Using Twitter and QR Codes at Conferences

Bone and Jar
[This is a guest post by Katy Meyers, a graduate student in the department of anthropology at Michigan State University. She also writes regularly on bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology news at her site; you can follow her on Twitter: @bonesdonotlie. Katy's previous ProfHacker post was "Dawn of the Grad: Rules for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse and Your First Year at Grad School."--@jbj]

As technology becomes more prevalent in academe, its presence also increases at our conferences. We can use the technology that has become so embedded into our own lives as a way to more productively attend conferences. Hacking conferences has been discussed prior on ProfHacker, including Brian Croxall’s article on how to productively attend a conference, Derek Bruff’s article on encouraging a twitter backchannel at a conference, Mark Sample’s post on going paperless at conferences, and George William’s posts on social media at MLA 2009 and MLA 2011. I recently attended the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) national conference in Minneapolis, MN and implemented my own strategy to get all that I could out of this experience through twitter and QR codes. Here is how I ‘hacked’ the AAPA conference.

Twitter Backchannel: Prior to the conference even starting, I had been active on the twitter backchannel for the conference found at #aapa2011. About a week before the conference started, a number of more well known physical anthropologists started using this specific hashtag, and I made sure that I was ‘in’ on the conversation. Throughout the conference, those of us who could get access to internet or were lucky enough to have 3G were actively tweeting on the channel about the sessions we were attending, the posters to drop by, and the various activities to check out. At the AAPA, there are about 3 to 5 concurrent presentation sessions and a poster session running throughout. By having this backchannel, those of us attending one are able to get the highlights of the other sessions. While I primarily attended sessions on bioarchaeology and digital databases, I have a general idea of the main discussions that were occurring in the primatology and paleoanthropology talks because of the twitter backchannel.

Twitter Networking: By having the backchannel and a twitter conversation started prior to the conference, I already had some people that I was looking forward to meeting. A number of individuals who I normally wouldn’t know at this stage in my career I was able to have a comfortable conversation with because we had already been tweeting each other. While it was a little odd walking up to someone and saying “Hi, I’m Bones Do Not Lie”, it made the networking a lot easier. During the conference I also was able to expand my following and followers because of my participation in the backchannel.

QR codes: I was presenting a poster at this conference based upon my MA research. One of the biggest problems in doing this is reducing a 75 page paper into a 1,500 word poster. In order to maintain some of its scholarly integrity I struck a balance by adding QR codes onto the poster. By having these codes present, I was able to augment the summarized poster with an interactive pointer to my own website where I had posted a fuller description.. I used three codes: one was an extension of the historical background of the project, one was a more detailed description of the science and method behind the project, and one linked to the homepage of the website where I have my CV and contact information readily accessible. The QR codes were in general well received, and my website received about 30 more hits on the days when my poster was hanging.

Challenges: There are a few challenges of ‘hacking’ the conference. The first was that there was a lack of free wireless internet in the hotel. While this may not have been an issue five years ago when the hotel was first booked for the event, having internet available now is extremely important and should be considered when booking a location. Another challenge of the twitter backchannel was that some people do perceive your ongoing tweeting throughout the talks as rude. Sadly it is more likely that if someone sees you texting on your phone they are assuming it is a text to a friend rather than an academic tweet. However as twitter in conferences becomes more frequent this perception will be lessened. The only problem with using QR codes is that there utility is limited to people with smart phones (which while increasing in frequency is still rather low).

My takeaway from hacking the AAPA conference is that I benefited from using new types of technology at the conference, but that its important to have more traditional back up plans. In order to deal with the lack of smart phones and QR readers I also included my website on my business card and gave that to people who couldn’t get my contact information through their phone. While Twitter did help me with networking, I also emailed individuals to create networking opportunities and also approached people that I wanted to meet. The new social technologies can make a powerful addition to traditional conferencing and networking.

What about you? What new tools have you tried at conferences recently? What are you planning to do soon? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user John E. Lester / Creative Commons licensed.

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