I finished assessing the first blog period – the first four weeks of blogging activity.
Fourteen students were either completely absent from the blog or posted only the introductory posts. For the remaining 56 students, the means mark was B (83.4%), made up of 3 D‘s, 11 C‘s, 36 B‘s and 6 A‘s. Overall, I was pretty pleased that we’re achieving the main aim – a significant number of non-science students are reading, thinking and writing about science and realizing how much science impacts in their lives – and that it is interesting and important, and can even be fun. Now the aim is to stretch the students further – making them think harder about what they are taking on board. The most disappointing feature was the willingness of many students to reach conclusions based on one story, or one website. The world is rarely that simple – especially for politically divisive issues like drugs, alcohol, abortion and genetic testing. Or alien abduction.
Personal reactions dominated in the posts and comments, and that is great – we want lots of those. But at least some of the contributions from each student should extend things to the outside literature and bring new data-based or theory-based arguments to bear. A lot of things can not be deduced from personal experience (like, do we live in America’s safest city?). That is a key conclusion of the scientific enterprise: common sense, anecdote and experience are often inadequate or misleading guides to the world.
The posts varied considerably in depth of analysis. Some were thorough, such as Pluto, Flynn, Doomsday, or thoughtfully raised new problems, like Placebo. Many failed to give more than one or two links to sources or further reading; some gave none, as if they had got the content from mars. Minimally, some were just constructed as portals to a story somewhere else. The worst just copy and pasted from other sites, instead of saying their own thing and then linking to those sites. This was especially disappointing after so many had said they were put off science at school because they just had to regurgitate facts from books.
There were some excellent comments, but these were rarer than I expected. The good ones covered their own reactions, plus looked into the literature and took things further (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5)
A pleasant surprise was that the writing was generally more lucid than I had been warned to expect. Only a few students needed to be reminded that proof reading is important: the normal rules of grammar and spelling apply in this context too.
One interesting development for a number of students might be to further mine the seam they have already identified. For instance, dreaming, the health implications of coffee, cuckoos and animal senses.
I gave extra credit to one post – the only one that blew my socks off. A surprising point beautifully put. Three posts irritated me in a stimulating way (1, 2, 3), several amazed me (e.g. cockroaches) and one ended up posted on the wall of my lab (Dutch folk work with me). A few were beautiful in a strange kind of way (1, 2, 3), and some managed to be beautiful and thought provoking at the same time (1, 2). And a post and a comment shocked me.
But hey, both of those shockers were posted in the blog period we are now in. Which ends Oct 22 at Noon. Blow us all away folks.