Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Science Videos: Useful or not?

I love the serendipity of information sometimes. This week as I’ve been sorting through all the various places I follow for science information the common theme has been science videos. It started with TEDED Braintrust. This recently formed online forum stems from the famous Technology, Education and Design (TED) Talks which bring together some amazing inspirational speakers and publishes most of the talks online. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should. The people at TED realized the online videos were much more than fun to watch. The videos were being used as teaching tools in classrooms. With that in mind, TEDED Brain Trust is informally creating a space where people can discuss all the different ways video can spark conversation, and supplement education. What and how are videos already being used? Where is there a need? Why are certain videos successful? I’ve just been lurking to see how active the forums will be, but quite a few interesting science videos have been posted. The most interesting one however, was this one which discussed how effective science videos are at actually teaching.

Videos are great, but that alone isn’t enough. I was amused by the complaints which were voiced by the students who said the second set of videos were confusing. In order to insure that critical thinking and growth are occurring, you have to actually challenge yourself. Guess what, that can be hard! What these videos are making possible though is making the “hard” science more fun and approachable, well at least most of the time.

As I was reading through some science blogs I came across this one titled Bacterial Burglary. The research sounds interesting, but what caught my eye was the video the authors had created as supplementary content. It is essentially a video abstract of the authors work. The content is very dense, I had to pause and replay the video a few times to understand all the steps the researchers are explaining. So, while the video did not make the research more accessible to me (or perhaps I just didn’t feel like challenging myself), I would be curious to know if other people within the field valued the video summary. This also sparked my curiosity and I wanted to find more articles with supplementary video content. After some minor poking around I found quite a few with short clips of cells, a few with 3D models, some with similar video summaries, and a few others with integrated video showing examples of the paper topic. This one in particular from Cognitive and Behavioral Practice titled "Using Behavioral Parent Training to Treat Disruptive Behavior Disorders in Young Children: A How-to Approach Using Video Clips" was both interesting and amusing to watch. Obviously the videos cannot be watched in a paper journal, but with most research articles available online it will be interesting to see if videos become a regular part of article content and how journals and databases will regulate the accessibility of those videos.  Perhaps instead of being placed with online journal text they will move to make entire journals composed of videos like the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

In addition to supplementing science education and adding dimension to articles, video also creates opportunities for global communication. Science Online 2011 was a conference held in early January. Recently the video archive of many of the sessions were made available. The ones on science blogging in academia were the first ones I watched, but I hope I’ll eventually make my way through all of them. Conferences are a great networking opportunity, but most of us can’t afford to travel that much. And while I appreciate conference proceedings, as a librarian I shudder at the idea of sorting through and finding anything in them. The video archives are useful for those of us who could not attend, and also for those who did and want to remember something from a session they attended. Live streaming also makes it possible for the virtual attendees to even participate in the conversation. Although I have qualms about this, as it often seems to interrupt the flow. We haven’t quite figured out the logistics of integrating twitter and other social media communication with “normal” discussion.

The versatility of videos has caught my attention this week (and also given me an excuse when I’m caught watching nature films). Perhaps it all comes from my fangirl love of Bill Nye and David Attenborough. Or maybe I'm just happy it's Spring and am feeling inspired by the return of green in my life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WebWise 2011 - Baltimore

So, last week I attended WebWise 2011 and was very impressed by the wide variety of speakers. Hooray free conferences and hooray science and hooray technology! I had a lot of fun live tweeting the sessions, however I thought I'd sit down and think a little more about what I learned. For this one I'll more specifically focus on my favorite session (sorry, but it really was my favorite): STEM and the Participatory Web: Everyone's Invited! So for a little background, the theme for this WebWise was Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) In Education, Learning, and Research. It seemed particularly relevant to my new position as a science librarian, hooray new career (I feel like there might be an overabundance of cheering in this post)! Social media is the hot new topic on everyone's mind. Yes, yes, we all talk about facebook and how integral the interweb has become for our global population. If you don't know about the internet then I don't know how you got here and I recommend you watch this video:

Most of the time I feel people are doing a lot of complaining about information overload and not enough recognition for how these new technologies are creating possibilities. It is necessary to consider how you are using web 2.0 technologies on a professional and personal level, because if you don't create an online identity for yourself, someone else will. And why let all that potential audience power go to waste? Which brings me back to this WebWise session which focused on moving past using social media to market science and to make a bigger impact through collaboration.
First and foremost, the tools are great and fun and amazing to use, but it is hard work making them. So, be prepared to get your hands dirty in a little bit of everything, from web site design on up. Speaker Bridget Butler spoke about her work with Voices for the Lake and how in their design they considered Nina Simon's design exercise for online/onsite engagement. The project is part of Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center and is a great example of how a museum's online identity can shift from informing the public to including the public. It is an important yet subtle distinction to make when you are considering your educational goals. It always surprises me how everyone knows that most people learn better through participation, but we so easily fall back into the common lecture mode of teaching.

Making something fun and interactive is a wonderful teaching method, and a hard one to master. Bringing games into the classroom is an avenue which many people are currently exploring. When it comes to science and math however, this can be extra challenging. While I fondly recall my MathBlaster days, there are just so many games out there today, it's hard to compete. Speaker Seth Cooper introduced us to his game, FoldIt. The game makes protein folding into a puzzle. The game is addicting. What is it about a basic numerical reward system that compels us to obsess over scoring the most points? But what also makes the game succesfull is the community that comes along with it. It's not just biochemists and their students solving the puzzles. These players are actively on forums, helping each other and discussing game strategy. This ties into a webinar I watched recently from Blended Librarian titled "Improving the Reference Interview: An Instructional Designer Introduces Video Game Design for Staff Development" (If you are a part of the Learning Times Library Online Community, you can watch a recording of the event). Basically what I'm pointing out here is learning occurs everywhere, on all sorts of levels, and games can be brought in to help teach almost anything. If you want the game to do well, you need to consider what types of interactions the game will provoke.

Now I just have to hope that my creativity will kick in and I can start figuring out how to make my information searching lessons more interesting. From the blogosphere is sounds like I should consider bringing in a little Jersey Shore. I generally like to start off with this TED clip and tell the students it can be confusing finding information if you don't understand the context, but once you've been given the right tools you can find information on anything.