Blogging for the technically inclined.

“Like daffodils in the early days of spring, my neurons were resprouting receptors as the winter of my illness ebbed.”

–Susannah Cahalan, Brain On Fire; My month of madness


To me, this is a very interesting quote. In this book, the author is dealing with a pretty insane condition — her body attacked her brain in an attempt to stave off an autoimmune disorder, NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. When she recovered, she wrote a book about it and, as a result, had to become proficient in something she had never really even thought about: how her brain works.  In the quote, she relates something abstract (her brain making new receptors) to something beautiful, but relatively mundane (daffodils, which grow every year).

Ok, so what?

This is what we try to do in every class we teach.  We take information, concepts, even practical knowledge, and relay to students and try to relate it something they know and can identify with; something they readily understand.  Blogging does this – only they relate it to something they know and understand.

Every kid, in every class, is going to relate to information in their own way. Some may be similar based on what they know already and their previous experiences, but overall, I believe we have individual responses to knew information. If we require blogging, we open the opportunity for the students to think about information in their own way and not through the preconceived lens of an assignment with right or wrong answers.  While bogging has obvious implications for how people think about open-ended, abstract questions (like, “What is the meaning of life?”) – or giving them the opportunity to explore their viewpoint on a subject, it can also be useful for more technical classes as well. As my face turned red and armpits began to sweat in the uber public exchange with Dr. C last class session, I made this realization.

Take a class like fluid mechanics, for instance. When we learn these concepts in engineering, we get them framed to us as water or some other fluid moving through a “system” or “reference frame” or “boundary” from point x to point y; most of us probably don’t make the immediate connection that we can take these flow equations and apply them to moving water from a water treatment facility to a persons home so they can have water to cook with or to take a shower. Somehow, when we’re leaning the basics of a field, we skip over the most important parts of how this knowledge is applied.  This probably doesn’t help with the closed-minded, let-me-get-my-A-and-move-on students.  By requiring blogging, and encouraging them to think about how the information they are learning is applied or what it could mean that they have this knowledge, I think we could open many students eyes to the larger possibilities of the knowledge they learn.

I’ve taken several interdisciplinary classes at Tech, and one thing they stress as a very important skill in this area is the ability to be able to take knowledge learned in one setting and apply to something completely different.  By encouraging students to think about this independently, outside of how YOU, as the teacher, are framing the possibilities of the information, you open the possibilities for the students.  My goal as a teacher, then, is maybe to facilitate the application of knowledge by the provision of some abstract base knowledge that can be applied to anything, require blogging, and let them do the rest. As Dr. C said, he’s been blown away every semester he’s done it…why couldn’t it work for technical classes as well?

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