As I was walking through the Kansas City Convention Center during the NAFSA Annual Conference last week I came across the message boards (pictured here) off to the side and not along a main traffic path for conference attendees. The NAFSA message boards have always been a great way for colleagues to communicate and connect with each other during the conference and they continue to serve an important purpose for many. I took this picture of the message boards with my iPhone. As you can see, there are not that many message boards available for attendee use. For those of you who have been to a number of NAFSA conferences take a moment to think back ten, five or even two years ago and the number of boards available/necessary for conference attendee use and the number that is now available in 2010. Vastly different, no?
The rise of technology has decreased the use of and need for the message boards for many conference attendees. In the early years of smart phone use the main form of communication between conference attendees was via e-mail and, anecdotally, I believe that e-mail remains the main form of smart phone communication between NAFSA conference attendees today. I was certainly on e-mail throughout the NAFSA conference but I found Twitter, followed by text messaging and Facebook, to be the best communication tool for me during the conference. While I missed a couple of direct messages about connecting for dinner or connecting for related functions I found it to be the best way to connect with many colleagues I wanted/needed to connect with. NAFSA has had the Conference Connection for many years now and I always register but never use as it mostly leads to template solicitations from other conference attendees. I did hear from many (via twitter, of course) that they found the new Conference Connection to be an excellent tool for planning their conference and @NAFSA indicated that a Conference Connection iPhone application for Vancouver 2011 (#nafsa11) was being considered/researched! In fact, I think an entire #nafsa11 iPhone application that integrates Conference Connection with other vital conference information (like the discount code for the airport shuttle). I want to commend @NAFSA for setting a Twitter #hashtag for their conference (#nafsa10) and I recommend that all international education related conferences follow this trend as there are many colleagues who can't attend conferences and are actively following the conference backchannel and appreciate what people are communicating/posting. It literally takes 20 seconds (often times less) to come up with a #hashtag for your conference. You can read my related post about conference hashtags here.
Those of you who attended the NAFSA conference last week, what tools did you use to communicate and connect with colleagues as well as prospective partners/collaborators?