Over the past two weeks, I’ve been participating in GSLSDoT, a ‘ten days of Twitter’ activity designed for students and researchers at the Graduate School of Life Sciences at the University of Cambridge. The aim is to get people up and running on Twitter, either setting up accounts and tweeting for the first time, or gaining hints and tips about how to use Twitter more effectively in the case of participants already on Twitter. The course is designed to let people try out Twitter and see if they find it a helpful tool in their professional or social lives.
The programme is meant to take place over ten days, although participants can join at any point. Each day brings a new theme (all blogged about here), and each theme involves various tasks that participants can undertake. For example, on Day Six, participants are expected to find interesting tweets and retweet them.
Several colleagues and I have been taking it in turns to lead a day’s activities, which has mostly involved hanging out in the relevant hashtag (#GSLSDoT), being an active presence on Twitter, and answering participants’ questions. It’s been a rather interesting experience from a teaching point of view.
Most of the teaching I do is in a classroom or one-to-one setting, and involves guiding students through practical exercises designed to help them perform a particular task (e.g. searching a database or using a piece of software) more efficiently. There tends to be a single right method of doing each task (or at least a set of rough guidelines applicable in most situations), and I can answer any questions that come up as they happen. Teaching through Twitter – and teaching how to use Twitter – is a bit more of a challenge. Firstly, I can’t assume that the people posting to the hashtag are the only people participating. There may be some silent followers who are observing but not posting, for a variety of reasons. Secondly, it’s hard to make any hard-and-fast rules for effective and perfect Twitter use: it’s the kind of platform which will suit different people for use in different ways. Some people may want to use it as a way to disseminate links to their research output, while others may want to have conversations and meet others working in their field. Some may prefer to lurk and follow relevant conference hashtags, while others may view it as an entirely social space. Each person will have their own preferences in terms of the balance between professional and personal interests. I’m a bit of an erratic Twitter user – my tweeting tends to spike at conferences and then drop off at other times – so in some ways I feel like advising #GSLSDoT participants to do as I say, not as I do!
The third challenge has been teaching (or really facilitating) the programme with colleagues, rather than having sole responsibility for teaching content. Just as people have different teaching styles in person, we all have different approaches to Twitter use, and indeed to teaching and interacting with programme participants on Twitter. It’s been fascinating, therefore, to watch my colleagues on the days they were facilitating, and learn from them. I may even make some changes in the way I tweet as a result!
Apart from one hair-raising moment when I realised I was supposed to be guiding people through the use of hashtags on a day when Twitter was down (and the search function entirely broken), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed GSLSDoT. It’s been great to get to know so many participants, many of whom are too busy in their respective labs to get out to the library often. I hope the participants found it to be a productive experience, and that Twitter proves to be a useful and enjoyable platform for them.