I got into 'Twitter for work' largely because I’m new to the area in which I’m working, and there are seemingly endless stakeholders interested in my policy area.
I’m working on basic maths and English skills policy, and am looking at the different ways that learning technology can be used to increase capacity and capability in the sector, so a technology-based approach to stakeholder mapping seemed like a good idea. I started by following our partner organisations, and then started following people they followed, and Twitter recommended further people to follow, and it spiralled from there.
I was simultaneously doing a paper-based stakeholder mapping exercise and used Yammer to shout out to people in the learning technology group for any contacts that they could share. Marilyn from our Digital Comms team offered to help with ‘digital mapping’, using some of the more advanced tools that their team can access. Together we searched some hashtags related to learning tech and came across the #ukfechat tag, which revealed that there is a whole community of FE lecturers and leaders, academics and businesspeople interested in the FE world, who log on every Thursday evening between 9 to 10 pm and discuss their shared interest. This was a revelation- rather than identifying participants for a workshop, asking that they get out of work commitments and travel to London to meet in the conference centre, and writing up pages of flipchart after the event, I could just log on and ask the questions I wanted from the comfort of my sofa and storify everything afterwards.
I followed @mrssarahsimons, who is the organiser of #ukfechat (which also has its own website, and is a sharing/support community for FE practitioners) and wrote her a private message. We swapped email contacts and set up a Twitter chat for the following Thursday.
I was quite nervous about being trolled, but we carefully planned a series of questions that I had about the use of learning tech in maths and English to steer the conversation onto the issues that I wanted to explore. We crafted the questions to be under 140 characters, and I also had a plan for how to avoid tricky questions- which, in the end, I didn’t need.
I logged on as arranged at 8.45pm on Thursday evening, and reassuringly Marilyn and Sarah were already online wishing me luck! As soon as the conversation started, I was overwhelmed by the response from a wide variety of people across the sector- who were very keen to share their thoughts, experience, and resources for teaching maths and English. The discussion helped me to unpick where the big blockers are for using technology effectively with FE learner groups (access to resources and leadership support being two key areas), and the conversation has helped to steer my thinking on how best practice can be facilitated, nurtured and spread in the sector. I’ve found that people are keen to continue the conversation too - I’ve just come back from a work meeting where a key stakeholder said that they recognised me from my Twitter photo.
The contacts that I’ve made through the chat have continued to be useful, and I will definitely use this sort of forum again in the future. It was free, easy and gave me the answers I needed right away – and now I have nearly 300 followers who are all interested in my policy area. I’ve continued to use Twitter to promote the department’s work, and to make contacts outside BIS, so it’s been a real success story.
As I’m moving on from the team, I’ve given the login details to the maths and English team already so that the twitter feed (which is, in itself, a useful source of up-to-date information on the sector) can continue to be used.
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