Social media as a teaching tool
Some people are absolutely cut out for the work they do. Chris Buddle is one of those guys; passionate, enthusiastic, curious, articulate and always pushing the envelope to find ways to do things better; in the classroom, in the lab and out in the field.
Recipient of the 2008 Macdonald Campus Award for Teaching Excellence, Buddle has been on staff since 2002 teaching entomology and ecology courses. Readers familiar with InFocus might recall our earlier stories about Spider-man Chris’ work on insect population in the tree canopy. Others may be familiar with his ongoing research through the Northern Biodiversity Program where over the past three summers, teams of researchers from across the country have surveyed insect and spider populations across the boreal, sub-arctic, and high-arctic eco-climatic zones to better understand the effects of climate change.
It is clear from all of this that Buddle loves what he does and this is what makes him such a terrific teacher. Chris’ early work with the University Teaching and Learning Service on his ENV 222 : St. Lawrence Ecosystems course allowed him to take first semester students out into the field and put them in the role as future researchers; something that had traditionally been reserved for upper-level students who have taken fundamental courses. Students were able to analyze diversity within a particular area of the forest floor and understand the framework of the research process. The adaptations to ENVB 222 were hugely successful and have led to strong learning outcomes. The course framework is being shared with other teaching staff at the University and now other students are benefiting from it.
It just so happens that Buddle is a sought after communicator and an active tweeter (@CMBuddle) and blogger. Therefore, it wasn’t a complete surprise when we learned that this year’s ENVB 222 students had a new challenge put before them; to incorporate social media into their course work.
Nine student workgroups were set on the task of observing species in their natural setting and to provide an overview of their species, taken from their field observations and independent research, in the form of a scientific blog post. Within 48 hours of their posts going live, students were asked to tweet a series of facts related to their study species.
Says Buddle, “the use of social media in this course opened student work up to the broadest possible audience. Students sought input from and connected to scientists from all over the world. Their writing and communication skills improved considerably. Overall I believe that their coursework had a relevance that went well beyond the (typically) insular classroom”.
These innovations linking teaching, research and community sure seem to be a foundation worth building on.