Twitter for Sci-Ed Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before

So far, I’ve talked about how Twitter can be used by scientists to help disseminate information, and acquire new information. I’m going to change gears in my final post and talk about how Twitter can be used in the classroom, and how it can be used by scientists moving forward.

If you missed them, click here for Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.

Reason #4: For lecturers, Twitter can contribute to discussions and deepen understanding

While researchers spent most of our time trying to get our work published and publicized, another responsibility we have is to train the next generation of researchers. With increasing budget cuts at Canadian universities, being offset by increased undergraduate and graduate enrolment, classes are getting bigger while there are fewer lecturers to teach those classes.

Twitter can be used to give shy students a voice, and allow for them to have discussions with peers easily. They can be pushed on issues, deepen their understanding and further their knowledge; which is the goal of education. This occurs in a forum that they might be more comfortable in. While people may be nervous to make a point in class, or simply unable to due to lack of time and large class sizes, Twitter allows for those conversations to continue easily outside of the classroom.

Twitter has been used by professors with some success. Monica Rankin at UT Dallas taught a history class (video above) where she used Twitter to engage students. She also wrote about her experiences here, for those who would prefer to read about her experiences or cannot access YouTube.

For those interested, Mark Sample has created a framework that sums up how Twitter can be used in the classroom based on an idea proposed by Rick Reo. There are many ways Twitter can be used in the classroom to supplement learning – it just depends how you want to use it!

An interesting framework for how Twitter can be used in the classroom. Click to go to Mark Sample’s blogpost.


Reason #5: The way we translate information is changing

This is important for those beginning their careers in science. The current publishing paradigm has come under fire recently, with many improvements being proposed. There has been an explosion in science blogging, which is a great way for people to get their work out and communicate with people they otherwise wouldn’t. Big networks such as Nature Blogs, Research Blogging, Scientific American, Science Blogs, Occams Typewriter, PLOS Blogs and others have provided a haven for scientists who want to get information out. Knowing how to use Twitter, and use it effectively can help get your message out. Sidneyeve Matrix, a professor at Queen’s University, talks about this, specifically how those in Public Health can use social media, in more detail here (her slides are embedded below as well).

And now for a rant. While I would like for you to embrace social media and see the value of it in your work, I realize that many people either 1) don’t have the time, 2) don’t have the means, or 3) don’t have the interest, in engaging in social media. But there are few things that frustrate me more than when someone posts about how they dislike social media because “all it is is people posting pictures of cats” or “how much can you really get across in 140 characters.” This is cheap, and this is lazy. The fact is that your students will be using these platforms, and the general public is using this platform. Simply putting your head in the ground and ignoring it just adds to the ivory tower attitude that people have towards scientists.

Now, there are good reasons to not use social media, and the worst thing you can do as an organization is start using social media but not have a clear vision for what you want to do with it. Social media has become a bit of a buzzword, and, as a friend of mine in communication says “It’s the ‘we need a brochure’ of the 21st century.” Organizations make an account, but have no idea how they’re going to use it, or what their goal is. That’s a bad idea – social media is not a magic bullet, where, once you make an account, you suddenly have thousands of followers and your business triples overnight. Like any form of communication, it requires time, and also requires cultivation of information. However, if you choose not to engage your audience on social media, be aware of what doors you’re closing, and how you’ll engage those people otherwise. You’re deliberately ignoring sections of the population, and so you need to engage with them using some other means. That requires a plan, and that requires some forethought. But don’t just rule it out based on preconceived ideas.

So there you go – five reasons why I think you should use Twitter. What are your thoughts readers – is there anything I’ve missed? Any reasons why you think other readers should or should not sign up for Twitter? Let me know in the comments!

Ed note: A version of this series originally appeared on Mr Epidemiology (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Author: Mike Klymkowsky

I am a Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I earned a bachelors degree in biophysics from Penn State then moved to California and earned a Ph.D. from CalTech (working for a time at UCSF and the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic). I was a Muscular Dystrophy Association post-doctoral fellow at University College London and the Rockefeller University before moving to Boulder. My research has involved a number of topics, including neurotransmitter receptor structure, cytoskeletal organization and ciliary function, neural crest formation, and signaling systems in the context of the clawed frog Xenopus laevis as well as biology education research, leading to the development of the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI), a suite of virtuallaboratory activities, and biofundamentals, a re-designed introductory molecular biology course. I have a close collaboration with Melanie Cooper (@Michigan State) that has resulted in transformed (and demonstrably effective and engaging) course materials in general and organic chemistry known as CLUE: Chemistry, Life, the Universe & Everything. I was in the first class of Pew Biomedical Scholars and am a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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