The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Blogging Science in the University Classroom

Featured Instructors:

Andrew Forbes, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology

Overview:

Use a class blog to encourage intellectual risk-taking and authentic learning.

Benefits:

  • Encourages knowledge retention
  • Encourages student participation
  • Improves student understanding

Description:

Andrew Forbes, Assistant Professor of Biology, uses a private class blog to help his students extend academic conversations beyond the classroom.

The blog is a regularly-updated, online space with distinct entries on which other students comment. Blogs are appropriate for all disciplines, and Professor Forbes finds that the blog is an effective tool for promoting evidence-based scholarly discourse and analytical writing in a science course.

Instructor:



Andrew Forbes, PhD

Assistant Professor of Biology

Overview:



Use a class blog to encourage intellectual risk-taking and authentic learning.

Transcript:





00:00 - 00:31



I think my priority as a teacher is to get the students to really learn big conceptual ideas. And so I'm less concerned with them memorizing vocabulary words and regurgitating things to me. I really want them to come away at the end of the day having learned two big ideas, two big concepts that they'll remember for a long time.



00:31 - 00:57



Scientific knowledge is not just about memorizing things; it's about using it in lots of diverse ways. And if you're only trained as a scientist, and you’re not trained as a writer or reader, and you're not trained to think broadly about lots of different topics, you’ve really limited yourself. I can teach the material. I can tell them about big concepts and evolution. But I can't hear what they think or how they’re interacting with that material.



00:57 - 01:04



And so I wanted to try out a class blog because I wanted for them to have those real meaningful discussions that, to some extent, come from the heart.



01:04 - 01:25



Basically the assignment for the students is that twice during the course of the semester they need to write one substantive entry, and that's usually a couple of paragraphs and maybe a link to a story that they found or something. And then every week every student has to comment on two other blog posts.



01:25 - 01:57



In the first week or so it kind of feels like they're doing it because they have to, and then what you see is that about two-thirds of the class just do it all the time. And they're not commenting on two posts per week; they’re commenting on six to ten. And they haven't just written two of their own posts over the course of the year; they've written five or six. I'm not saying go write six pages on this subject; I'm telling them to write about what they want to write about.



01:57 – 02:15



You're not just blurting something out. You can actually take time to refine an answer and say what you really mean. And of course you can edit it then. And I think the students do that and I think that they write something that they really want to say. And they don't feel as inhibited because they don't have everyone staring at them.



02:15 - 02:40



I think they are getting an opportunity to talk about science in a way that scientists talk about science.When they're constructing a post they need a have a thesis,and then they know that their peers are going to critique them. So both in writing that original blog post and in the critique the students are using scientific knowledge to support a particular idea.



02:40 – 03:05



And I think it's something that faculty in any discipline should want to consider because, again, it allows you to see what your students are thinking; it allows you to see the connections your students are making between the material in your class and their lives; it allows you to see what they're not understanding; and it allows you to connect with your students more than you can just in the class.



03:05 - 03:35



So it helps quite a lot because they don’t just come to class, listen to what I'm saying or do the activities I'm having them do, and then switch off for the rest of the week. They actually go back home and at some point or several points during the rest of the week they’re interacting with the material and interacting with each other. And I think just that connection and that continued connection that they're getting through the blog is helping them learn.