Using Twitter to Teach Ornithology – Tweets about Tweeters (#EDUSprint, #BirdClass)

Number five on my list of five types of mobile learning is the use of mobile devices while “in the field.” One low-threshold yet very successful example of this idea is University of Connecticut biology professor Margaret Rubega’s use of Twitter in her ornithology course.

Professor Rubega (@ProfRubega on Twitter) requires the 100-or-so students in her course to tweet about the birds they see as they go about their lives–what birds they see, where they see them, and any connections to course content that occur to the students. They tag their tweets with the hashtag #BirdClass to make it easy for all involved to find and read each other’s tweets. (You can see their tweets, too, by clicking on that link–no Twitter account required.) Each student is asked to tweet ten times during the semester. The students apparently take to it well. From the University of Connecticut article:

“And they didn’t limit their observations to campus. They posted about birds beyond the [UConn] locale – they tweeted on Spring Break and during weekend trips. Students who gave Rubega the impression that they were not all that interested in birds ended up correcting others on Twitter who were confused about bird species. They wrote about birds on Twitter long after the assignment had ended.

Here are a few sample #BirdClass tweets:

just saw a flock of birds scramble from a tree outside husky village, someone in the group saw a threat and alerted the others #birdclass
@mcapozziello
Matt Capozziello
saw a heron flying over fenton river, its large wings provide low wing loading for its body size. good for flight! #birdclass
@KCPregler
Kasey Pregler
Every morning I hear the same birds chirping away, I hope they find some mates soon, or I am going to go crazy. #birdclass
@a_gambardella
Anthony Gambardella
A flock of canada geese on the Mad River in Winchester. Several of them preening their feathers while drying off on shore in sun #BirdClass
@emtoczko
E. Toczko

During this week’s #EDUSprint on mobile computing, I’ve been thinking about the key ingredients of teaching methods that leverage mobile devices. Two of those key ingredients can be seen in Dr. Rubega’s use of Twitter.

  • Mobile is ubiquitous. This activity wouldn’t work if a student who spotted a bird had to go back to his or her dorm room or a nearby computer lab in order to submit their sighting. Since students are pretty much never without their phones, they can send out a #BirdClass tweet no matter where they are when they spot a bird worth mentioning. (For those unfamiliar with Twitter, one can “tweet” using a smart phone app, a Web connection, or even text messaging, so students with “dumb” phones can still tweet while on the go.)
  • Mobile is social.How do students use their mobile phones? They text their friends and family and they check Facebook. There may be other uses, but those are the big two, as far as I can tell. Both are social activities, and I think the best mobile learning activities are the ones that tap into students’ desires to connect socially. If Dr. Rubega just had her students submit their bird sightings to her, I’m not sure the activity would work so well. It would be just some more busywork, I think. Since students are sharing their #BirdClass tweets with each other, I suspect they’re more motivated to engage in the activity. This is a great example of a social pedagogy.

What could you have your students tweet about (or otherwise share with their classmates) as they go about their daily lives?

Image: “Bird,” Russ Glasson, Flickr (CC)

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