GeoLog

Education

GeoEd: Social Communications

GeoEd: Social Communications

We all know that social media is an excellent way in which we can communicate our research (and indeed our rants, dreams, and favourite cat pictures) to the general public, but can we also use it to communicate our research in the classroom? From kindergarten to higher education, social media can be a fantastic learning tool, which can help to open up digital windows into the world of geosciences.

Social media is a rather large umbrella; for anyone doubting this, check out the wonderful A-Z of Social Media for Academia by Professor Andy Miah from the University of Salford. In utilising social media for your teaching practices, it is important that you choose the platform with which you feel the most comfortable, and which you feel will be of greatest benefit to both you and your students. For the rest of this article we are going to focus mainly on: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Periscope, but obviously many more platforms are available.

Creating a Facebook group for a specific class or topic can be an excellent way to promote learning and interactivity outside of the classroom. Wang et al. (2012) found that many of the fundamental functions of a learning management system could be easily implemented into a Facebook group, and that encouraging students to use Facebook as a learning tool presents the teacher with the flexibility to engage with students at times that are convenient for them. This in turn can lead to the students feeling more inclusive, and can help to foster a more collegial atmosphere, both amongst the students and between the students and the teacher (Marovich et al., 2010). If using Facebook in this manner, it is important that the students are aware and comfortable with the security settings that are being used. It is also an idea to give several of them administrative rights, as this promotes ownership, and helps the students to self-moderate, which will further encourage the students to learn together, away from their traditional learning environments.

Twitter is a fast, easy method for making announcements, solving student issues, and performing course-related administrative duties (Rinaldo et al., 2011). Using a Twitter Wall, such as Tweetchat, in combination with a designated hashtag can be a great way to promote discussions in class, and can help to encourage those students that would otherwise be too shy or awkward to ask questions. By using a hashtag, it is also possible for the teacher to return to any questions or issues that they may have missed during the session at a later date, and they can also help to inform the content and delivery to future sessions. Using hashtags also allows you curate the conversation using Storify or Curator for a later date, as outlined in this blog post. Twitter is also an excellent way to help teach students about how to network efficiently (Sacks and Graves, 2012), a vital skill in any future career path, and one that will stand them in good stead for the academic conferences of their futures. For those that are interested, this post by the UK Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MELSIG) talks further about how social media can be used to promote interaction and inclusivity, and how it is being done across UK HE institutions.

Social media can help bring geosciences into the classroom. Credit: Steveadcuk (distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

Social media can help bring geosciences into the classroom. Credit: Steveadcuk (distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

Skype and Periscope are excellent platforms for bringing geoscience and geoscientists into the classroom. By setting up a Skype chat with a geoscientist in an exotic location, students can get a feel for what it is like to be a geoscientist in the field; they are also presented with the opportunity to chat to real geoscientists about what it is that they do, and why it is that they do it. This is also an extremely cost-effective (in terms of both time and money) method to communicate with geoscientists from across the globe. Periscope brings with it the opportunity for genuine two-way communication in a versatile and flexible manner. If you are a university lecturer then why not set up a live feed when you are out in the field, your students could then watch as you climb a volcano/identify rock types/ take chamber measurements of gases, whilst asking you questions that you can respond to in real time, effectively bringing them with you on your own personal learning experience. You could also encourage your students to do the same, allowing them to share their geoscientific wanderings with the rest of their class.

These are just some suggestions for how a number of social media platforms might be used to enhance the learning experience. The possibilities really are as limitless as your imagination. However, it is important to realise that social media, in all of its many guises is effectively just a set of (admittedly very cool) tools, and that without the required content and competency to complement these, all that is left is a set of ineffectual instruments and a very confused and or uninterested classroom.

By Sam Illingworth,  Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University.

References
Marovich, M., Stanaityte, J. & Wankel, C.: Cutting-edge social media approaches to business education: teaching with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, and blogs, IAP, 2010.

Rinaldo, S. B., Tapp, S. & Laveriel, D. A.: Learning by tweeting: Using Twitter as a pedagogical tool. Journal of Marketing Education, 0273475311410852, 2011.

Sacks, M. A. & Graves, N.: How Many “Friends” Do You Need? Teaching Students How to Network Using Social Media. Business Communication Quarterly, 75, 80-88, 2012.

Wang, Q., Woo, H. L., Quek, C. L. et al:. Using the Facebook group as a learning management system: An exploratory study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43, 428-438, 2012

Film review: Revolution

Film review: Revolution

It’s not every day you are asked to review a film, and since it’s a documentary that encompasses a few of EGU’s sciences (such as climate sciences, biogeosciences, and energy, resources and the environment), I couldn’t say no. I’ll start by giving it a rating, 3.5/5 stars, though I would probably give it more if I were part of the film’s main target audience.

Revolution, by biologist-photographer turned filmmaker-conservationist Rob Stewart, is about some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. It aims to educate the audience about ocean acidification, climate change, overfishing and deforestation, alerting them to how these issues can impact our planet and, in turn, humanity. But it’s also about much more than that.

The film starts with Stewart telling his own story, revealing how his personal experiences lead him to make his first documentary, Sharkwater, and how researching and promoting that film made him want to tell the broader story of Revolution. This makes for good story telling, and it’s an interesting and candid introduction (Stewart says at one point that he had no idea how to make a movie before Sharkwater). But it seems a tad overly dramatic at times and not always scientific in its claims. For example, to illustrate how humans, responsible for many environmental problems, can also be part of their solution, Stewart tells a crowd in Hong Kong that the “holes in the ozone layer are almost a figment of our imagination now”, which is not exactly true. According to a 2014 NASA release, the ozone hole is still roughly the size of North America, though it has been shrinking over the past couple of decades. I should point out, however, that while there are some minor scientific inaccuracies here and there in the film (and a glaring typo in a sentence where CO2 appears incorrectly written as CO2) the majority of the facts and figures cited in the movie do roughly seem to be accurate, even if rather dramatic and seemingly exaggerated at first.

The movie becomes more exciting (though, at times, depressing too) when Stewart changes the focus from his story to the story of how life evolved on Earth, and what its future might look like. The backdrop is beautiful footage, worthy of a BBC wildlife programme. Stewart starts where life itself started, underwater, and the images showing a diversity of corals and colourful fish (and the cute pigmy sea horse) are breath-taking and work well in illustrating his points. For example, as the colourful imagery gives place to shades of grey, Stewart describes and shows how corals have been affected by ocean acidification and rising temperatures.

Coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 36% over the last 25 years. That's an enormous loss. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 36% over the last 25 years. That’s an enormous loss. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

If the footage, both underwater and on land, makes for a stunning background, the interviews with various scientific experts bring home the film’s key messages. To me, they are the strongest aspect of Revolution. Stewart talks to credible researchers who are able to communicate their, often complex, science in clear language. Some of the readers of this blog may be able to relate to scientists Charlie Veron and Katharina Fabricius, whose field work is shown in the film, while viewers less familiar with the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs will likely be moved by the dramatic words of these researchers.

What the scientists tell us will happen if humans continue in the business-as-usual path is indeed gloomy: deforestation increasing, fisheries collapsing, greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures on the rise at unprecedented rates, species going extinct en masse… the list goes on. The issues of deforestation and mass extinction are addressed when Stewart travels to Madagascar: the island’s tropical dry forests are home to unique animals and plants, many of which have seen their habitats destroyed by the burning of trees to make room for pastures and crops. Humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels is illustrated when Stewart talks about the Alberta tar sands, and how resource intensive and polluting it is to extract oil from them. A key message of the film is again illustrated here by one of the experts interviewed. Hans Joachim (‘John’) Schellnhuber, a scientific advisor to the German Government and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explains how stopping the Canadian tar sands project “is one of the decisive battles in the war against global warming”.

Indeed, Stewart sets out not only to inform people about the environmental issues faced by humanity, but also to encourage the audience to act on them: “Revolution is not just about the environment – it’s a film about hope and inspiration.” As such, Stewart balances out this negative outlook with examples of people who are standing up for climate justice and fighting for an end to fossil-fuel burning (and, sometimes, with clips of flamboyant cuttlefish and jumping lemurs!). Although it may not seem like it halfway through the film, the overall message is positive.

This is most evident when Stewart talks to young people, particularly those who travelled to Cancun, Mexico for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2010 (COP16). It is heartening to find out how committed and courageous some young people are in fighting for our future, their future, and in wanting to make the Earth a better place by changing human behaviour. This fighting spirit is best encapsulated in a speech by Mirna Haider, from the COP16 Lebanon Youth Delegation, which is particularly bold and moving, if impatient: “You have been negotiating all my life, you cannot tell me you need more time.”

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Young people are those who may have the most to benefit from watching this film, and I think are the primary target audience of Revolution (there’s even an accompanying Educator’s guide with pre- and post-viewing resources and classroom activities teachers and parents might find useful). It inspires them towards (peaceful) revolution against corporations who profit from burning fossil fuels and from destroying natural resources, and against governments who take no action to stop them. It is a shame the film doesn’t address other ways in which individuals could help fight climate change, deforestation and ocean acidification, such as divesting from fossil fuels or eating less meat. But perhaps that’s something that resonates better with older people. Children and teenagers tend to be more optimistic about their power to save the Planet through revolution, and this film is sure to inspire them to act on the most pressing environmental problems the Earth faces.

Revolution premiered at festivals in 2012/2013, but has only been widely released earlier this year. You can watch the film online on the Revolution website, or through the platforms indicated there (sadly, it’s not free, but you can either rent it or buy it for only a few dollars, so it’s certainly affordable!).

 

By Bárbara Ferreira, EGU Media and Communications Manager

GeoTalk: Meet Andi Rudersdorf, winner of I’m a Geoscientist 2015!

GeoTalk: Meet Andi Rudersdorf, winner of I’m a Geoscientist 2015!

Earlier this year we ran the second I’m a Geoscientist event, an online chat-based game show in which school kids vote for their favourite geoscience communicators. In this week’s GeoTalk, Laura Roberts  talks to Andi Rudersdorf, a neotectonics PhD student and winner of this year’s I’m a Geoscientist…

First, for those who didn’t been following I’m a Geoscientist, can you tell us a little about yourself and what made you decide to take part in the competition?

My name is Andreas Rudersdorf, Andi, and I’m a Geoscientist – studying the neotectonics of an intracontinental basin in the Gobi Desert: the Ejina Basin. This basin lies between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Altai ranges. Currently, I am finishing my PhD thesis at Neotectonics and Natural Hazards | RWTH Aachen University on the integration of geological, geophysical and remote sensing data which I collected to find out when and where tectonic processes shaped the Ejina Basin, where the topography is very flat and where only few prominent geological features document past earthquakes.

I first heard of I’m a Scientist last year when the first geoscience event was advertised and when I was just about to plan my trip to the EGU General Assembly. We have just had an intern in our institute who really liked all the different topics we were working on during that time and I thought it would be great to get in touch with even more pupils and to excite their curiosity in geosciences and to show them what I do.

Have you done any geoscience outreach before?

Our working group in Aachen is quite activeon social media – my colleagues and I are trying to get our friends and followers involved in what we study and publish. So sharing pictures and stories about my work was not new to me. I even suggested to my supervisor that we create a Facebook page to reach out to even more people. However, I guess that the first followers were our students – so the outreach component was rather small at that time…

But there is this great community and blog called paleoseismicity.org, where my friend Christoph and many other authors from the scientific community around the world write about scientific news, recent earthquakes, tsunamis, past and upcoming meetings, field work and recent developments in the fields ofearthquakes and active tectonics. I joined the authors during my Master’s in 2011 and now I’m preparing a weekly section called the Friday links. Of course we aim to reach the scientific community, but we also have lots of readers outside of science.

What inspired you to take part in the competition?

From my blogging experience I knew how good it feels to get feedback when you share your work and how motivating it can be to see others learn new things.

Last year, my supervisor Klaus Reicherter got in touch with school classes where he and my colleagues started a project to teach geology and natural hazards to young pupils. The pupils were really keen to learn about our work and they loved the experiments and field trips they did together. They eventually planned to prepare the first German ShakeOut Day, a school event where earthquake awareness is raised and the right actions during earthquakes are trained. I was impressed by this project and was certain I wanted to take part in a similar event: then the call for the second “I’m a Geoscientist event” started circulating.

What was your toughest question during the competition and how did you respond?

There were quite a few questions that were tough to answer, for example the ones on what happened before or during the big bang, or whether a dress is white and gold or blue and black… In the questions section those questions were great, because I had the time to read a bit on topics outside my field or sometimes think outside the box, and then answer what I learned. During the chats with the students, I just had to learn to say that I didn’t know. And the pupils liked that!

Andi out in the field. Credit: Andreas Rudersdorf

Andi out in the field. Credit: Andreas Rudersdorf

What was the question you enjoyed the most?

I enjoyed all the questions on natural hazards and climate change, because it showed that the pupils were aware of current topics. I loved explaining earthquakes, because I could share how and why I study them and why it is important to learn about the past to understand the present.

You’re the lucky winner of 500 euros, how do you hope to spend it?

I’m still planning to engage more pupils with active faults and earthquakes! But I still have a couple of things to solve before I can break the news…

What’s your top tip for aspiring geoscientists?

Oh, I hope I can give great advice in a couple of years from now. Today I can say that it certainly is fun and rewarding to pursue a career in science. It’s great to answer small scientific questions that may eventually lead to figuring out how to answer the big questions we face today.

 

 

GeoEd: I’m a Geoscientist 2015

Imagine a talent show where contestants get voted off depending on their skills in their area of choice. Then imagine that this talent show is populated by geoscientists with school students voting them off based on the scientist’s ability to communicate their research well. This is the basis of an educational initiative called I’m a Geoscientist, a spinoff of UK’s I’m a Scientist. I’m a Geoscientist is funded by the EGU and, as such, it’s open to Union members, as well as all teachers who have participated in EGU’s Geoscience Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshops.

The first event of the programme ran in the summer of 2014 and following its success, was repeated in March of this year. A total of 200 students, from across 13 international schools, were able to engage with and learn from five European geoscientists. Students connected with the scientists by talking to them directly during hour-long live chats, by posting questions to them (ASK) or by reading the scientists on-line profile. The participating students enjoyed the event, with 99% (!) of registered students actively taking part by putting questions to the scientists and/or voting for them to remain in the competition.

I'm a Geo_Report1

Over the two week event, the scientists were faced with in excess of 250 ASK questions! The students were particularly interested in aspects of the geoscientists’ research, meaning they came up with well-thought-out questions covering a number of fields: the geoscience of other planets, extreme events and super volcanoes. “Oceans are very big and vast, can they really be threatened by human action?” It wasn’t just geosciences the students wanted to know about. The scientists also had to field questions about the practical aspects of their, such as: “What was your biggest challenge while working in the field?”, and share study and career tips.

ImAGeo_Report2

The on-line chats where lively too. The scientists proved to be good at communicating the essence of what geoscience is, allowing students to start making connections between the geosciences and wider culture such as referencing books and sci-fi. Students were enthused by the discussions and often wanted to know more, asking ‘what if?’ style questions. Faced with some challenging queries the scientists did a great job of making even the most complex science accessible to the inquisitive students.

“How long could we survive without the atmosphere?” (student)

“We wouldn’t survive very long at all without the atmosphere! We need air to breath, but also the atmosphere keeps us safe from the sun! Without the atmosphere the heat from the sun would boil away all the oceans :s” (Rhian Meara, scientist).

After a hectic two weeks of questioning, probing and voting, Andi Rudersdorf, a PhD candidate in seismology at Aachen University, Germany, was crowned the winner of the 2015 event. Of his time in the competition Andi says “I learned a lot! I learned from the other contestants, from finding answers to challenging questions, and also from the students!” Being voted for by the students as the event champion, Andi wins €500 to communicate his work with the wider public. “With the money I would prepare a day out for many, many interested students to understand what earthquakes and natural hazards mean to all of us in real life.” It’s not just about the scientists! In recognition of great engagement and questions during the event, one of the participating students will also receive a certificate.

The scientists who took part in the 2015 event.

The scientists who took part in the 2015 event.

If you would like to get in contact with the EGU about I’m a Geoscientist or any of our other education initiatives, please contact Bárbara Ferreira at media@egu.eu. You can also read the full report on the event here.

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