Monday, June 30, 2014

Talking Science on Twitter

Take the Science to them

It was a simple invitation I recevied through twitter. 

An invite to join the chat from @BlackPhysicists           

I am never one to turn down a chance to talk weather, but I wondered how much talking would happen though a character limited medium like Twitter.

Science Student Chat or #scistuchat is a monthly weather chat organized by Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe), a high school science teacher from Nashville, TN. He noticed that many of his students were already on Twitter for what he calls "less educational reasons" while at the same time a lot of scientists are Tweeting science. #Scistuchat was a way to connect the two.

The 140 Character Limit vs the Hashtag

Knowing the limitations of the tweets was my one concern. Just how much information can you get out there in 140 characters or less that must include the #scistuchat tag. After watching the video Adam put together it was clear that my answers would be limited.

After loading up the laptop (easier to type) and searching for the #scistuchat I noticed the first question was already asked and the Extreme Weather chat was well underway. I answered a simple question about extreme weather with a simple answer, the most I could do with the tweet, but then I realized the true value of the chat...chatting!

Over the next few questions I felt I was able to quickly scan the previous answers and continue a thought train or compliment another answer. The scientists were not just giving simple self-contained answers but were working through a whole complex answer. A quick reload and scan of the #scistuchat hashtag and you could easily pick up how the answer was evolving.

Data and "more information links" could also be added to help students taking part in the chat look into a topic further. A how do you track severe weather question started off with simple answers but ended with links to the storm prediction center or even university model forecasting web pages. 

From Information to Inspiration

Even with all the scientists working to come up with a complex answer there is only so much information you can get from the chat. But in the end I realized it may not even be about the chat at all. The chat itself was putting students with a general interest in a topic in contact with Scientists in that field. This could lead to a general interest to becoming a career instead of something that was covered last week.

Taylor noticed that after each chat, no matter what the topic, there was always a follow up period where the subject was still discussed. Some of the students actually tweeted directly with the scientists for weeks following the chat. This type of interaction to a high school student with a general interst could help steer them down that career path. Something that would have never happened without a simple question and answer period on Twitter.

What Now

The #Scistuchat tag will continue to appear on Twitter with a different science related topic each month. The general page has the next chat topic along with a instructional video. You can follow Adam Taylor on Twitter (@2footgiraffe) to see what type of science outreach he will be working on next.  I look forward to the next weather chat.