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Social media helps students learn scientific argumentation better than peers, study shows

March 19, 2018

LAWRENCE- Social media can be a very effective tool to teach students elements of the scientific process; in fact, those who took part in a program to learn scientific argumentation through social media learned the components of argumentation better than their peers who did not, a University of Kansas study has found.

KU researchers designed a curriculum unit to engage nearly 400 ninth-grade biology students in learning about scientific argumentation through social media use with their teachers and classmates. Argumentation is a key element of both Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards. The researchers have since authored a chapter for the book “Digital Tools and Solutions for Inquiry-based STEM Learning,” an article in the Journal of Education in Science, Environment and Health, and an article in Educational Media International, a Taylor and Francis online journal outlining the study, its results and how teachers can implement similar practices in their classrooms.

The project and publications grew out of a National Science Foundation grant to KU’s Center for Research on Learning. Researchers worked with teachers and administrators in several urban and suburban Midwestern schools to teach students about Next Generation Science Standards for scientific argumentation — asking questions; analyzing and interpreting data; engaging an argument from evidence; constructing explanations; and obtaining, evaluating and communicating information — all via Twitter and Skype with their classmates and teachers.

The chapter and articles were collaboratively authored by Amber Rowland (B.S.E., 2001; M.S.E., 2003; Ph.D., 2012) and Jana Craig-Hare (M.S.E., 2002; Ph.D., 2011), assistant research professors at KU’s Center for Research on Learning (CRL); along with Marilyn Ault (M.S.E., 1979; Ph.D., 1981), senior research associate at CRL; James Ellis, associate professor of curriculum and teaching; and Janis Bulgren, research professor at CRL.

When compared with a group of students who did not take part in the project, the treatment group reported significantly higher use of social media to share scientific claims, discuss scientific phenomena, post counterarguments and/or rebuttals to others’ claims, demonstrate their knowledge of science content, convince others to see their points of view and opinions about science, understand other points of view about science, and follow scientists and researchers on social media.

The treatment group’s students also scored significantly higher than their peers on a post test in areas of sharing scientific claims, discussing scientific phenomena and demonstrating knowledge of scientific phenomena. They also reported a significant increase in confidence regarding scientific argumentation and were more confident than their peers that they had the knowledge and skills to analyze and make strong scientific claims.

Students demonstrated that they learned scientific argumentation better than their peers. Additionally, the book chapter outlines how students uncomfortable with making verbal arguments in class, such as individuals with autism spectrum disorders or those with social skill deficiencies, reported they were more comfortable making arguments via social media. The unit also stressed the importance of digital citizenship and how to appropriately conduct oneself on social media, no matter which forms are most popular in the future — something that is not inherently evident to young people, even though they are given to large amounts of time spent online from an early age.

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