However, I’ve always* wanted to take over one of the rotating Twitter accounts (You know? Those accounts that tweet about certain topics, but are being run by a different person every week. People follow it for the topic and get to see a new person’s view on things every week. A very cool thing when you want to be exposed to a lot more people than you usually are and that are all interested in that topic!). And when I signed up for it in spring, October still seemed so far away that it seemed to be a good idea to do it then.
So this week, I am curating @IAmScicomm! Which I am super excited about, although it is also kinda scary. 18.6k followers is a little different from my usual couple of hundred… Anyway, this is what I am proposing to talk about:
Come join the discussion! :-)
Last week I already did a similar thing already for @geoscitweeps.”Only” 4.6k followers were slightly less scary, and I had the super cool surface drifters to tweet about. @geoscitweeps is another really interesting account you should be following!
*Yes, ALWAYS. It was actually pretty much on top of my list when I started my private #scicommcall, only at that time there were no vacant weeks available that suited my schedule, so I put it off. But now here we are!
— This post was written for “Teaching in the Academy” in Israel, where it was published in Hebrew! Link here. —
Many times students fail to see the real-life relevance of what they are supposed to be learning at university. But there is an easy way to help them make the connection: Ask them to take pictures on their smartphones of everything they see outside of class, write a short sentence about what they took a picture of, and why it is interesting, and submit it on an electronic platform to share with you and their peers. And what just happened? You made students think about your topic on their own time!
Does it work?
Does it work? Yes! Obviously there might be some reluctance to overcome at first, and it is helpful to either model the behaviour you want to see yourself, or have a teaching assistant show the students what kind of pictures and texts you are looking for.
Do I have to use a specific platform?
Do I have to use a specific platform? No! I first heard about this method after Dr. Margaret Rubega introduced the #birdclass hashtag on Twitter for her ornithology class. But I have since seen it implemented in a “measuring and automation technology” class that already used a Facebook group for informal interactions (see here), and by a second class on the university’s conventional content management system. All that is required is that students can post pictures and other students can see them.
Do you have examples?
One example from my own teaching in physical oceanography: Hydraulic jumps (see figure below). The topic of hydraulic jumps is often taught theoretically only and in a way that students have a hard time realizing that they can actually observe them all the time in their real lives, for example when washing your dishes, cleaning your deck or taking a walk near a creek. But when students are asked to take pictures of hydraulic jumps, they start looking for them, and noticing them. And even if all of this only takes 30 seconds to take and post a picture (and most likely they spent more time thinking about it!), that’s 30 extra seconds a student thought about your content, that otherwise he or she would have only thought about doing their dishes or cleaning their deck or their car.
Collection of many images depicting hydraulic jumps found in all kinds of environments of daily life
And even if you do this with one single topic and not every single topic in your class, once students start looking at the world through the kind of glasses that let them spot the hydraulic jumps, they are going to start spotting theoretical oceanography topics everywhere. They will have learned to actually observe the kind of content you care about in class, but in their own world, making your class a lot more relevant to them.
An additional benefit is that you, as the instructor, can also use the pictures in class as examples that students can relate to. I would recommend picking one or two pictures occasionally, and discussing for a minute or two why they are good examples of the topic and what is interesting about them. You can do this as introduction to that day’s topic or as a random anecdote to engage students. But acknowledging the students’ pictures and expanding on their thoughts is really useful to keep them engaged in the topic and make them excited to submit more and better pictures (hence to find better examples in their lives, which means to think more about your course’s topic).
Does this work for subjects outside of STEM, too?
Does this work for subjects outside of STEM, too? Yes! In a language class, for example, you could ask people to submit pictures of something “typically English [or whatever language you are teaching]”. You can then use the pictures to talk about cultural features or prejudices. This could also be done in a social science context. In history, you might ask for examples of how a specific historical period influences life today. In the end, it is not about students finding exact equivalents – it is about them trying to relate their everyday lives to the topics taught in class and the method presented in this article is just a method to help you accomplish that.
P.S.: This text originally appeared on my website as a page. Due to upcoming restructuring of this website, I am reposting it as a blog post. This is the original version last modified on October 1st, 2016.
I might write things differently if I was writing them now, but I still like to keep my blog as archive of my thoughts.
“Ask your students to take a picture to help them connect theoretical lecture content to the reality of their everyday life”! This is the title of a post I wrote for an issue on current technologies and their integration into teaching of the journal “Teaching in the Academy” that is being distributed to everybody who has an email address at a university or college in Israel — about 15,000 people! The article was translated to Hebrew (link here), but you can find the original text here.
This is a method that I have been excited about ever since learning about #birdclass in the “Evidence-based undergraduate STEM teaching” MOOC last year: Help students discover that the content of your class is not restricted to your class, but actually occurs everywhere! All the time! In their own lives!
The idea is that students take pictures or describe their observations related to course materials in short messages, which are posted somewhere so every participant of the class can see them.
One example where I would use this: Hydraulic jumps. As I said on Tuesday, hydraulic jumps are often taught in a way that students have a hard time realizing that they can actually observe them all the time. Most students have observed the phenomenon, maybe even consciously, yet are not able to put it together with the theory they hear about during their lectures. So why not, in your class on hydrodynamics, ask students to send in pictures of all the hydraulic jumps they happen to see in their everyday life? The collection that soon builds will likely look something like the image below: Lots of sinks, some shots of people hosing their decks or cars, lots of rivers. But does it matter if students send in the 15th picture of a sink? No, because they still looked at the sink, recognized that what they saw was a hydraulic jump, and took a picture. Even if all of this only takes 30 seconds, that’s probably 30 extra seconds a student thought about your content, that otherwise he or she would have only thought about doing their dishes or cleaning their deck or their car.
A collection of images, all showing hydraulic jumps of some kind.
And even if you do this with hydraulic jumps, and not with Taylor columns or whatever comes next in your class, once students start looking at the world through the kind of glasses that let them spot the hydraulic jumps, they are also going to look at waves on a puddle and tell you whether those are shallow water or deep water waves, and they are going to see refraction of waves around pylons. In short: They have learned to actually observe the kind of content you care about in class, but in their own world.
The “classic” method uses twitter to share pictures and observations, which apparently works very well. And of course you can either make it voluntary or compulsory to send in pictures, or give bonus points, and specify what kind and quality of text should come with the picture.
You, as the instructor, can also use the pictures in class as examples. Actually, I would recommend picking one or two occasionally and discussing for a minute or two why they are great examples and what is interesting about them. You can do this as introduction to that day’s topic or as a random anecdote to engage students. But acknowledging the students’ pictures and expanding on their thoughts is really useful to keep them engaged in the topic and make them excited to submit more and better pictures (hence to find better examples in their lives, which means to think more about your course’s topic!).
And you don’t even have to use twitter. Whatever learning management system you might be using might work, too, and there are many other platforms. I recently gave a workshop for instructors at TU Dresden and talked about how awesome it would be if they made their students take pictures of everything related to their class. They were (legitimately!) a bit reluctant at first, because you cannot actually see the topic of the course, measuring and automation technology (MAT), just the fridge or camera or whatever gadget that uses MAT. But still, going about your everyday life thinking about which of the technical instruments around you might be using MAT, and discovering that most of them do, is pretty awesome, isn’t it? And documenting those thoughts might already be a step towards thinking more about MAT. At least that is what I claimed, and it seems to have worked out pretty well.
We are about to try this for a course on ceramics (and I imagine we’ll see tons of false teeth, maybe some knees, some fuses, many sinks and coffee cups and flower pots, maybe the occasional piece of jewelry ), and I am hoping they will relate what they take pictures of to processes explained in class (like sintering, which seems to be THE process in that class ;-))
I am going to try to implement it in other courses, too. Because this is one of the most important motivators, isn’t it? The recognition that what that one person talks about in front of the class all the time is actually occurring in – and relevant to – my own life. How awesome is that? :-)
Have you tried something similar? How did it work out?