According to SmartBlogs Education, use of social networks in academics predates popular tools like Facebook in Twitter. Even before there was such thing as email, the world wide web or even computers, cutting-edge scientific research was a social endeavor, with colleagues around the world keeping abreast of the new developments via prolific correspondence – the pen and paper kind – and academic journals.
That is why incorporating social networking technology into STEM education should be such a no-brainer. Doug Haller writes that while social networking delivered on its promise to make communication easier and quicker, it has yet to do the same in the area of education, especially when it comes to STEM.
According to Kacy Karlen, manager of web and social media for TERC, in Cambridge, Mass., educators and researchers should take advantage of the ease with which students incorporate social networking in their daily lives and leverage these tools for use in the classroom. Karlen has seen teachers expand their definition of "social" networking by using Twitter to monitor learning and track feedback and Pinterest to collate and share digital resources for class projects and lessons.
The technology developed by TERC is already adding a social media element at the post-secondary level. At IGERT.org, researchers and graduate students can work together with engineers and professors from different disciplines, using tools like forums, webinars and other interactive resources to make collaboration and sharing of knowledge easier.
Other places have used similar tools to bring STEM collaboration at the secondary school level. The Global Ozone Project, which is based in Boulder, Colorado, sets up pollution detection equipment in schools around the country, in order to make collection of information used on environmental research easier. Students at participating schools can interact with both the scientists and their peers from other participating schools and seek answers and explanations about the data their schools are collecting.
Nearly 2,000 member students have access to data from over 90 sites nationally and internationally. They regularly update and share their observations via the network. Guest scientists and program managers post resources, pose engaging questions and respond to student queries. GO3 program managers Jessa Ellenburg and Kali Basman monitor the social network side of the program and say students have exceeded their expectations, using the site appropriately to expand their understanding of the science. Ellenburg notes that in several years she's only experienced a few issues with students posting content not appropriate for the site. Of course, the social network is not all work; students also share their culture through music and video.