live blogging, taking notes, and sharing thoughts via Twitter. I wanted to tweet something about it, but thought better of it.

    I really like taking the approach of exposing the backchannel during sessions like that and using it to cue conversations … I’ve done it in class and at national conferences — it tends to invite a very different kind of atmosphere (and it drives purists crazy). I’m glad you came and shared this reflection as it has allowed me to add your feed to my reader! Don’t be afraid to drop me a note and we can continue the conversation!

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks for visiting, Cole! It was frustrating that time had to spent justifying the use of technology ā€” not that having a justification is bad, but it seemed that the “critique” came from a reactionary position, not from a critical position.

    I’m definitely following your blog now, too. Thanks!

  3. Cole says:

    BTW, I notice you have danah boyd in your blogroll … she’ll be a featured speaker at the TLT Symposium my team puts on. http://symposium.tlt.psu.edu … registration is free and it is a really good time!

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks, Cole. I’ll look into it šŸ™‚

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