How does one use Twitter to teach geology? I expected to find all kinds of great undergraduate-appropriate Twitter feeds reporting on the latest geology news from around the word in 140 characters or less. To my surprise, I didn’t find what I was looking for. Let me be clear about what I didn’t want:
- Very narrow range of topics (all volcanoes, all the time)
- Very broad range of topics (lots of science but only a little geology)
- Focused more on an institution or community than on geology
- Focused more on opinions and conversation than on geology
- Language suitable for practicing specialists
- Tweets consist only of links
I know—picky, picky, picky—but I prefer that students not spend their time sifting through irrelevant or unintelligible tweets. I did find a feed from Nature Geoscience that offered a variety of interesting geology-related headlines appropriate for my audience. Unfortunately, a Nature article is not the best tool for convincing students that science is comprehensible.
Apparently there is an unfilled niche for the National Geographic of geology Twitter feeds. Tweeting about geology stories in a way that is accessible to the average undergraduate is something I could do. But let’s be specific—how exactly would this work, and what would students do with it?
The intended product would be edifying tweets that direct students to additional information. The additional information could be from any of the following:
- Articles written for the general public that are free to access online (e.g. from KQED Science, NASA Science News, About.com Geology)
- Sites that monitor geologic activity in real time (e.g., Global Volcanism Program, IRIS Seismic Monitor)
- A dedicated blog where articles from peer-reviewed journals are made user-friendly
So how would students use this in a way that would justify the amount of work I’d have to put into it? I could tweet about three or four geology-related stories at the beginning of each week. Students would write a blog post for the story of their choice consisting of four multiple-choice questions. They would receive points for writing questions, and for correctly answering another student’s questions about a different story. If all attempts at answering a particular question are unsuccessful, the author would receive a bonus. If a student attempts to answer a question but concludes that none of the options are correct, he can challenge the author. Challenges would be decided in class by a vote after a short debate. The winner would receive additional bonus points.
There are logistical issues, and some ground rules are required, but I would be satisfied with the minimum level of engagement required to complete the necessary tasks. Even under those circumstances it would be hard to avoid learning something. Imagine what would happen if students were motivated to make their questions as difficult as possible while preventing their own errors and catching the errors of their peers. Aha! The learning trap is sprung!