Alan Levine of the New Media Consortium recently hosted a Connect@NMC session with our TLISI 2009 featured speaker Michael Wesch, an anthropologist who studies the impact of new media on society and culture. Wesch and his Digital Ethnography students from Kansas State University explained how their class is structured — first of all, it’s not a class but a research group, and rather than a syllabus, they follow a research schedule which is editable by members of the group. Using Netvibes, Yahoo! Pipes, Diigo, and Google Docs to keep track of their work, the members cooperate to research, discuss, and develop a project with the working title of “The Fight for Significance in the Age of the Microcelebrity: Anonymity, Anonymous, Smart Mobs, Mad Mobs, Bot Mobs and the Great American Poets.” Their efforts will culminate in a group paper and collaboratively edited video.
As the researchers write on Wesch’s blog, the aim of such an intensely collaborative undertaking is to “see all the big ideas we have entertained throughout the semester coming together to create something beyond that which any single one of us could have created.”
A recording of the NMC session can be found here, the blog post “Our class on how we run our class” is here, and the Digital Ethnography Research Hub is here.
Students of YuYe Tong (Chemistry) are often overwhelmed by the broad scope of his research on metal nanoparticles. Tong realizes that to cover all of the relevant material in lectures would be impossible; instead, his aim is to teach students how to learn.
While the challenge of synthesizing information from a variety of fields can be daunting for the new student, YuYe Tong strongly believes that involving undergraduates in real-life research is the best way to prepare them for life after graduation. Says Tong: “We need to make science education more student-centered, self-driven and research oriented. Science is a language; you have to practice it in real life it to have truly learned it.”
Tong believes in prioritizing the development of critical learning skills over the teaching of particular content. Content provides the training ground for developing active learning skills, but ultimately the process of gathering, synthesizing, and applying information to new situations is more important. This learning process, often downplayed in the scientific community, is a critical component of modern science education.
Working with CNDLS, Tong has experimented with a teaching method called POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), which has challenged both him and his students to rethink their approaches in the classroom. But the increased level of student engagement has made the adjustment well worth it.
Students seeking a model for independent learning need not look further than their own professor. With advanced degrees in nuclear physics and experimental condensed matter physics, Tong never received formal training in chemistry and instead absorbed the discipline by working with colleagues and doing research. Similarly, Tong now inspires his students in to engage in active scientific research outside the classroom.
CNDLS staff members, led by Assistant Director for Science Programs Janet Russell, are collaborating with Georgetown’s Science in the Public Interest (SPI) Program on an innovative virtual forum project.
The project is designed to complement the fall semester course “Science and Society: Global Challenges” (Bio 361 / Phys 203), taught by Professor Francis Slakey, which introduces students to challenging issues at the intersection of science and public policy. Students in the course research topics such as global energy consumption, infectious disease, and weapons of mass destruction, and then meet with leading scientists and policy experts to help them develop policy proposals.
The virtual forums, produced by CNDLS in collaboration with the University of California – Davis, will add a dynamic element to the course. Forums will include videotaped lectures, Q&A sessions, blogs, moderated discussions, bibliographies, and other resources. By bringing together a diverse group of experts in their fields for discussions on topical issues, the forums will not only enrich course content, but will provide a platform for public scholarship and collaboration.