Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the quest for Webquests, from Theory to Practice.

'Engineering' and 'digital tools' together create a deep sea of knowledge and endless possibilities.  In the last two blogs the conversation was about how to incorporate various digital tools into an engineering curriculum.  Content specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) videos can create a virtual opportunity for STEM students to learn. Blogging can help STEM students reflect about their engineering experiences, stay in touch with real world of engineering problems, and practice the extremely crucial skill of written communication. After reading the texts about Webquests and everything else that we have learned thus far, it still seems an overwhelming task choose what is 'right' and to actually bring the endeavors to fruition in the curriculum. 

It is becoming more apparent to me that being a finicky fisherman in the sea of digital-fish is the right way to be.  The fisherman, or the educator in this case must do her due diligence in researching the proper fishing rod, bait, boat, location, time/date, etc. to make the excursion a success.  Once the fish have been reeled in, the consumers (students) must have the right seasonings, pans, and utensils available to cook and then digest it all.  OK, enough with the fishing analogy.  The bottom line is that  a great deal of thought and effort should go into choosing and using technology in the classroom. 

In the chapters this week about Webquests, a light turned for me on in regards to virtual field trips for the introductory engineering class that I designed and teach.   In my class, we learn about the different majors of engineering.  Part of the class includes taking tours of departments.  Would it be feasible to make a virtual tour of the departments, junior/senior courses, and labs?  I think the answer is a big YES!  We are not able to have a whole class visit a senior design class and have it be productive without wasting a class period for the seniors.  But we can videotape senior design classes, lab tours, etc. that each student can view on their own or as a class.  As an after-assignment and expository practice, students could write a blog, write and entry in a Facebook group, post in a wiki, or other similar assignment.  This is not an easy task.  Making good videos will take work.  But once done, the information will serve the students for semesters and years to come. 

Time for me to get to work!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blogging for STEM: Reflective tool and Writing Skill Enhancement

Hello and Welcome! 

In the previous post, people seemed to be in agreement that blogging for STEM is useful for reflection purposes, making connections from the classroom to real world issues, and to develop writing skills (which STEM'ers often lack). We have also learned that the internet is a powerful and grand tool that can be dangerous for our youth, from cyber-bullying to sexual predators.  We as educators have to walk a very fine line as we expose children to the internet in the classroom.

What a feat to provide an engaging, comprehensive, and safe medium for the children of today. For STEM-type students, the engaging portion may be of great challenge for educators.  I have a college level first year college introduction to engineering class that is running as a pilot currently.  In the curriculum, writing and communication is stressed as a prominent piece.  Students in my class must write technical papers about the projects they complete.  For most, this is the first time that they have done one.  Class surveys indicate that the writing portion is (for them) the worst part of the class.  However, after interviewing a few students, they have indicated that they are so happy they had to write the papers.  It is helping them in their other classes.

To me it is clear that writing should remain a prominent feature in the class.  Perhaps blogging can be added as a secondary component.  Where I struggle however is with overloading them with more work to do in an already tightly configured curriculum without compromising other important pedagogical elements.  My question to the readers, particularly STEM educators is this:  how much writing should be present in a STEM class?