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Twitter as a collaborative learning tool in field biology


Social media tools have a lot of value in teaching and learning, and this has become even more apparent as I continue to use twitter in an introductory field biology class.  In “St Lawrence Ecosystems“, students are doing natural history research projects and tweeting about their project. They are discovering the many ways that 140 characters can help create collaborative learning communities.

Here’s one example: during a lab, the group studying salamanders were curious about the colouration of some specimens they were observing in the field, so they asked about it, using twitter:

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This was done in ‘real time’ during their data collection, and within minutes a Professor from a different University chimed in with an answer, and provided students with a link to a peer-reviewed scientific article. The students benefited immensely from a learning community that was beyond the boundaries of the course, the University and the country.

Twitter also became a tool that could help students refine their research questions. The broader scientific community can help guide students as they embark on their first research project at University. This makes the experience more authentic, exciting, and shows there is interest in the topic well beyond the confines of a classroom. The group studying birds got some useful insights when they tweeted their research question, and these insights came from individuals from other institutions:

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Students are using social media to help each other. It’s quite frequent that one group will tweet to another group to share a relevant experience or observation. In this example, the group studying squirrels tweeted an observation (and a question) to the group of students studying a type of fungi (Turkey tail). They are interacting and helping each other with their research projects, and learning in the process. They are creating a collaborative learning community.

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In this next example, students pointed out to me that they found an invasive plant species that was discussed during a field lab many weeks ago. Students used twitter as a means to link content from one laboratory to an observation in current laboratory:

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And, finally, the students have fun with twitter. Learning is better when it’s fun.

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Bottom line: I am continually amazed by how a simple social media can expand opportunities in teaching and learning.

Follow along with the class by following our course hashtag (#ENVB222) and check out the student’s blog posts.

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