A conference backchannel (defined by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘a secondary or covert route of the passage of information’) allows vicarious experience of meetings the learner is unable to attend. I went to AVA 2012 with the intention of creating a mini-backchannel by tweeting interesting points during sessions and following up by blogging my learning, both to offer those unable to attend a window into the conference and as a means of reflecting on what I had learnt. Kudos to the AVA for designating a conference Twitter hashtag (#AVA2012), which I was hoping would be used by delegates from different areas of interest both during the week and for more in-depth reflection, allowing me to overcome my human inability to be in two places at the same time.
The AVA itself (tweeting as @AustVetAssoc) did well with tweeting salient points during sessions, particularly the plenaries, but I was disappointed that more delegates did not use this fantastic resource for teaching and learning. Katherine McMillan (@kmbehaviour) made a great contribution with tweets and a blog post covering the behavioural stream but there were only scattered tweets besides that. I managed to tweet from most of the sessions I attended, although I realised afterwards that I could have worded many of my tweets better. I’m only really starting out with Twitter myself and still learning the best way to use it.
Since the conference I have written three blog posts, published both on my own site and in the blog section of the NOVICE site (which is a fantastic networking and resource site if you are not familiar with it) about the sessions I attended and one about the education poster session. Although I haven’t received many comments on the site several people have told me that they have read the posts and appreciated learning from them and others on the NOVICE site have commented or ‘liked’ the posts. I tweeted when publishing each time and have had some Twitter comments from people I had not previously had contact with.
The time and effort it has taken to write and post the tweets and blogs has been worthwhile. It has greatly increased the depth of my learning and thinking about some of the issues raised. I contacted all the authors of the education posters before publishing my post to obtain their permission to include their poster and this had the excellent spin-off of creating connections with people doing excellent work in their fields. Through some of the Twitter comments I have found some very interesting people, companies and websites whose activities I can now follow and learn from. For me, lifelong learning is what keeps it interesting.
There is frequently a lack of information flow from conference learning to widespread application of the new knowledge into practice. This is also a concern in medical continuing education, as outlined in this article. As backchannelling from conferences becomes more widespread, it will be interesting to see whether more delegates contribute at AVA 2013. The conference program this year included a very valuable talk on the use of Facebook for clinics. In the future I would like to see a session at the AVA conference on the use of social media for continuing professional education for veterinarians, a topic I will expand on in a future blog post. There are so many wonderful people and resources just waiting for learners to connect with them.