I find that the larger the conference, the more I gravitate toward one-on-one and small group conversations. That is where I have the chance to interact with others. I can listen to a lecture online as a recording, but when I want to leverage a face-to-face event, that is where I look for opportunities to have instant, spontaneous discourse around a topic of shared interest. So, for my first session of the morning, I decided to hangout in a room full of roundtable discussions. I chose the table facilitated by Amber Rowland and Craig Hare of the University of Kansan. They shared about year one of a three year study on using social media to teach scientific argumentation. It was a rich and action-packed hour of content and discussion.
Their mixed method study was shaped by three questions, drawn from the TPACK model of technology integration (a helpful model that addresses the role of technology, pedagogy and content). As such, their three research questions were:
What technological knowledge and technological professional learning supports are needed to facilitate the use of scial media?
What pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical professional learning supports od teachers require to support students development of argumentation practices
What content knowledge nd content professional learning supports are needed?
If you are not familiar with the idea of scientific argumentation, it is about learning to think and communicate scientifically more than learning discrete scientific facts. Toward that end they used Bulgren and Ellis’s Argumentation and Evaluation Teacher’s Manual (2009), which describes an eight-step strategy for scientific argumentation:
- Consider a claim and its qualifiers.
- List Evidence
- Identify Types of Evidence
- Evaluate Evidence
- Identify Chain of Reasoning
- Identify Type of Reasoning
- Evaluate Chain of Reasoning
- Make counterarguments, rebuttals or new questions known.
With this foundation, their study included talking for classroom teachers, providing a two-day summer orientation to the study, setting them loose for the year with their students, and collecting rich data for the next phase of the study. They used high-interest controversial articles as prompts for student discourse in one of four platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Blackboard, and WordPress. Students would read the article and then use the eight-step strategy for scientific argumentation as a guide for their social media conversation about that article. Those chose hot topics to focus on a unit about inheritance and variation of traits.
They found that teachers needed more help to learn scientific argumentation themselves, which will be addressed in the year-two professional development. However, they also found that this was indeed an effective way to help students learn scientific argumentation, with students preferring more open social media outlets compared to closed systems. The researchers noted the importance of teaching students about online communication etiquette, online identity management, and using this to help them be more critical consumers of digital media; a reminder that any effort in blended learning calls for the intentional and ongoing teaching about digital citizenship. Of course, there is much more to their study, but this is my quick summary version.
This was a wonderfully though-provoking roundtable, with implications far beyond teaching scientific discourse. This was a great model for teachers who want to engage in action research about using social media to help students cultivate disciplinary thinking. Their study could just as easily be focused upon numeracy, historiography, literary discourse, or teaching any discipline-specific discourse. It aligns beautifully with the broader conversation around new literacies!