Many of us use social media to communicate with other likeminded academics and practitioners, and attending conferences and giving presentations is a key part of what we do, but what happens when you combine the two? A Twitter Conference! As an early career researcher I am always keen to keep up to date with current events in my field, and explore avenues which help my research, practice and teaching. When the opportunity to “attend” and “present” at a virtual conference arose, I wanted to submit an abstract and explore how it worked.

My abstract for the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference (#PATC4) is related to a project which I had undertaken in my practitioner role, as part of a project with PAS and Historic Environment Scotland (HES).  I worked with Dr Antonia Thomas at the University of the Highlands and Islands on a project exploring heritage crime with young people, as part of a national pilot which PAS had been commissioned to deliver on behalf of HES, connected to the launch of a national crime initiative. Orkney was one of the pilot locations I set up; working with Stromness Academy I devised a day of practical fieldwork visiting archaeological sites on the Orkney Mainland (working with Antonia to find suitable sites), and a day of in class reflection for co-designing resources relating to heritage crime. The site visits allowed the pupils to have an insight into archaeological recording techniques, and walk through a town which was familiar to them to explore it with a “heritage eye” as a town planner or heritage professional might view a space. Graffiti has long existed on Orkney archaeological sites in many forms, but caring for the sites for the future means engaging younger audiences and new audiences with the heritage management issues around that. As the project was a pilot, we were able to experiment with different workshop styles and teaching techniques, allowing the pupils to record themselves (and their findings) using digital kit as part of the reflective activities.. on day two they created amazing resources such as posters, games and presentation for different audiences including their peers, heritage professionals, primary school pupils and even cruise ship passengers.

We had up to 15 Tweets to convey our message around this project, and share an insight into our findings but for academics who are used to being a little more wordy in our communication, how did we manage that?

Our method:
• Write down our key messages, then edit these down (again, if needed!)
• Take off a few Tweets for introduction, bio’s and conclusion, see how many are left
• Split the Tweets into two as we were co-authoring the paper, and write each part then share our drafts in word
• Ensure we had interesting visual content to accompany our paper (note, we had photographic consent forms from those who appear in the images- especially important when working with young people)
• Tag people in on conversations using their Twitter handle to help with engagement
• Programme Tweets in advance using Tweetdeck, to avoid quickly having to type paper content within the allocated presentation time window
• Remember to include the conference hashtag in each post

Twitter Conference Moment

Twitter Conference Moment- screenshot extract of paper

 

Things I learned:
• Staying in touch with the conference organisers, and following their helpful instructions is essential (#PATC4 has a wordpress blog with information on the background of Twitter conferences)
• Composing Tweets in advance helped make a cohesive discussion and ensure we had included key points
• Tweetdeck cannot make threaded Tweets, compiling Tweets into a Twitter moment afterwards is another way to archive discussions
• One person has to Tweet on behalf of everyone presenting a joint conference paper where you require sequential numbered Tweets, but you can make it clear who says what through your text annotation
• Programme in time to respond to comments on your paper, (just like at any conference it is likely people will have questions)
• Allow yourself time to view other presentations too (especially those which relate to your conference sub theme)
• Taking part in a Twitter conference is a lot of fun! #PATC4 even had a musical accompaniment to its papers, there was a DJ and playlist who joined in – #PATC4Jams

Simplifying a paper into Tweet form certainly helps focus your mind, it is a very different format from more longform writing. It has to be eye catching and to the point, but also represent your argument and project appropriately. I have previously participated in “newer” forms of academic engagement (lightning talks, research slams, Pecha Kucha, PubPhD, Three Minute Thesis) and I feel that Twitter conferences definitely have their place alongside these and more traditional forms of presentation like posters, journal articles and in person conference presentations. Being able to communicate your research and academic interests in more than one form definitely helps the skillset of academics at any stage of their career, and the use of these techniques is also opening up a debate about democratising conferences (Twitter has no travel costs and you can either participate live, or catch up at a later time by working remotely at a time which suits you). I would highly recommend submitting a paper to a Twitter conference if you have the opportunity!

Find out more about the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference (#PATC4) 
View Alison and Antonia’s paper as a Twitter moment at https://Twitter.com/i/moments/1169573953196699648?s=13
Follow Alison @CrenellatedArts on Twitter
Follow Antonia @Assemlagiste on Twitter