Education scholars' evolving uses of twitter as a conference backchannel and social commentary platform

Royce Kimmons, George Veletsianos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The scholarly community faces a lack of large-scale research examining how students and professors use social media in authentic contexts and how such use changes over time. This study uses data mining methods to better understand academic Twitter use during, around, and between the 2014 and 2015 American Educational Research Association annual conferences both as a conference backchannel and as a general means of participating online. Descriptive and inferential analysis is used to explore Twitter use for 1421 academics and the more than 360 000 tweets they posted. Results demonstrate the complicated participation patterns of how Twitter is used "on the ground." In particular, we show that tweets during conferences differed significantly from tweets outside conferences. Further, students and professors used the conference backchannel somewhat equally, but students used some hashtags more frequently, while professors used other hashtags more frequently. Academics comprised the minority of participants in these backchannels, but participated at a much higher rate than their non-academic counterparts. While the number of participants in the backchannel increased between 2014 and 2015, only a small number of authors were present during both years, and the number of tweets declined from year to year. Various hashtags were used throughout the time period during which this study occurred, and some were ongoing (ie, those which tended to be stable across weeks) while others were event-based (ie, those which spiked in a particular week). Professors used event-based hashtags more often than students and students used ongoing hashtags more often than professors. Ongoing hashtags tended to exhibit positive sentiment, while event-based hashtags tended to exhibit more ambiguous or conflicting sentiments. These findings suggest that professors and students exhibit similarities and differences in how they use Twitter and backchannels and indicate the need for further research to better understand the ways that social technologies and online networks are integrated in scholars' lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-464
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 British Educational Research Association.


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