Stacia Gordon is participating in an online classroom, but it’s not Zoom, and many of its students have already retired. Gordon has been participating in YouTube videos for Central Washington University Professor Nick Zentner’s geology-based YouTube channel.
Gordon is a professor of geological sciences and the director of the geological sciences graduate program, and is a recipient of a collaborative NSF grant. The lead researcher on the grant had seen Zentner’s YouTube videos about geology and reached out to him, asking if Zentner would like to be involved in the “broader impacts” component of the grant by collaborating on videos. Zentner’s YouTube channel has a global audience and his videos reach thousands of people.
“This seemed like a really fun way to be able to reach out to a lot of people and share what we’re doing. It’s blown me away, how many people are actually learning about it,” Gordon said. “That’s one of the hard parts of doing research, figuring out how to share it with the general public.”
Gordon has been featured in several of Zentner’s videos, several of which have been viewed over ten thousand times, including some lecture videos and some fieldwork videos. The videos are relevant to the Sierra Nevadas. While Zentner and his guests are discussing the North Cascade mountain range, the same processes that formed the Cascades formed the Sierras, Gordon said. “It’s an analog to this mountain range that’s just outside our doors.” Gordon said there will be more fieldwork videos produced when she and her colleagues head outdoors.
“It’s fun for me to be on the live feed where people are actively watching and typing questions as they’re watching. Even though I can’t see the audience, I feel like I’m really interacting with them,” Gordon said. The audience is able to ask questions as the livestream continues.
Recordings of the video are posted to Zentner’s YouTube, and the videos are watched by those who couldn’t watch the livestream. However, Zentner’s audience, who identify themselves as "Zentnerds" is committed. Gordon is not only a guest, but also an engaged audience member. She said she was watching one of Zentner’s videos and another audience member was watching from Brisbane, Australia. “It was 3 a.m. in Brisbane at that time,” Gordon said.
Gordon said Zentner’s dedication to the "Zentnerds" is evident. Besides his engaging personality, Zentner’s twice-weekly videos are researched by him. Between lectures he reads research papers about the topic and tries to pull out the information he thinks will be helpful to the audience.
“He’s really engaging and very good at describing geology. He’s not an expert on every topic, but he brings in guest speakers who are experts who can answer the questions that he and the audience probably have too.”
Zentner has been communicating about geology with video for years, but over the past two years more content has been made available virtually due to the pandemic.
“I think the virtual option has made science more accessible to a broader audience,” Gordon said. “Having it online where you can reach so many people who can tune in makes it free and low barrier.”
Gordon said she was surprised by how many people are interested in geology, but is excited about reaching those people outside of the classroom.
“I hope people have a greater appreciation for being outside and an appreciation for why the earth looks the way it does and how it has formed through time,” Gordon said. “I hope it shows what goes on in scientific studies and how they are conducted, that it involves going out and collecting data.”