Sunday 25 July 2010

Using The Geoblogosphere In Teaching

Since I'm on a bit of a roll here with the blogging, I'm going for this month's Accretionary Wedge carnival, hosted by the History of Geology blog. It's nice to still feel part of the geoblogosphere - Chris has added Stages Of Succession to the "allgeo" feed, and I'm finding my new niche in the discussion of evolutionary science education and good old scientific literacy.

Over my year of teaching, I have noticed something odd about my students (actually, there are a lot of odd things about my students, but those are other blog posts entirely). They use the internet way more than I do - I receive e-mails from them frequently, and I have lost track of how many times I have to boot the little darlings off Facebook during class time. They have iPhones and Blackberries (one girl has three phones for all the friends she has on different networks), and some enterprising young Polish women use an English-Polish translator on said iPhones to help them understand the course material.

But they are barely dipping their toes in. Beyond Wikipedia they are paralysed by the information (or lack thereof) available, and they have no idea about reliable sources. They are woefully ignorant of lolcats (this I find most distressing). And they do not read blogs. This may be exacerbated by the fact that the college blocks Discover Magazine and ScienceBlogs and flags them up as being pornographic (although the latter is not so much of a problem given the massive exodus of geoblogs from that site). Yet there is great potential for the use of blogs, and within that the geoblogosphere as a pretty coherent entity.

Information for Educators

Firstly, it's a resource for me. Sometimes I find myself teaching outside my comfort zone. I'm very happy teaching anatomy and physiology, and ecstatic teaching ecology and evolution. But there are aspects of climate change, soil science and plate tectonics where sometimes it's nice to have a refresher. Just after Easter, when many of my students were stuck overseas due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, I was able to get maps, diagrams and some awesome images via the geoblogosphere (especially these awesome sunset photos from Highly Allochthonous) to show the students and explain a bit about why there was a volcano in the middle of Iceland.

Case Studies, Handouts and Worksheets

I teach a BTEC National Diploma unit on "Working in the Science Industry". The students look at communication in science, including the whole peer review process and how scientific research reaches the general public. As a double-decker teaching method, where I am teaching both the content and a study skill, I have used this fantastic post by Ed Yong on the use of embargoes. Effectively Ed has taught them the advantages and disadvantages of publishing embargoes, and all I had to do was teach them a bit of comprehension and summarising (thanks Ed!). I would love to use far more blog posts in this way.

And suffice to say, nothing is quite so effective at persuading the students to cite their sources correctly as directing them to the whole Aetogate debacle.

Secondary Resources for Students

My students are pretty smart, to the extent that I have been able to give them mild forms of primary literature (I make this paper required reading for my A2 biologists, and you should read it too if you haven't yet). However, sometimes the research straight from the horse's mouth is a bit too technical for the students to understand fully, which is where bloggers using the Research Blogging service are particularly helpful. Science bloggers are brilliantly placed to translate primary literature, and it is a lot more practical to direct students to blog posts than it is to dig out our old paper copies of New Scientist and Biological Sciences Review (saves the old photocopying budget too). Plus, the course textbooks are shite.

With all of these options available to me, it is no surprise that I consider the geoblogosphere to be really important to my teaching and my students' learning. I'm tempted to let students start their own blog on our college Moodle pages, which should ensure some fresh blood for the blogosphere in a few years' time. Plus it means I have some time to whip them into shape before they embarrass me.


  1. Nice perspective from an educator's point of view. My first time coming across your blog. I'll have to add it to my list. See? The geoblogosphere just did it again! Thanks for the great post!

  2. Woot! Thanks GeoGirl! I've been kicking around for some time, but only recently moved all the content over here from the old blog The Ethical Palaeontologist.


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