One for the Science Teachers: A New Crop of Sci-Tubes

E-School News just published an article (free registration may be required) about what we geeks would call “science digital storytelling.” What I find exciting about this is that it shows scientists in action, in their labs, explaining their real-world scientific experiments for the layperson. It links to four new online video sites, modeled after YouTube, that feature science films.

Here’s a clip from SciVee, an “online video-sharing startup designed to let scientists broadcast themselves toiling in the laboratory or delivering lectures.” The clip below, strangely, does not fit this description, but is instead a tutorial about the rain cycle. It’s notable for several things: quality of design, use of film, still photo, and animation, and its mash-up use of different video sources. (The embed screwed up my formatting and I couldn’t solve it, so click the screenshot to go to the site.)

sci-vee video screenshot

Another site, JOVE (the Journal of Visual Experiments), is impressive for its inclusion of experiment abstracts, protocols, and videos. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t include an embed feature for the videos.

Two other sites discussed in the article are Lab Action and DNATube.

For the classroom, these sites obviously offer a way of learning about science beyond the textbook by watching and listening to real scientists at work on real research. Beyond that, though, they also invite science classrooms to film and upload their own lab experiments to the sites, a la YouTube.

As the E-School News article noted, such lab-filming classroom projects are a great way to facilitate learning by requiring students to articulate the why’s and how’s of real science, and thereby rise above the “trained monkey following directions” that I imagine many science lab lessons are liable to. You can’t fake understanding when you have to discuss and explain as you go.

One last note: the article mentioned that the digital storytelling skills we aim to teach in all our classrooms are decisive for the popularity of the videos on these sites. If the sound is bad, the camera-work is shaky, the editing bush league, and so forth – if the scientists, in other words, don’t “cut the crap” from their videos and embrace the “design matters” mindset Dean Shareski has been pushing – the real world “assesses with the mouse” by either rating the videos poor or not viewing them at all. The point here: scientists themselves are now studying the same skills our students are learning when they make iMovies, podcasts, and so forth. This is good to explicitly communicate to students, who otherwise might churn out digital products with the same indifference with which they write schooly essays or fill out worksheets.

Here’s how the article puts it:

Researchers who are uploading their experiments and lectures online are discovering that filmmaking is more art than science. If the narrators are boring or the image is shaky, viewers will quickly learn to click elsewhere.

“Scientists are not movie makers, so getting them to shoot their experiments and describe them properly can be a challenge,” said Anton Denissov, a broadband video analyst with the Yankee Group.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, SciVee encourages scholars with a paper hot off the press to make a short video, called a “pubcast,” highlighting the key points. It also accepts unsolicited submissions that have no connection to any published work.

Phil Bourne, a pharmacologist at UC San Diego, launched SciVee this summer after seeing his students hooked on YouTube. Bourne wanted a reputable virtual place where researchers could trade techniques without the potpourri of topics found on general video-sharing sites.

“It’s quite a quantum leap for scientists to present their research in this way,” Bourne said.

I really share this because, in my four-month old 1:1 school, I’m seeing students starting to display the “it’s just for school, so it’s irrelevant” attitude toward digital skills that they previously associated with pencil-and-paper work. This is a real danger to the whole enterprise of making schooling more relevant through digital literacy and connectivity.

One last thing: all of these sites invite submissions, so they’re yet another way for students to develop their e-portfolios for college applications by self-publishing their best science work online. Bonus: SciVee, I just discovered, includes video-making tutorials for iMovie and Windows MovieMaker. Too cool – science teachers can just provide the link and tell students to be learners by reading and following directions.

8 thoughts on “One for the Science Teachers: A New Crop of Sci-Tubes”

  1. These ‘YouTube on Science’ sites you’ve mentioned are amazing. I’m new to web 2.0 and I’ve been trying to find a way to use it with my science students. The prospect of having students do their lab as an explanatory video and post it on one of these sites is too cool. How better to illustrate one’s understanding of the lab activity than this? The fact that real live scientists are doing this only validates the process. So much more interesting than the standard dry laboratory write-up (which has its place too). Thanks for bringing these sites to my attention!


  2. I agree completely, Claire. Science education needs all the help it can get – I was just skyping with a Student 2.0 member about how, if only I had been reached in high school science classes, I would have chosen to devote my life to being a scientist.

    If you want to play with ideas for spicing the mix even more, consider how your students might collaborate with students in the 1:1 science classes in my school in Korea. Could make the engagement more engaging still :)

  3. Now you’ve really got my mind whirring with all the possibilities! Even had trouble sleeping last night. I’ve got a grade 9 science class starting up in February; we’re a Distributed Learning school so it’s a pretty small class. If I can work on giving the kids the background skills they need, this could really fly! Thanks again!

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