published November 7, 2012

Staff Reflection: Greening Education

By Katie M. Shade, staff associate

As part of a staff reflection series, we'd like to share a resource that has been brought to our attention and we hope is interesting to you. We also invite you to share resources with us that you have found to be beneficial and interesting as a student or an educator so we can pass them along to the rest of our community.

About three years ago, my best friend introduced me to a work of fiction masterfully written by John Green. Sometime after being introduced to John's writing, I subscribed to a videoblog or vlog hosted on YouTube™ created by John and his brother, Hank. John and Hank periodically post educational videos to the vlogbrothers channel. Hank individually runs SciShow, a YouTube channel dedicated to science news and explanation of scientific concepts. After several years of vlogging and with a desire to increase their educational content production, John and Hank now appear on the Crash Course YouTube channel, which premiered last year as part of Youtube's Original Channels initiative. On Crash Course, John is featured in videos covering topics in World History, while Hank teaches introductory biology.

The Greens' vlogging and Crash Course efforts put science education in the hands of modern students, making content easily accessible to the students through the prevalence of laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The Greens' words, cultural references and experiences resonate with other young people. John and Hank do not talk down to their audiences. They find ways to engage the viewers without sacrificing historical or scientific accuracy. I would not be surprised to learn that some students in SENCER courses access these or similar online resources for review or enrichment. In Hank's first Crash Course video, he encouraged viewers to rewind the videos if they do not understand the presented content or to fast forward through segments covering topics about which the viewers already possess knowledge. Such individualized pacing may become a trend in science education as more content becomes web-based.

Furthermore, the Crash Course channel inadvertently promotes SENCER ideals to its viewers. John states in his first World History video that a test on Crash Course material would "measure whether you are an engaged, informed and productive citizen of the world." The Crash Course exam "will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship," as well as "on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football and while scrolling through your twitter feed." The evaluation, Green proclaims, will "test your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you'll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you'll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context." It seems unlikely that John and Hank are aware their stated desire to nurture a scientifically informed citizenry encapsulates SENCER ideals. However, it is encouraging to me that informal science education can exist on the Internet with social media, humorous videos and the memes du jour, and flourish as the vlogbrothers and Crash Course channels have.

I hope that John, Hank and other instructors will continue to produce innovative and high quality educational content, hopefully in all STEM subject areas. I will certainly share their new work with the SENCER community as it becomes available. In the meantime, please visit the NCSCE SENCER YouTube channel here. You can also find additional resources created by colleges, universities, government agencies and individuals here.

As many of today's students heavily utilize web-based media for entertainment and education, supplementing STEM courses with new media may enhance students' learning by bringing STEM into their daily lives. Yet it was a gift of old media that allowed me to witness the beginnings of an Internet-based science culture. We invite you to send us feedback on these resources or let us know about other resources that you have found to be beneficial for your students so we can share them with the community. Thank you, and in the words of John and Hank, "don't forget to be awesome."