ASE Chats

Who you are and what you do?

I’m Anthony Hardwicke Head of Curriculum Development at the Association for Science Education. Mags Lum, a USscience teacher summed up what we do recently when she tweeted: “Wow. Just discovered #ASEChat where UK teachers share science teaching ideas. via @AnthHard Mon 8PM (UK time) Really good stuff.”

What are you trying to communicate and with whom? 

#ASEChat is a weekly chat on Twitter that helps science teachers to share good practice. It is a ‘live chat’ that takes place every Monday from 8.00pm to 9.00pm. Outside this hour, science teachers often use the #ASEChat hashtag to post links, events and opinions that are of interest to otherUKscience teachers.

Tweeting for Teachers  is a recent report out by Pearson that strongly endorses #ukedchat as the future of teacher CPD (continuing professional development). When we started #ASEChat in June 2011, it was modelled very closely on #ukedchat (which in turn was inspired by the US-based group #edchat). #ASEChat focuses on science teaching ideas and subject-specific issues which makes it even more useful for science teachers.

 What online tools do you use to communicate? And what resources do you have for this?

Participants obviously need a Twitter account, which is free. TweetDeck is a free download which makes following Twitter chats much easier.

An archive and a summary for each chat is posted on the ASE Chat web page at: http://www.ase.org.uk/news/ase-chat/

The Monday night chats usually involve about 30 teachers. Throughout last week we got 876 tweets labelled with the #ASEChat hashtag from 135 different teachers. On top of these, I suspect that there are a reasonable number of people who just act as spectators (the Twitter name for these people is ‘lurkers’!). It is difficult to tell how many people do this though.

What are the strengths of using these tools?

#ASEChat was very cheap and easy to set up. We have spent a very small amount on trying to publicise the chat to science teachers that are not on Twitter by writing an article for the ASE’s Education in Science and designing a simple, eye-catching poster. We have had a healthy number of downloads of this. Having a colour poster to download gives us maximum publicity for minimum expenditure.

The summaries of each chat are particularly powerful because they provide busy teachers with a succinct and up-to-date overview of a particular topic. For example, the Topic 6 summary ‘What are the Traits of an Exemplary Science Teacher?’ would be a great place to start for a Head of Science  asked to do an INSET training session on being an excellent science teacher. Or a science teacher planning a series of lessons on Microbes could look at the Topic 19 summary for inspiration. This chat actually inspired Joe Wright (@Bio_Joe), a science teacher to blog two detailed posts about microbiology.

 Have you had any challenges?

Not really. It ‘took off’ straight away. Our only worry is that a lot of schools have issues with social networking in general. We can sympathise with schools that advise their staff not to use Facebook, but we can’t see any problems with teachers using Twitter for CPD. It is closer to blogging than it is to Facebook. Some people describe Twitter as ‘microblogging’.

What are you planning in the future?

We are planning a ‘Tweet-up’ (a face to face meeting of members of the #ASEChat community) at the ASE Annual Conference inLiverpoolin January 2012.

We are looking into ways in which we can reward and celebrate teachers’ participation. One teacher commented, ‘Thanks, that’s lovely evidence of CPD’ , when she discovered that one of her tweets had been included in the ‘Top Ten Tweets’ section in the summary.

We’ve written a bid for a project where pupils ask a historical scientist questions via Twitter. We are not sure who to apply to for funding, though. We’d be grateful for suggestions!

What would be your top tips?

If you’ve had a worthwhile discussion on Twitter it is important to ‘archive it’ because messages on Twitter disappear after a week or two. We use the Archivist (a free download) to produce an archive of each chat. The chat moderator then needs to turn the archive into a summary. This is time consuming: it takes two to three hours to do a good summary. It is quicker and easier if the moderator does the chat, rather than someone who hasn’t taken part in the discussion.But the effort is well worth it because then others can benefit from all the ideas and links that have been shared during the chat.

Moderating a ‘live chat’ is similar to facilitating a discussion. It is a skill that some people find easy and other people find difficult. We invite teachers to act as moderators and write up the summaries whenever possible. This gives them ownership of the chat and makes the overall experience much more authentic.

We would advise teachers to keep a Twitter account strictly for professional issues. It is fine to have another Twitter account for your social life, but keep the two separate.  Your personal profile helps other people decide whether or not to follow you. Think carefully about how you word it and don’t forget to mention that you are a science teacher. This will encourage other science teachers to follow you. It is a good idea to include a ‘Views expressed are my own’ disclaimer.

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