Science Professors & Web 2.0

According to a newer infographic on “Professors & Social Media,” 39.7% of humanities and arts professors use social media for teaching, compared with 24.3% of those in the natural sciences.

What’s up with that?

Sure, the emphasis on text and visuals in social media may make it a more natural fit for someone teaching medieval drama, Russian history, or art of the Harlem Renaissance. Slap some famous artwork on a Pinterest board; ask students to reflect on a poem posted to a blog; create a Facebook page for Rasputin.

But with information-heavy subjects like the natural sciences, Web 2.0 can be a huge help to students. There are resources for online flash cards, that, once created, become available for others to modify and download.

One of my favorite educational wikis is Anatowiki, which assists with the massive amounts of memorization needed for A&P with six discrete units for the major physiological systems. It claims over 30,000 site visitors each month.

As an undergraduate chemistry major, I remember very well having to memorize large chunks of the periodic table, the number of valence electrons for major elements (and whether these friendly charges populated the p or d orbital), and many other things. Today, I think I would shed tears of gratitude for the creators of PTable, a dynamic periodic table that includes piles of useful information, up to names and formulas of chemical compounds for each element. It may not be a wiki in the strictest sense, but it links extensively to Wikipedia and it certainly is the product of team effort. Plus, PTable has its own Twitter account.

Screen cap of PTable.  Site and design copyright 1997, Michael Dyer.

Screen cap of PTable. Site and design copyright 1997, Michael Dyer.

Why wouldn’t a science professor direct students to this resource?!

If the periodic table can be on Twitter, why not a biology professor? The advantages of an instructor’s Twitter presence–online office hours, tweeted practice questions, reminders about homework and exams, links to the latest research, posts about internship or summer lab opportunities–are pretty big, in my opinion, compared to the effort the teacher must put in.

A Twitter account can also humanize a professor, which may be even more important for daunting subjects like organic chemistry or microbiology, especially when there are hundreds of students in a lecture hall. For example, biologist Dr. Zen Faulkes of UT-PanAm tweets several times each day. At the end of December 2012, he shared his struggles to finish a conference paper (surely comforting to students trying to figure out lab reports), gave advice to a graduate student seeking grant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and participated in a discussion about nociception in sharks. He seems dedicated to his field of study and to helping out others.

I think I’d like to take his class.

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