A Blog Around The Clock

ScienceOnline’09 – Saturday 10:15am

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Moving on with the morning, once again, I had to make a tough choice. OK, in this case, it wasn’t that tough, really, as this was the session I was looking forward to all along: Science online – middle/high school perspective (or: ‘how the Facebook generation does it’?) , led by Stacy Baker and her students.

But this session has a long history….

We had a session on using blogs in science education at the 1st science blogging conference and it was quite an eye-opener. It was led by Adnaan Wasey and Lea Winerman (from the The Online PBS NewsHour at the time). Takehome message #1: a lot of science educational materials on the Web are not accurate (and need scientists to verify them). Takehome message #2: no matter how good a blog post is, it is useless to a teacher if it does not fit into the curriculum as designed by the state. The result of that discussion was the starting of the initiative to collect in one place all the posts that cover Basic Concepts.

At the 2nd Science Blogging Conference, we had snow! And because this is NC, structurally unprepared for snow, about 30 of our registered participants could not show up – almost all of them middle/high school teachers from all around the state! Thus, although the session about education was led by Maestro himself, David Warlick, it had a strange feeling: a bunch of bloggers, scientists and web developers were sitting in the room talking about people who were not there – teachers and students – people who actually have day-to-day experience with technology in the classroom.

So, the very next day, I started plotting a plan to bring in a Real Teacher and Real Students to the conference to tell us from their perspective how online technologies are used in a science classroom. So, naturally, I started looking around the Triangle and NC for candidate teachers, but without much success. Then, one day, I saw that my SciBling Sandy posted this and I saw the first comment by a familiar name….so I responded by posting this and the rest is history. Both Stacy Baker and Elisa Hoffman (from that comment thread) came to ScienceOnline’09 in the end, but it was logistically feasible only for Miss Baker to bring along the students, so she ended up leading the session with eight of them.

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Now, don’t think that logistics of doing this were easy! There were legal issues (e.g., exactly who is allowed to drive a vehicle with students!), and there were ethical issues, especially regarding the students’ privacy and anonymity (you may have noticed that their names were not listed anywhere on the wiki or elsewhere online – it was up to them, after discussing this with Miss Baker, to reveal as little or as much as they wanted, but only in person at the conference, not plastered all over the internets). But going through all the intricacies of organizing this session was a pleasure to do with Miss Baker, not the least because we could both easily and comfortably use bazillions of communication channels: from phone and e-mail, through Twitter, Facebook to FriendFeed and others. That’s one Teacher Who Rocks!

But all of this work paid off! What a pleasurable sight it was when the yellow school bus pulled up at the Radisson!

In their session, the students explained to us how, in their Biology classes (9th grade Biology, and 11th grade AP Biology) they use various online tools, why they use such a variety, and pros and cons of each tool. For instance, their blog is public (these days, I’d say, very public!), commenting is open to everyone (even solicited, though moderated) and part of the students’ grades depends on the quality of their posts and comments there. On the other hand, they use Twitter and Ning in a closed, private setting for in-class discussions. In-between are their wiki, their video page, the Flickr account, etc., which are public but not as visible or popular as the blog. They do not use Facebook for school due to difficulties in separating personal from professional and the potential for the Creepy Treehouse effect (check their session’s wiki page for links to everything mentioned in this paragraph).

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At a large conference like this (200+ people were there on Saturday), moderating a session or being on a panel is the opportunity to have one’s 5 minutes (OK, really 65 minutes) in the spotlight, with everyone’s attention trained at you. But with Miss Baker and her students, it was different – their session was just a highlight, a small part of it, they stole the entire show! And that was good! Why?

First, I’ve been to a bunch of techie/blogging conferences and most of the people in attendance look…, well, they look sort of like me: mostly male, white, 40-ish, middle-class, graying geeks. We have always strived to make our conference more diverse than that, and one aspect of diversity is certainly age. The eight students (and there were 3 others in the 16-18yrs old range as well, who came with their parents) changed the tone of the conference in a very positive way. Just their presence made the conference more exciting and lively and relaxed.

Second, I’ve been watching the blogosphere, including edublogs, for quite some time now and have noticed that Generation Wars erupt every now and then. There are two highly opinionated camps in those wars. One camp takes it for granted that the kids are ‘digital natives’ who use the Web intuitively while all those over 30 are dinosaurs. The other camp likes to remind that computers, Internet and Web were thought of, invented and built by the elders and that kids tend to be digitally illiterate and need to be taught the basics in school. Of course, both camps are somewhat right: digital nimbleness has to be learned (as far as I know, nobody Twittered from the womb….yet), and anyone of any age can become a digital native after a while. Some people of all ages have become so, the others of all ages are still behind the times.

This was an opportunity for some tremenduously smart, self-aware, thoughthful and Web-savvy teenagers to mingle with a crowd that usually thinks of them in purely abstract, academic terms. The two age groups got to meet each other in flesh and dispel some of each other’s myths about the other. Perhaps some (on both sides) were surprised with the computer savviness of the other. It’s hard to tell who was more excited about meeting each other! We all learned from this interaction.

I hope that the conference was as eye-opening to the students as it was for us. For a couple of days they were equals with all those scientists, librarians, popular bloggers, web developers, journalists and writers – not just treated as equals due to good will, but because they are equals in the domain of the use of online technologies in science communication and education. All of this is new to everyone, and age plays no role in the degree of expertise one has. They came to learn from us, and we learned from them just as much. I hope that this experience is going to help them in their future lives and careers, and I sure hope they can come back next year!

Other coverage of this session:

The Scientist: Blogging Biology
Extreme Biology: Thank You Miss Baker for Science Online ’09
Ideonexus: ScienceOnline09: Science Online – middle/high school perspective
CIT Blog: What your future students think
Extreme Biology: Pictures from Science Online ’09
Extreme Biology: Blog Posts About Our Science Online ’09 Presentation
Deep Sea News: Science Online ’09: Miss Baker and Her Students
Confessions of a Science Librarian: ScienceOnline ’09: Saturday summary
Lab Cat: SBC09: Blogging for High School Science Classes
Extreme Biology: Anna’s Favorite Moment from Science Online ’09
Nobel Intent: ScienceOnline 09: Learning science with social media
Extreme Biology: Erik’s Favorite Moment from Science Online ’09
Extreme Biology: Stephen’s Favorite Moment from Science Online ’09

Sample coverage of sessions I missed in this time slot:

Not just text – image, sound and video in peer-reviewed literature:

Ars Technica: Science Online 09: moving beyond text
Knowledge Sharing: ScienceOnline’09: Video in Scientific Research
The Logical Operator: Making movies…for SCIENCE! (ScienceOnline ’09)
Christina’s LIS Rant: Science Online ’09: Saturday AM
Gobbledygook: Interview with Moshe Pritsker
JoVE Blog: JoVE Update, Jan 09

Transitions – changing your online persona as your real life changes:

Adventures in Ethics and Science: ScienceOnline’09: Managing your online persona through transitions.
Pondering Pikaia: ScienceOnline09 Conference Update
Highly Allochthonous: ScienceOnline Day 1: generalised ramblings
Sciencewomen: ScienceOnline 2009: Transitions
Lecturer Notes: Transitions Session Rough Cut
Lecturer Notes: Troll in the Room
Sciencewomen: Recommendations for crafting your online presence as your real life changes

Community intelligence applied to gene annotation (another session that, in the private feedback form, was mentioned by several people as their highlight of the conference, despite very few blog posts covering it):

business|bytes|genes|molecules: Rethinking Wikipedia
Lab Life: Everything social
BioGPS: BioGPS’s target audience

The blog/media coverage linkfest is growing fast (perhaps start at the bottom and work your way up, posting comments on the way and saying Hello to your new friends), there are ongoing discussions on FriendFeed and new pictures on Flickr. Also, if you were there, please fill up this short form to give us feedback, so we can make next year’s meeting even better.

Comments

  1. #1 Barn Owl
    January 25, 2009

    Coturnix, in any of these sessions on science education, has the virtual environment Whyville been mentioned? It’s for children younger than the high school students at your recent session; I won’t link it here, but the Wikipedia page should give you a good idea of how Whyville started, and how it has evolved. It’s a virtual world that preceded Second Life, and the science education partners for Whyville include NASA, the CDC, the Chicago Field Museum, and Woods Hole Laboratories.

    I rarely, if ever, see Whyville mentioned in the context of blogging about science education, and I’m not sure whether it’s because the website is geared towards younger children, or whether it’s due to ignorance, egocentric thinking, or envy on the parts of so-called science education experts.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    January 25, 2009

    No, not that I know of. I assume you can add it to this wiki page yourself, as a resource for the future (the wiki is backed up and not going anywhere).

  3. #3 Barn Owl
    January 25, 2009

    I’ll register and see if I can add Whyville; it’s not on the list, AFAIK. If I have trouble, perhaps I can just e-mail the link to Janet.

  4. #4 Coturnix
    January 25, 2009

    Either way. It’s good if Janet knows about it. If you have tech problems, I can also add it to the wiki, just holler.

  5. #5 Jim Bower - Founder Whyville
    January 29, 2009

    Thanks Barn Owl — :-)

    I actually founded Whyville — and, like Barn Owl, am often amazed at the lack of awarness or recognition of Whyville. With 4.3 million registered users, and as the first virtual world – and the only virtual world with science education as a major focus, also, as a site that came out of years of research and involvement in science education as part of CAPSI (Project SEED) at Caltech, it is just kind of odd.

    Anyway, glad Barn Owl tipped you off, and enjoy Whyville. The average user of our site spends 32 minutes per log in and more than 4 hours per month on the site – and, although you probably wont’ be able to tell this from visiting, 2/3rds of the users at any one time aren’t chatting, they are working on educational projects and games.

    So enjoy :-) Jim

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