Of Two Minds

Jason, a graduate student at USC, shot me an email asking for more information about my blogging experiment and I thought I’d post some of the things I sent back to him. Totally unpolished and stream of consciousness but here it is…

Hi Jason,

This is really the first time around that I’ve tried the blogging thing. I’ve been thinking about doing it for a while but having 2 classes with 50 people in each meant a blog would be a bit unwieldy. If there are that many people in the class a discussion board is a much better choice (like on blackboard or something). If you have under 20 people or so it becomes more manageable. The most straight forward way to do the blogging is to create a post each week (or at some other interval) and then that’s it. You then need to hope that students comment on each others posts or actually require them to do so (which now that I’m writing this I realize I should have done that). I’m actually a bit unhappy about this style since it isn’t really collaborative and that’s a big benefit of the blog. Something you might consider is having some portion of the class write posts and the other portion comment on them – and then switch it around the next time. This would work particularly well for a larger class. With my 3 honors students it wouldn’t be that great.

As far as their instructions for posts they were just told to pick a peer reviewed journal article and start by summarizing it and then criticizing it in some way (alternative explanations, better experiments, etc.). This didn’t always happen though since they don’t have a great idea of what a good peer reviewed journal is. Next time I would have more oversight into what they are posting about to make sure its quality science. On the other hand they have written about some interesting things. I also have them doing something different for a couple posts and you can see that assignment here:

Now that you have each explored a number of aspects of each of your topics I have some more specific things for you to do for the next couple posts.

For your next post would like each of you to find a popular press article about a journal article that you are interested in and read both the press article as well as the primary source. You should give a general summary and then discuss what the press article gets right & wrong (or misrepresents). For the primary article find something that the press article has missed that you think is important and discuss it.

If you have problems finding something checkout The New Yorker, the NYTimes science section, LATimes, Salon, The Atlantic, anything by Malcolm Gladwell or Oliver Sacks (though they usually write about more than 1 article). I’m also here if you need any help.

For the post after that I would like each of you to attempt to write a short popular press article about another cool journal article (preferably one that doesn’t have something already written about it). Try to find something ‘sexy’ (well at last as sexy as science can be). This doesn’t have to be any longer than your usual posts.

Finally, for your last post of the semester (Friday April 24th – or really anytime during that following weekend) I would like you to write a summary post of what you’ve learned (overarching themes, as well as specifics). It would also be great if you’d offer any suggestions as to what would have been a more valuable experience for this James Scholar project.


  1. #1 Katherine
    April 1, 2009

    I love your idea for having them choose a popular press article and the original. I was thinking of having my students do the same thing.

  2. #2 Playstations
    April 27, 2009

    Yes, this is great idea!

    ‘ I was thinking of having my students do the same thing. ‘