Last year, we presented research about the use of social media in an online course about an educational version of the Weather Research and Forecasting (e-WRF) model (Mesquita 2013). The course is grounded in social constructivism education theory, so the students learn content while designing a research project, running WRF to collect the data for the project, and reflecting on their project both privately and publicly (Walton, et al. 2015). Research indicates that dialogue is an important component for successful learning to occur (e.g., Benus et al., 2013). Elements of effective dialogue include asking complex questions, deep discussion, and use of evidence to construct arguments. These can happen between the student and tutor, but peer-to-peer interaction is especially important as well as the most difficult aspect of social constructivism to meet when utilizing an online course. To rectify this problem, we began using social media to facilitate conversation and saw statistically significant improvements in elements of dialogue, including peer-to-peer interaction and the number of conceptual, thought-provoking questions asked.
As participants were engaging with discussion on the Facebook group, it became evident that they had the need for more education and additional support in order to analyze output data and better understand the model itself. The tutors briefly discussed developing more courses, but eventually decided to utilize the community that already existed through the Facebook group and develop a community blog.
The blog is updated every week and includes a range of topics, such as the basics of Unix, computer requirements to install and run WRF, tutorials on statistical software (such as R, NCL and Python), reviews of interested papers published, and more detailed, conceptual descriptions of the components of WRF. While the m2lab tutors write and publish the majority of the weekly posts, contributions are elicited from members of the Facebook community who, in their process of doing research for the course, have learned something interesting, tried a new technique, coupled WRF with another model, or want to share noteworthy results of their work. The course tutors support blog contributors by offering to review and edit their posts before they go live. As a result, those participants who choose to contribute gain visibility, experience writing about science topics for a public audience, and will benefit greatly from the written discourse as is grounded within social constructivism learning theory. Participants who read the blog posts also benefit from learning through social constructivism, and the comments section on the blog allow for peer-to-peer interaction to continue, even beyond the community developed in the Facebook group.
Data collection is still underway, and will be completed in the next 3 months. Data comes from participant surveys from those who contribute to the blog, comments on the blog posts, and any blog-related discussion that occurs within the Facebook group. A combination of qualitative and quantitative data analysis methods will be utilized to determine which, if any, of the following elements of dialogue are presented during participant interaction: Complexity of questions asked, the complexity of ideas that are discussed, the kinds of evidence used during discussion, and the amount of iterations of talk that occur between peers.
References: Benus, M. J., Yarker, M. B., Hand, B. M., & Norton-Meier, L. A. (2013). Analysis of discourse practices in elementary science classrooms using argument-based inquiry during whole-class dialogue. In M. Khine, & I. Saleh (Eds.), Approaches and strategies in next generation science learning (pp. 224-245). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Mesquita, M.d.S. (2013) e-WRF: WRF for Educational Purposes [Computer program]. Available at m2lab.org
Walton, P.J., Yarker, M.B., Mesquita, M. d.S. & Otto, F.E.L. (2015). Helping to Make Sense of Regional Climate Modeling: Professional Development for Scientists and Decision Makers Anytime, Anywhere. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Under Review.
Yarker, M.B. & Mesquita, M. d.S. (2015, January). Utilizing Facebook Groups to Facilitate Peer Discussion in an Online Course about Regional Climate Modeling. Paper presented at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting. Phoenix, AZ.