State of the Planet

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Lessons from Skyping Scientists as the Coronavirus Pandemic Drives Learning Online

Facing the spreading pandemic of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, schools around the world at every level, from kindergartens to universities, are racing to shift to teaching online. Online learning can be effective and engaging with practice, but the abruptness of the transition now has caught thousands of teachers and institutions off guard.

Twitter is a hotbed for teachers sharing tips and training options via hashtags like #edtech and #remotelearning, including this one, just as an example, from Mike Flynn (@mikeflynn55), director of mathematics leadership programs at Mount Holyoke College:

Given the urgent need to sustain science literacy and trust in such times, I thought it would be worthwhile to check in with a veteran of long-distance science education — Sarah McAnulty, a marine biologist from the University of Connecticut who, in early 2017, co-founded Skype a Scientist.

This fast-growing global nonprofit organization facilitates thousands of video connections between scientists anywhere in the world with an internet connection to classrooms, libraries or groups of interested citizens. It started out as a Twitter campaign by McAnulty and others built around the hashtag #skypeascientist.

(There seems to be an unusual level of enthusiasm for using Twitter in teaching at the University of Connecticut. Back in 2011 I met and wrote about Prof. Margaret Rubega, who had shifted from requiring students to keep a written weekly journal of bird behavior to using Twitter, marking their observations with the hashtag #birdclass.)

In this inaugural video chat for our Earth Institute Initiative on Communication and Sustainabilty, you’ll glean insights from McAnulty on what pulls students in, how lectures take a back seat to conversations, and also how a sustained interest in innovating and iterating next steps for such interactions is essential in the fast-changing online communication environment.

“Being told you have to get your class online in two days is not trivial,” she says. “My heart goes out to all the educators right now having to do that, and to all the students who don’t have internet at home.”

Please use the comments to add suggestions and examples you’ve seen online that might help us all figure out how to learn better and live better through the up-side of global connectivity.

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