Encouraging students to write their own blogs can be beneficial in supporting reflections on learning, and also to explore avenues of interest.
Working at a university is a wonderful job. Why? The customer who we (staff and faculty) cater to are the student body. Despite opinions on part of students during the semester, students are the customers who we aspire to train. The training will result in a professional worker who will go out and enter the work force after their experience at the university. To top this training off, I would strongly suggest that each student start writing a blog about their experience at school early on. In the paragraphs below, I will make my case for suggesting to do so.
How is this training achieved?
Students often forget that enrolling in a university to take classes involves hiring the university faculty and staff to educate (i.e. train) them to go out into the world and succeed in a given professional field (chemistry, biology, accounting, business, engineering, etc.). The hiring process does not necessarily give the student the ability to circumvent the traditional process of proceeding through the curriculum developed by the university to obtain a degree. Each student must spend the required amount of time in either a lecture class or a laboratory class to ensure that the degree obtained retains the status intended.
Essentially, by hiring the university to educate a student, each student will enter into an agreement. The agreement involves the student the following:
1) Students agree to follow the university rules (attendance, assignments, etc.).
2) Faculty and Staff agree to uphold their part and provide a quality education to each student.
Do we live in a perfect world?
Of course not! Life happens and experiences other than those associated directly with the university curriculum occur. As a result of the occurrence, the path each student traverses through the university will be altered. One constant at each university is the curriculum needed to get through a given degree.
How that curriculum is worked through is a subjective experience that each student needs to realise.
Why do I bring this rather obvious point up?
Recently, I have been talking to a few students about their educational aspirations. The experience (my experience) started with casual conversation in the hallways with a student (Leonel) who I recently trained to use an instrument in the department of chemistry. Before I talk about the exchange of ideas with Leonel which led to him starting a blog of his own, let me back up a bit and give a little background about myself — to place the blog subject into context.
I am an instrument manager at the department of chemistry and biochemistry at California State University at Northridge. My job is centred around ensuring that the entire arsenal of instruments in the department are up to optimal condition at any given time. Part of this job entails training both faculty and students to use instruments for either research or teaching purposes. Further, the job requires me to spend varying amounts of time troubleshooting instruments — sometimes with students and faculty — while at other times by myself. The job provides me with a sufficient amount time (while troubleshooting the instrument) to ask students the following questions:
1) Why pursue a chemistry degree?
2) What would you like to do with your degree?
The answers to these two questions usually differ greatly depending on their status within the university (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, 1st year graduate student, etc.). What surprises me the most is that a majority of students have little idea about the profession that they would like to end up in. Some are confused. Others are pursuing a degree because their parents are encouraging them to pursue a degree. While others are pursuing a degree in order to stay in school — to avoid entering the workforce.
Regardless of the reason that each student finds themselves in the university setting, I believe that each student would be served WELL to start blogging early on in their educational journey. In the past, I have encouraged students to blog during their down time. The time when they feel overwhelmed or tired. As I explain to them, the main benefits of blogging are the following:
1) A great way to spend your down time from studying.
2) Provides an avenue of exploration of your academic journey (informal).
3) A constructive way to document your progress.
4) A template to demonstrate professionalism.
5) Provides support for other students by sharing experiences.
This time is a great time to explore one’s self and serve as a “check point.” Each student should “check in” with their progress and goals. Using an avenue like a blog is a road map to document the progress (self evaluation). The blog does not need to serve as a diary. I encourage to students to blog about their educational journey while keeping the content professional.
Blog: The benefits are numerous, but here are a few.
First, at the very least, by incorporating a periodic blog post into your educational journey, you will inevitably find yourself (understand yourself). Second, accountability is a large contribution a student can contribute. Think of the blog as an extracurricular activity for your professional development. At the very least, a student can turn over the blog posts (a link to their post) to an employer and to see their development. At the very least, the act of blogging will inevitably make the student a stronger communicator and writer.
The simple act of releasing the blog post to the “universe” by publishing the post involves “letting go” and moving on. Whether the future of “moving on” involves further progress in their intended field (chemistry, math, biology, computer science), or the realisation and moving onto a different field of study. Blogging serves as a positive benefit when utilised in a professional and constructive way. Last but not least, blogging is useful to other students. Students listen mostly to other students. I tell students that there might be a strong possibility that a blog post written by a student will affect another student.
How do I know these benefits to be true of blogging?
Over the past few years, I have been blogging at a friend’s site that was shut down a year ago. After losing that content (by not backing my blog posts up), I decided to take the initiative and start my own blog. The process is super easy. I will provide the steps at the end of this blog post. As I just mentioned, I started my own blog site “Mike Thinks” and continued blogging. I find blogging to be extremely therapeutic. Blogging provides an informal avenue by which to disseminate the importance of science to the public at large.
How do I achieve this?
My goal is multifaceted. I read widely and while doing so, often I read statistics in the popular news which are easily overlooked. The content on my blog is aimed to demystify how a scientist looks at statistics and content portrayed in the news. If I can inspire a student or a person who is interested in science to learn more about science, then I have over achieved my goal. Scientists are real people.
Science needs to play a larger role in policy making decisions at every level of government.
Understanding the magnitude of disaster (as an example) is critical to funding aid and resources to a geographical area either within the United States or outside. Here is an example.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew ripped through the country of Haiti on its course to the Eastern Part of the United States. In the first blog post, I did a ‘back of the hand calculation’ through dimensional analysis of the amount of rain the country received. The calculated amount of rain was 750 billion cubic feet of rain. This was not including the high speed winds. With the election over with now, the public can return to addressing issues like foreign aid for relief.
Further, in a follow up post, Hurricane Matthew continued to reap destruction and hit the Eastern part of the United States. In the second post, I calculated a different amount of rainfall — which was 32 billion cubic feet. To be clear, the second post only took into account the state of North Carolina. The advantage of understanding the magnitude of such a disaster is to influence policy decisions. Less than 6 moths have passed and the rebuilding process has just begun. If a person only looks at social media for their news, then there is little mention and the problem is very likely to be minimised.
Having documentation in the form of a blog provides a road map of events throughout last year. In the second blog post, I compare the overall volumes of the recent storms that have occurred in various parts of the world last year which have reaped havoc on the local and global economies. The lessen to take home from the two paragraphs above is that I have learned a tremendous amount about the world and the presentation of facts/statistics in the news from blogging. I encourage everyone to try the methodology out too at their own convenience.
Back to Leonel. After our discussion in the hallway, he promised to start a blog soon. There should be no pressure to start a blog by any student. Academic studies are much more important than blogging.
Leonel wants to achieve the highest position possible. I asked him what that entailed. He paused. That is where I suggested that writing a blog might provide insight into his future path. Structure is important. Constructive criticism is important. Each of us (not just students) need to practice the art of giving each other constructive criticism or praise. There is too much negativity in the world coupled with stress. The least each of us can do is minimise the stress and uncertainty by encouraging young people to search for themselves in this digital lifestyle that engulfs us.
University education is changing. One component of the university education that has not changed is the need to motivate students to take action and participate. The university can only do so much to motivate the training of each student. I suggest that writing a blog be a good supplemental procedure which will provide the benefits offered above. Each of us need to do our part to educate ourselves and others around us to have a more informed society that cares for each other and the world around us.
Here are the steps to create your own blog:
1) Create a ‘gmail’ account through Google Mail.
2) Visit the website “www.blogger.com” and enter the log in information from your g-mail account.
3) After logging onto “Blogger.com” create your blog site by choosing off of the menus (very easy).
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