For academic advisors and higher education professionals, traveling to a regional or national conference can be invigorating. They are a great place to network, learn about trending issues, and reflect on your own practices. However, they are also expensive. New professionals no longer can take advantage of the discounted student rates. Many departmental and institutional budgets are stretched thin. The average cost of many national conferences becomes prohibitive, when you add in travel and hotels. Thankfully some conferences offer scholarships and honorariums for presenters. But the ability to go to multiple conferences or geographically distant conferences is limited. Hard choices have to be made, especially if you want to get more involved in presenting or leadership roles within the organization.
These do not need to limit your learning or networking. Conference back-channels are a way that social media savvy professionals, who know about social media back-channels, stay in touch with each other at the conferences, learning from each other's insights, networking, and trends at various conferences across the nation/world. Much of this is concentrated on Twitter, where you don't need to be at the conference or even a very active Twitter user, to benefit from the conversations. These channels may be obvious to professionals who use social media frequently, but many colleagues don't take advantage of these opportunities and they aren't always used intentionally at local or regional conferences.
Back-Channels form around specific hashtags (#...) for the conference, often including the year for national ones. These, often publicized, hashtags, link conference goers and can be followed by anyone with a twitter account. However, don't forget that the official conference accounts (@....) and regional accounts (@... r1) may also be sharing details. While a conference is restricted to specific dates, back-channels are not so you can go back in time to previous conferences (#NACADA14) or even get previews of upcoming conferences (#NACADA15) and sessions. They can also form around specific presentations (#bringyoself) to link conversations within the conference to specific topics. Many presenters often post materials on their twitter accounts or blogs and some conferences such as NACADA ask presenters to post handouts (WNY Advising Conference Presentations).
#ACPA15 Also #ACPA or @ACPA
#NASPA15 Also #NASPA or @NASPAtweets
#NACADA15 Also #NACADA or @NACADA
#WNYAdvising Also @WNYAdvising
#NACADAR7 Also @NACADA_regvii
#NACADAR1 Also @nacada_region1
More examples and hashtags. Other hashtags for future conferences may pop up in your feeds as you expand your Twitter network and follow more #Acadv or #SAPro related accounts.
Tips for following Back-Channels vary depending on what platform or app you are using. If you are using Twitter, search for the hashtag and then select all at the top of the stream to reach the full stream. I prefer Tweetdeck (A desktop version) on my Chromebook, where I can log in with Twitter, search for the hashtag and set up streams based on certain hashtags and users (i.e. "#NACADA14 OR #NACADA15 OR @NACADA OR .#acadv OR #NACADA OR #AdvTech").
On a personal note, the #NACADA14 back-channel really changed my professional practice, and changed how I network. I didn't worry as much which session I attended to get the most information, as the back-channel provided notes and slides from the other sessions, and my colleagues shared, or favorited some of the most interesting materials. Being there also allowed for at Tweetup where I got to meet many of the people I had connected with online. Not only did this improve my experience at the conference, but it also created many professional relationships which have morphed into shared resources, interactive endeavors, and conference proposals.
So, the next time your budget, responsibilities, or geographic location prevents you from attending a conference, don't fret, just look for the back-channel. Also, if you are involved in planning a regional or national conference, make sure to be intentional in creating a hashtag back-channel to enhance the conference experience and expand its influence to other professionals across the nation or world.
John Sauter Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Niagara University
Coordinator of WNY Advising