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Reflecting on the conference season: Where did your presentations end up as a result of social media dissemination?

Alison Fox

As you reflect on the BERA Conference, have you thought about where images of and reflections about your presentations ended up as a result of social media dissemination? Who heard about them, who shared them and, furthermore, were they of value and did they influence thinking or changes in practice?

There is a growing but fragmented literature looking at the activity and significance of the use of social media at academic and professional conferences (Desai et al 2012; Misori and Levi 2014; Nomura et al 2012). The flow of knowledge and connectivity that broadens the space and time of conferences is an area ripe for methodological exploration in relation to education and educational professional conferences, but we need to identify which questions are worth asking and which research designs are therefore appropriate to examine data generated by and related to such social media use.

The main tool for social networking in use at conferences, and under study, is the microblogging tool Twitter. The majority of studies map the resultant social network activity using social network analysis (see for example Neill et al 2014) to look at the scale and structure of activity within and beyond the conference in space and time. These sometimes look to identify the most prolific twitter activists (see for example Misori and Levy 2014).

There is little evidence of studies related to educational research conferences specifically, in contrast to the burgeoning interest associated with their medical research conference equivalents (Fox and Bird 2017) since 2011 (Desai et al 2012; Roland et al 2015). Such research about social media use is set within a wider social and professional schism between those who embrace and those who avoid social media – a schism evidenced by school teachers (Owen et al 2016) as much as with medics (Nomura et al 2012). Professional online behaviour and attention to accuracy of information were particular concerns evidenced in studies in medical settings (Fox and Bird 2017). In 2018 the national Association of the Study of Medical Education (ASME) discussed the benefits and challenges of using social media to enhance conferences in their Tweet chat #MedEdForum. Perhaps such a debate can be hosted, and even linked to discussions within ASME, at the 2019 BERA Conference?

Researchers are beginning to ask questions, such as, ‘Does the use of a Twitter‐enabled backchannel enhance the conference experience, collaboration and the co‐construction of knowledge?’, and, ‘How is microblogging used within academic conferences, and can one articulate the benefits it may bring to a discipline?’ (Ross et al 2011). Such questions require more than an analysis of network structure and processes: few studies focus on the content of the tweets and their influence on those who both post and read. As researchers we need to critically explore appropriate methods with which to address questions around the learning associated with social media use. These should involve qualitative data-mining, taking into account the ethical challenges of engagement with social media users and data (the public availability of which is contested). To understand the value of social media use, we need to examine users’ attitudes towards, perceptions of the significance of, and reports of the influence of such activity on their thinking and practice. ‘Netnographic’ methods, which involve researchers in participant observation within networks, might be of value in relation to Twitter, learning from studies conducted of online forums (see for example Aaen 2015; Tremayne 2018).


Aaen J (2015) ‘Making Sense of Facebook: A Mixed Methods Approach to Analysing Online Student Groups’, International journal of media, technology and lifelong learning 11(1): 1–7

Desai T, Shariff A, Shariff A, Kats M and Fang X (2012) ‘Tweeting the Meeting: An In-Depth Analysis of Twitter Activity at Kidney Week 2011’, PLoSONE 7(7): e40253

Fox A and Bird T (2017) ‘#any use? What do we know about how teachers and doctors learn through social media use?’, Qwerty: Open Interdisciplinary Journal of Technology, Culture and Education 12(2): 64–87

Misori R and Levi B M (2014) ‘Twitter Use at a Family Medicine Conference: Analyzing #STFM13’, Family Medicine 46(8): 608–614

Neill A, Cronin J J, Brannigan D, O’Sullivan R and Cadogan M (2014) ‘The impact of social media on a major international emergency medicine conference’, Emergency Medicine Journal 31(5): 401–404

Nomura J T, Genes N, Bollinger H R, Bollinger M, and Reed J F (2012) ‘Twitter use during emergency medicine conferences’, American Journal of Emergency Medicine 30: 819–820

Owen N I, Fox A and Bird T M (2016) ‘Surveying UK teachers’ use (not use) and attitudes to social media: A methodological approach’, International Journal of Research & Method in Education 39(2): 170–183

Roland D, May N, Body R, Carley S and Lyttle M D (2015) ‘Will social media make or break medical conferences?’, British Journal of Hospital Medicine 76(6): 318–319

Ross C, Terras M, Warwick C and Welsh A (2011) ‘Enabled backchannel: Conference Twitter use by digital humanists’, Journal of Documentation 67(2): 214–237

Tremayne D (2018) ‘Netnography: exploring ‘innovative’ approaches to research’, BERA Blog, 24 July 2018.