There’s been a bit of a delay in getting a post out this week thanks to my coming down with a cold. Before I continue my series on insect respiration (which requires more energy to finish than I have available at the moment), I wanted to take a quick detour to describe a new project I am using in the class I teach this semester. Next time, assuming I’m cold-free by then, I’ll jump right back into the respiration series with a post on aquatic insect respiration.
As an entomologist who blogs, I have learned that there are a lot of people in the world who want information about insects. I have also learned that these people often look up very obscure things. I try to remember this when I decide what I want to write about and sometimes blog on obscure topics even though I don’t think many people will read them. I’m constantly surprised by the things that people will read! When I write new posts, I try to remember that someone, somewhere will eventually want to know what I have to share, so I should always go ahead and post it. And even if no one reads it right away, at the very least I’m making information available so that people can easily access it later. I find my blog very fulfilling and I’ve come to believe that blogging is a powerful tool in disseminating scientific information to the world.
This semester, I am once again teaching the insect behavior lab at the University of Arizona, but I’m trying something new. Here’s how the insect behavior lab generally works when I teach it. The students come to lab once a week for close to two hours. For the first four labs, they do highly directed work that teaches them the basics of collecting behavioral data from insects and how to present their data in scientific paper format. For the majority of the remaining labs, they are simply given a topic for the day (locomotion, predation, etc) and a goal. The students then figure out what questions they want to ask to achieve that goal, form hypotheses, and develop a quick experiment to test their hypotheses using the live insects I make available to the class. The students submit several assignments, including a lab notebook of their observations, lab write ups written in proper scientific paper format, and a longer scientific paper reporting on an individual project they do outside of class.
One of the major problems I have with the class is that the information we collect almost never makes it outside of the classroom. This is an issue for me because some of the students come up with some very interesting information and do really excellent, publishable work. However, the knowledge my class produces belongs to only a handful of people, often only the group that worked together in class and me. Who cares if one of my students discovers something amazing? No one outside the class is ever going to learn of it, so it does absolutely nothing to further science or make others aware of some of the fascinating things that insects do.
In an effort to remedy this deplorable state of affairs, my insect behavior students are being given the opportunity to submit some of their classwork in blog format for the first time. Students who choose this option may submit their lab reports and their lab notebooks online via science blogs they create. It is my hope that some of the interesting and/or valuable things that my students learn will finally be made available outside of class for people who are interested in the behaviors we study. Aside from the benefits to science-loving people outside the class, I also believe that making their classwork available publicly will benefit my students. Writing something that everyone can read makes you think about things more thoroughly, convinces you to look up that fact you are not completely sure is true, makes you more concerned about embarrassing yourself in public. Or at least, this is what I choose to believe. :)
I don’t know how many students will choose this option. So far, it doesn’t seem popular for submitting lab reports, but I believe at least a few of them are submitting their lab notebooks as a blog. The lab notebooks are probably more interesting for others to read anyway. Really, though, I’ll be excited if even a few students take the blogging option. If they do, I will post links to thier blogs here when I get them. Some of my current students are likely to produce very high quality work that will be well worth a read. It’s a really excellent group so far, probably the best I’ve had!
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