Using Social Media to Create a Global Community of Sustainability-Engaged Students

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Conference Proceeding

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Using Social Media to Create a Global Community of Sustainability- Engaged Students Programs that enable engineering students to study outside of the United States have been effectively integrated with engineering education (Trotz et al., 2009). These programs are exposing students to global concepts of sustainability (Hokanson et al., 2007) and helping them develop core competencies in engineering while simultaneously building higher cognitive levels in some skills and in attitudes and identity outcomes (Bielefeldt et al., 2010). However, not every student can travel outside of the country. Social networking sites, such as Twitter, have not only been embraced by students from younger generations, they are also being used to communicate science (Darling et al. 2013). This study seeks to answer the question: can social media be used to create a global community of students that are engaged in learning about sustainability? In 2013, the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) launched “Reclaim” as a way to create a community that connects researchers around the world from different disciplines who are dedicated to the recovery of resources from waste. “Reclaim” utilizes a website (usf-reclaim.org) with a blog, a YouTube channel (youtube.com/usfreclaim),and a Twitter account (@USF_Reclaim) to create this global community and disseminate research findings and educational materials. In addition, a one-credit course is currently being offered to students from USF and UVI, designed to operate entirely through the use of the sesocial networking platforms. The overall purpose of the course is to inform students about the professional meaning of sustainability across different disciplines, and help them develop skillsets to become globally competent in science and engineering, with a particular focus on sustainable engineered, environmental, and social systems. Each week, one or two students produce a 10-15 minute video and select reading materials related to a topic selected by the course professor. Case studies are used to explore interdisciplinary solutions to context-sensitive systems. The responsible students host a Twitter chat each week about the topic covered in the video, the readings, or the case study. The content and substance of conversations taking place during weekly Twitter discussions and the interaction between students in different geographic locations and from different disciplines is currently being measured. After the first four weeks, the Twitter chats have seen participate on from over 40 people from different disciplines (engineering, anthropology, education, philosophy, marine science, biochemistry, and microbiology) representing nine different universities in the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Bolivia, and the United Kingdom. Analysis of YouTube analytics data and data from the Twitter chats suggests several findings: 1) participants from outside of the United States are viewing online material for a longer period of time on average than participants from the United States; 2)most students used Twitter infrequently before the course and none of them used it in this way;3) while multiple conversational strands occur simultaneously in the Twitter discussions, participants maintain conversations for up to nine turns over a 15 minute time interval; 4) content analysis of tweets suggests that most tweets are structured as reasoned claims with some arguments framed as syllogisms; and 5) new conversational strands have emerged during Twitter chats as participants asked questions that either challenged a comment made by others in a tweet or requested clarification of points.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Paper presented at 2014 ASEE International Forum on 14 June, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana, 10 p.