Friday, February 18, 2011

Digital tools and blogging in the Engineering Classroom: Reflection


This is my very first blog!  My Gen X-ness is certainly showing!  While I consider myself pretty savvy technologically, the Digital Tools class is an eye opener that I am becoming a baby dinosaur that will continue to grow into a huge dinosaur unless I do something about it.  I want to be able to convert my engineering and academic knowledge into relevant pedagogical processes including Web 2.0 technologies, without crashing and burning.

This class has already exposed me to some tools that I can use in the educational setting. It would be a disservice not to incorporate some carefully placed technology into the curriculum of my first-year intro engineering course.  Some of the tools that I would like to incorporate for my class are a Wiki, a podcast or two, and a video library used to present engineering problems online.  My advisor and a great inspiration, Eugenia Etkina, has a video library of physics problems.  This is a great tool that she has made available for her students.  These problems include a taping of certain experiments that would be harder to bring to a standard classroom.  With this tool, her students can carry out these experiments/problems without the need for tools and equipment.  In my opinion, she is ahead of her time and a great role model.  

I haven’t quite figured out how a blogs and chats might apply to my area (Engineering) in the classroom.  To me it seems that blogs, for example, are much more useful in the humanities and social science area.    As I write this, I am googling ‘engineering blogs’ and have found so many (  However, upon brief survey of them, they are anecdotal or journal-like in nature.  They seem like great side pieces to a class, but not really a comprehensive tool like it can be for a humanities or social science area.  To me, it seems that for engineering, math, and the sciences that Wiki’s, simulation, online tutoring, and other area specific computerized tools would be very useful in enhancing instruction. I would love to hear from some STEM folks on how blogs or other expository type tools are incorporated into STEM areas in the classroom.


  1. Hi Lydia,
    I am not a part of STEM (not even sure what that means), but I think that I may have some ideas about how to utilize blogging in your engineering instruction. I think that you are right, that most blogs are beneficial in regards to the humanities areas of education. I think that there are a lot of things that could be considered humanities in engineering. You could have your students discussing various ideas and concepts that you are teaching, and how they could use them in the real world. You could have your students develop and plan out a specific project by working together in discussion groups where they can hash out their ideas and develop a plan of attack. I am not well versed in anything related to engineering, but I think that (especially today) subjects are so cross curricular, so would it be a bad thing to have students record anecdotal records of their experiences? This is just something to consider. I do know that it is a challenge to enter mathematical equations into the computer, but there are specific keystrokes that can allow you to input exponents and such, so it may be something to consider.

  2. (I have copied Daina's question from the wiki)

    Hello Lydia,

    I am sorry, I am not really sure where else to blog, so I just am editing on yours. If there is another way to do it, let me know!
    I know NOTHING about engineering. Honestly. However, in college my boyfriend's roommate was an engineer here at Rutgers and I remember him constantly having to leave to meet up with groups for projects. I think that perhaps you can also somehow incorporate skyping sections or online group work through blogs.
    Again, this may be easy for me to say, because English is the subject that I would be teaching and in that type of setting, there is a lot to do with the humanities. However, as an outside perspective, someone who does not know engineering, I would not mind learning about it through blogs and through interaction online. For an introduction class, it may even ease students who need time to reflect upon the information. I know that others can help you furthers, but hopefully some of my ideas were not totally off!


  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi Lauren and Diana,
    Thanks for your blogs. STEM means science, technology, engineering and math. You are right in that blogging is a great place for students to springboard their ideas with each other, especially for an intro class. It's also great for those who are not familiar with the subject to get acquainted. Thanks for the ideas!!!

  5. I also was trying to figure out how to use blogs for a science based class and what I have come up with is essentially asking students to find something that is current (be it new research or an article they found, something that interests them) that is related to what they are learning in the classroom and have them write about how it connects. This is a bit easier in biology because there always seems to be something making the news, but maybe it would also work for engineering.

  6. Lydia, I have been battling with some of the same questions you ask. I have been trying to figure how Blogs can be used in the engineering environment to help students especially at the undergraduate level. I have seen comments that it can be used more as a reflective tool to determine students understanding and help determine the concepts that need to be further developed. This may be easier on blogs in the STEM world if the fuctionality made it easier to articulate mathmetical concepts and symbols.

    I have concluded that the skill most engineers don't recieve as much pratice with is articulating their projects and designs. So this tool may be most effective in those courses that ask students to generate their own designs, allowing them to communicate their weekly progress and provide feedback across groups. I think we can generate some very interesting blogs by asking students to develop an idea, communicate how they plan to tackle those ideas, and the impacts of their designs on society. This is a skill they will benefit once in the real world.

  7. Hi Lydia,

    I agree with Mike. Blogs can be used by engineers to communicate with peers and harness the expertise of many minds by exploring necessary breakthroughs for engineering advances, by describing design processes and by pondering consequences and trade-offs of current and new technologies.

  8. Hi Lydia,

    I think that one way you can use blogs effectively with your students is for them to practice their writing skills and communication skills in general. My husband is the Manager and Engineer of the Sewer Operating Committee in Princeton. Last year he was asked to go back to his college and talk to engineering majors about what it was like to be in the workplace. There was actually a panel of engineers who were there (who also went to Lafayette College) and he said he was surprised to hear all of the panel members talking about how important it is for engineers to have good communication skills. All of them said that many students who were coming out of engineering schools were lacking in these skills. My husband said (speaking for himself) that when he was in school, he didn't really see the value of classes like English or other humanities courses. They seemed irrelevant to what he wanted to study. Even as an English teacher I have wondered if a focus on literature is enough to prepare students for the communication skills that they need for the workplace. However, what my husband did say is how important it is for him to have excellent oral and written skills at work. This is because he has to deal with the public so much, make presentations, write for federal funds, and interact with outside contractors. Last year he presented at a national engineering conference in New Orleans, and was subsequently asked to present a webinar. I think in your engineering courses if you could find a way to combine the content along with opportunities to push them to communicate their knowledge in written form and orally (and perhaps on video to prepare for video conferencing and webinars, etc.,) you would be providing them with excellent workplace skills. The Borough of Princeton is presently looking for a Manager for the Engineering Department, and included in the job requirement is the need for the candidate to have excellent interpersonal skills and communication skills. If you were to look at blogs as a means for students to work on their communication skills and to push their writing skills, it would probably be an effective use of this form of technology. You may just have to let the students know that mechanics and grammar and the ability to coherently discuss their content knowledge are important in the forum.