The COSEE Excellence in Networking Tools Sub-Group (ENTs) is continually reviewing online networking tools. COSEE Centers are using an increasing variety of these tools in their activities. This is a place to showcase the tools that have worked successfully - and why!
The Scientist Engagement Working Group (SEW-G) has had great success using Skype, a free tool used for conference calls. The Production Team now conducts all of its weekly meetings via Skype, a huge benefit to the conference call budget. The software, available at http://www.skype.com, is free to install and works with both Mac and PC users, as well as with various types of internet connections.
We have all experienced this before: Someone emails or asks you about a piece of paper, such as an application for a workshop, that they had given you weeks ago, and suddenly your mind goes blank. Did I really get that paper? What did I do with it? I’m pretty sure that I put it in its appropriate file, but what if I didn’t? This is when I start to panic, until I can get to my desk and flip through my files. I always find whatever I am looking for, but I could do without the panic attack. The logical solution? Put these forms online, which is what COSEE-West did this year with our applications for our summer workshops.
How do you communicate among hundreds of ocean scientists and educators spread across the largest, but most-wired, state in the country? How do you add in the many scientists who do their research in Alaska’s seas but have home institutions in many other states? COSEE-Alaska identified the development and support of SeaNET, the Network of Scientists and Educators in Alaska, as one the highest priorities of their project.
COSEE-Alaska staff decided to begin building the communications network with a combination of a listserv and a social networking site. For the listserv we chose MailChimp, the cousin to Survey Monkey, the popular online survey tool. MailChimp is a marketing tool with the capability of sending out mass emails and managing a variety of mailing lists. COSEE-Alaska staff liked the customized formatting for messages and the fact there was no cost for a list of up to 500 email addresses. For social networking we chose Ning, which has a more professional look and feel than Facebook, but which can be customized with an attractive format and provides for easy postings of calendar events, announcements, blogs, and photo and video galleries. We chose to set up SeaNET as a public site, with these types of content available to anyone who visited the site and the additional opportunity to join as a group member and interact with other members through a forum and sub-groups organized around specific topics.
Since the launch, SeaNET Program Manager Marilyn Sigman has been posting new content about Alaska ocean climate change and Alaska Native knowledge about climate change approximately every two weeks, including updates to a calendar of conferences, science outreach events, and trainings; a round-up of recent science news items; and highlighted educational resources. COSEE-Alaska’s website links directly to the Ning site, serves as an archive for the postings, and also links to the calendar that is maintained and updated on the Ning site.
One of the many opportunities COSEE-West offers our educators is online workshops, where people from all over the world can interact with each other, as well as with our scientist speakers. It is also a great way for a scientist to broaden their outreach without ever having to leave their city.
Over the years, some of our online workshop participants have been asking for live chat capability. It’s one thing to post questions and read answers, but there is still nothing like a real-time, face-to-face interaction. During our Spring 2009 online workshop on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), we tried out a live chat via Adobe Connect. Adobe Connect is quite versatile in that it allows participants to share their desktop (one at a time), edit documents in real-time and see each other via webcams. It allowed our speaker to identify misunderstandings and address them right away, without having to wait for a question and then write something back.
COSEE-OS regularly runs workshops pairing educators and scientists, teaching them how to use concept mapping to communicate complex ideas in science to their audiences. As part of this process, the scientists and educators are matched into teams based on their understanding of several content areas. The matching process has developed over time to become a quantitative and repeatable process that has been responsible for the creation of successful scientist/educator teams.
Though most of that process is not usually shared with workshop participants, the COSEE team thought it might be information that could be shared with the teachers. To give them a bit better of an idea as to our rationale and invite them to better get to know our process, we thought of ways to convey that information in a new way. Instead of writing many emails or posting static content to our webpage, we looked to a blog as a potential tool for giving our workshop a voice.
Our blog is coded manually into the online pages that we create for our workshops. Starting with the University of Connecticut workshop, we began to post content for the applicants and participants to see. The tone of the blog is fundamentally different than the content on the rest of the COSEE-OS website, and is more direct, informal and conversational in tone.