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Social networking in scientific conferences – Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community

Social networking in scientific conferences – Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community

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Publication for Science 2.0 Workshop / ECTEL / Nizza
Publication for Science 2.0 Workshop / ECTEL / Nizza

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Published by: Martin on Sep 29, 2009
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Originally published at Science 2.

0 for TEL workshop, ECTEL 2009 Conference, Nizza

Social networking in scientific conferences – Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community
Martin Ebner1 and Wolfgang Reinhardt2

Graz University of Technology, Faculty of Computer Science, Inffeldgasse 16b, 8010 Graz, Austria martin.ebner@tugraz.at 2 University of Paderborn, Institute of Computer Science, Fuerstenallee 11, 33102 Paderborn Germany wolle@upb.de

Abstract. Twitter is the fastest growing member community of the last year. With a rate of 1382% it grows 6 times faster than for example the world biggest social networking application Facebook. In this paper we ask how Twitter can serve as resource at scientific conferences and support the scientific community. Furthermore we ask if Twitter ads any scientific value to conferences. We chose this year ED-MEDIA conference as example for the use of Twitter at a scientific conference and show how the micro-blogging tool got seamlessly integrated in the well-known communication infrastructure of conferences. Key words: scientific communities, twitter, dynamics of communities, visualization, science 2.0



Since Tim O’Reilly [14] announced for the very first time the term Web 2.0 and described a new way to dealing with the WorldWideWeb, a dramatically change happened. Users working nowadays completely different, instead of mainly consuming information from static webpages, they play an active role, they contribute, discuss and share information around the globe. Since then Social Networks and Social Communities are growing rapidly and aim to connect people with same interests to enhance their daily life as well as working processes. Stephen Downes [5] also mentioned that “Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology - This means there is no technological revolution, it is a social revolution” and pointed out the importance for learning and teaching, named e-Learning 2.0. Especially in Technology Enhanced Learning lot of research has been carried out to foster the use of Weblogs, Wikis, Podcasts and further popular applications [4, 3, 20, 7] and to improve students’ learning behaviors. However, if we take a look to all this great research results it can be stated that there is a great potential by introducing Web 2.0 applications to the classroom. Furthermore emerging research on the use of Mash-Ups [12], Personal Learning Environments [18], Open Educational Resources and the use of mobile technologies for learning purposes


Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

give a promising future forecast. Without any doubt it does not matter if it is called e-learning, m-Learning or even u-Learning (ubiquitous learning) [22] the influence of technology will increase. On the one hand it can be concluded that researchers did a lot of work to improve the daily education, but on the other hand there are nearly no work about how such technologies can help the researchers themselves. As Erik Duval announced on the workshop homepage the main question we have to deal with “How could we make use of science2.0 opportunities for Technology Enhanced Learning researchers? ” [6]. In this publication the authors will concentrate about how the micro-blogging tool Twitter can be used on scientific conferences for e-Learning scientists by presenting a practical example. After a short introduction, the real life setting is explained and statistical data presented.


Microblogging, scientific communities, and Science 2.0

Twitter is the most famous, best known and also the very first micro-blogging platform. Micro-blogging can be seen as a new form of blogging activity and is described by Templeton [19] as a small-scale form of blogging, generally made up of short, succinct messages, used by both consumers and businesses to share news, post status updates and carry on conversations. Owyang [15] describes the difference between blogs and micro-blogs as follows: [...] long form blog posts like this seem so much slower and plodding compared to how quickly information can come and go in Twitter. [...] Information within Microblogging communities [...] encourage rapid word of mouth – of both positive and negative content. In a nutshell, micro-blogging offers a platform for the fast exchange of thoughts, ideas and artefacts. It must be pointed out that each message cannot be longer than a maximum of 140 characters and can put on the web easily. These messages, so-called tweets, can be public or private, can be directed to one or more Twitter users (identified by the @ sign) and can deal with certain topics (identified by the # sign). By using a hashtag in tweets it is easy to aggregate all tweets dealing with the same topic. People who are following anyone are able to read these tweets, are able to reply or to contact the author directly. However, the strength of this new communication and collaboration platform is that sending and reading messages is not restricted to a web interface, it can be done also by numerous desktop applications as well as by mobile phones. Latest statistical data pointed out that only “only 20% of its traffic comes through the Twitter website; the other 80% (logically) comes from third-party programs on smart phones or computers” [2]. Communities in Twitter are forming through the usage of a common tag that is part of the message. The CoPs on Twitter deal with brands (e.g. #apple), educational courses (e.g. #wekm09), conferences (e.g. #edmedia) or world-shaking events like mass riots (e.g. #iranelection). By taking a closer look to Twitter it becomes quite useful for the fast information exchange among a community of practice. Dealing with these ideas, that micro-blogging allows us to share, discuss and collaborate online, Twitter was introduced to different scientific confer-

Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community


ences. A very first experiment at ED-MEDIA Conference 2008 pointed out that the Twitter stream can be used to display posts during the keynote speech [8] just in time. Further research also shows how people are using Twitter during conferences by carrying out short surveys [17]. In this publication we like to concentrate on practical experiences and point out how Twitter performs during a live event.


Twitter at the ED-MEDIA 2009 conference

ED-MEDIA is an international conference on “Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunication”3 and started in 1993 as follow-up after 6 years of International Conferences on Computers and Learning (ICCAL). The main purpose as stated on the Webpage is to serve as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications on all topics related to multimedia, hypermedia and telecommunication/distance education. Nowadays it is certainly one of the largest international conferences on these topics. About 1000 participants every year attend numerous sessions and workshops for 5 days. Two very recent publications [11, 13] pointed out the huge amount of contributions, the relationship of authors, the key players and lots of more trends. In 2008 for the very first time Twitter was used to support the conference by announcements and a live stream beside each keynote talk [10]. This year, the micro-blogging channel should be much more opener by encouraging attendees to participate. Several hints to the Twitter stream were given beforehand the beginning of the conference as well as at the conference. 3.1 Analysis of the ED-MEDIA Twitter community

For analyzing the dynamics of the ED-MEDIA 2009 conference, we used our tool twitterVisBT (see [16] for detailed information on the tool). The tool allows making snapshots of the development of a community on Twitter on a regular basis and analyzing the contents of the respective communication of the community. We started the monitoring of the hashtag #edmedia on 2009-06-18. From that day on, we requested Twitter every hour for the latest tweets containing this hashtag and stored them in a local database. Figure 1 shows the development of the number of tweets that the Twitter community sent, using the hashtag #edmedia. Until 2009-06-30 1595 tweets containing the hashtag #edmedia were sent to Twitter and analyzed by our application. It is clearly visible that there is a sharp rise in the number of tweets with the beginning of the conference workshops and the actual conference4 . The size of the ED-MEDIA Twitter community grew from 10 users on 2009-06-10 to 177 on 2009-06-30, whereas the average daily increase of the network was 29.6% and the highest increase in the community size was on 2009-06-24 with 87.8% growth.
3 4

https://www.aace.org/conf/edmedia/, last visited August 2009 There are some interferences between the analysis date and the actual date a tweet was sent due to the time difference of -12 hours between Hawaii and Germany.


Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

Fig. 1. Number of tweets from the ED-MEDIA community on Twitter

During the storage of new tweets all occurring tags are saved and associated with the respective users as to make statistical statements later on. In order to make these claims about the usage of Twitter and the dynamics of the communication, we implemented a script that saves statistical data like the number of tweets or users that used the tag on a daily basis. Furthermore we used the Yahoo Term Extraction Web Service (TEWS)5 to extract the most relevant terms or phrases from the content of the tweets. The TEWS returns a sorted list of relevant terms and phrases, which represent the core of the daily conversation. 3.2 Visualization of the dynamics of the ED-MEDIA Twitter community

The main task of the twitterVisBT application is to track the changes within a community on Twitter (size of the community, members, other tags used, important terms and phrases) or for a single monitored user. Our visualization is not useful for the use as live stream of communication. There are various other tools, which are specialized to do so. In order to make statistical claims about the use of Twitter as a mean of communication it is sufficient to update the data set once per hour or even once per day. Figure 2 shows a section of the statistical part of the application. In part 2(a) it is pictured who are the main contributors to the communication in the Twitter channel. that way it becomes obvious that the users @mebner and @walthern were the most active users of the community and accounted for around 24% of

http://developer.yahoo.com/search/content/V2/termExtraction.html, visited August 2009


Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community


the overall communication on Twitter. Figure 2(b) shows other tags that have been used together with the community-identifying tag #edmedia. From that it is noticeable that the Top 10 of other tags used can be classified in two groups: firstly location- and travel-related tags (e.g. #honolulu, #TravelToEdMedia) and secondly tags related to the themes of the conference (e.g. #HigherEd, #elearning, #mlearning).

(a) Visualizing users that employed the (b) Other tags that have been used totag #edmedia gether with #edmedia Fig. 2. Visualizing users and other tags used with the tag #edmedia

Besides the statistical data we try to extract and visualize the most important terms and phrases from the daily tweets. The twitterVisBT tool holds a tab that visualizes the most important terms from the communication on Twitter in order to trace the centers of attention. Therefore we are using a simple word cloud that shows the more important words larger than the less important. Under the visualization there is a slider wherewith one can go back in time to see the data from the past. Furthermore there is a play button that allows to automatically browse through the daily summaries of the tweets sent6 . Figure 3 shows two dynamic word cloud extracted from the tweets containing the hashtag #edmedia. Figure 3(a) show the extracted terms for 2009-06-24. Stephen Downes gave his keynote entitled “Beyond Management: The Personal Learning Environment” on that day and talked about media innovations and how social networks can be incorporated in a PLE. Furthermore he talked about required technological skills and the use of media to close the gap between learners. Figure 3(a) clearly represents the wide discussions on the keynote in the Twitter backchannel, but also names of speakers (Erik Duval) or local places (molokai) can be identified from the tag cloud. The shown keywords have to be regarded with respect to the context where they emerged. For example, only because the two terms “Erik” “Duval” appear, it does not mean that these terms are relevant at all. Only in

For the ED-MEDIA 2009 there is a video of this automatic browsing available at http://bit.ly/YfGiK.


Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

(a) Key terms and phrases from #edmedia on 200906-24

(b) Key terms and phrases from #edmedia on 200906-25 Fig. 3. Visualizing the dynamics of communication of the ED-MEDIA Twitter community

the context of the time, when the terms appeared most and the location indicate the relevance. The key terms for 2009-06-25 show the phrase bytestander effect as very important. Nancy White posted a link on the topic and gained a lot of retweets, what made this topic so important. The terms social loafing and social acts belong to a keynote of Richard Schwier entitled “Pursuing the elusive metaphor of community in virtual learning environments”.



Our research in [17] shows that the scientific community started to incorporate Twitter as important tool for communicating and exchanging thoughts, resources and continuative links. If we take a closer look to the scientific value of the Twitter use at the ED-MEDIA conference, than we have to separate between two major parts – on the one hand there are statistical data which allows a detailed interpretation of trends, trend-setters or important topics. On the other hand also the question ”For which purpose Twitter was used during the conference? ” occurs. It can be stated that Twitter was used in following different ways: – exchange of different resources (hyperlinks, pictures, videos, ...), – exchange of social activities (sightseeing, journey towards and from the conference venue), – documentation of conference activities (posters, slides, notes, ...),

Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community


– – – – – –

providing conference announcements, possibility to give feedback or ask question to conference committees, arrange short meetings, discuss with people who are only participating online, comments to talks, and discussion about different people, presentations and topics.

If we take a closer look at the last two applications, there is a prominent example from this year ED-MEDIA. On thursday, 2009-06-25 M. David Merrill gave his keynote entitled “What Makes e3 (effective, efficient and engaging) Instruction? ”, which was intended as tie between instructional and constructivist approaches for learning. The talk was tightly geared to instructional design what attracted heavy discussions in the Twitter channel. The discussants were scathing the old-fashioned instructional design and criticized that the topics were discussed already ten years ago. The discussion was visible to everyone because the stream was projected during the talk. The next speaker Tom Reeves picked up the discussion in his talk “Little Learning, Big Learning: In Defense of Authentic Tasks” later on.


Conclusion and Outlook

In this publication the use of Twitter at one of the largest e-Learning conferences, the ED-MEDIA 2009 was carried out. Based on statistical analyses of tweets using the official conference hashtag (#edmedia) it was shown that the number of tweets increased arbitrarily during the conference as well as the number of Twitter participants. Furthermore the top trend makers show who is the heartbeat of this online community and the key terms pointed out, what the community was talking about. We are just beginning to understand the application of Twitter in educational settings and scientific conferences. As shown above, participants used Twitter in manifold ways from commenting, sharing, arranging and lots of other things. It can be concluded that the main intention of the very first beginning, to answer the question “What are you doing? ”, is simply overruled by the community and their creative ways to deal with microblogging platforms.

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Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

4. A. Bartlett-Bragg. Blogging to learn. http://knowledgetree.flexiblelearning. net.au/edition04/pdf/Blogging_to_Learn.pdf lasz visited June 2009, 2003. 5. S. Downes. e-learning 2.0. ACM e-Learn Magazine, http: // www. elearnmag. org/ subpage. cfm? section= articles&article= 29-1 , October 2005. 6. E. Duval. Science2.0 for tel. http://stellarnet.eu/science2ectel/Home last visited June 2009, 2009. 7. M. Ebner. E-learning 2.0 = e-learning 1.0 + web 2.0? In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Availabilty, Reliability and Security, ARES 2007, pages 1235–1239, 2007. 8. M. Ebner. Introducing live microblogging: How single presentations can be enhanced by the mass. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching (JRIT), 2(1):91– 100, 2009. 9. M. Ebner and H. Maurer. Can microblogs and weblogs change traditional scientific writing? In Proceedings of the E-Learn 2008, pages 768–776, 2008. 10. M. Ebner and M. Schiefner. Microblogging, more than fun? In Proceedings of IADIS Mobile Learning Conference 2008, pages 155–159, 2008. 11. M. S. Khan, M. Ebner, and H. Maurer. Trends discovery in the field of e-learning with visualization. In Proceedings of 21st ED-Media Conference 2009, pages 4408– 4413, 2009. 12. N. Kulathuramaiyer and H. Maurer. Current developments of mashups in shaping web applications. In Proceedings of the ED-Media 2007, pages 1172–1177, 2007. 13. X. O. G. M´ndez and E. Duval. Who we are: Analysis of 10 years of the ed-media e conference. In Proceedings of 21st ED-Media Conference 2009, pages 189–200, 2009. 14. T. O’Reilly. What is web 2.0 - design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html last visited June 2009, September 2005. 15. J. Owyang. Retweet: The infectious power of word of mouth. http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/11/23/ retweet-the-infectious-power-of-the-word-of-mouth/, November 2008. 16. W. Reinhardt. Tracking the dynamics of social communities - visualising altering word clouds of twitter groups. In Forthcoming: Special track on MashUps for Learning at the ICL2009, 2009. 17. W. Reinhardt, M. Ebner, G. Beham, and C. Costa. How people are using twitter during conferences. In V. Hornung-Pr¨hauser and M. Luckmann, editors, Proceeda ings of the 5th EduMedia conference, pages 145–156, 2009. 18. S. Schaffert and W. Hilzensauer. On the way towards personal learning environments: Seven crucial aspects. eLearning Papers, 9:1–10, 2008. 19. M. Templeton. Microblogging defined. http://microblink.com/2008/11/11/ microblogging-defined/, November 2008. 20. N. Towned. Podcasting in higher education. Media Onlinefocus 22, British Universities Film & Video Council, http: // www. bufvc. ac. uk/ publications/ mediaonlineissues/ moF22_ vf61. pdf last visited June 2009, 2005. 21. C. Ullrich, K. Borau, H. Luo, X. Tan, L. Shen, and R. Shen. Why web 2.0 is good for learning and for research: principles and prototypes. In WWW ’08: Proceeding of the 17th international conference on World Wide Web, pages 705–714, New York, NY, USA, 2008. ACM. 22. G. Zhan and Q. Jin. Research on collaborative service solutions in ubiquitous learning environment. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Parallel and Distributed Computing, Applications and Technologies, pages 804–806, 2005.

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