#BiotechWeek: How to gain Twitter followers and employability skills in ten weeks

Anne Osterrieder – Oxford Brookes University

Short paper

In my talk I describe the design of a level 6 biotechnology assignment, in which students curate professional biotechnology-themed Twitter accounts in small groups.

The concept is based on the “Organellewars” high school project, which spontanously emerged in 2011, when US teacher Bradley Graba tasked his students to run presidential campaigns for organelles. Organelles are specialised structures in a cell, each with its own important function (https://www.ck12.org/biology/Organelles/lesson/Organelles-MS-LS/). Students created Twitter profiles and campaign slogans for their organelle, and myself and other cell biologists joined in with what became the first #Organellewars. Student engagement skyrocketed when they learnt about the real-world implications of the subject, and how to access knowledge beyond their textbooks through scientific abstracts.

I adapted the concept for my module guided by the insights on student engagement gained from #Organellewars, and by undergraduate students’ thoughts on using Twitter in their learning (Cross, 2013). I hypothesised that asking students to curate professional biotechnology accounts would let them experience being an expert in the topic by producing, instead of consuming, information. It would offer protection, as their names would not be connected online with their academic activity (incl. potential mistakes or failures), and other users would take them more seriously.

As the task was embedded in real professional networks and students created ‘non-student’ identities, they gained experience in communicating current science concisely, building a professional online presence, and in online networking. I will discuss my assessment strategy and my observations on learning retention and impact of the task. For example, students commented how they had kept up with reading, how the task gave them examples to use in the exam, and how they had obtained skills for their CV that were more unusual for biology graduates. I will reflect on future improvements and new directions to keep the assignment topical.


Cross, M. (2013). Universities should use Twitter to engage with students. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/nov/22/universities-twitter-engage-with-students.

Graba, B. (2017). Starting the organelle wars. Retrieved from http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201703/Education/.


Twitter, STEM, science communication, assessment, group work, networking.

Relation to the theme

  • engaging, stimulating and challenging learners
  • enhancing employability outcomes
  • building staff and student digital capability and confidence