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Published March 10, 2013 | Physics

The Engineer’s Pulse

Getting Started

I've always been interested in topics like the search for life and space travel. Not all my friends from high school shared these interests, and I'm pleased to say that although I've made some friends in engineering, I've many enduring friendships out of the field. So, at some point you really want an outlet to express your interests, and when you're not getting it with your immediate surroundings, a blog is an attractive option.

Although a friend helped me to set-up my blog on Blogspot in 2010, the procedure is simple and since then, I've helped a number of people get started. It takes about 45 minutes. The hardest part was coming up with a name that didn't already exist.

Screenshot of the homepage of the author's blog The Engineer's Pulse

The home page is an open invitation to external visitors. "For Physics student" section target physics students.

Creating an Online Conversation

I taught for at least a year without incorporating my blog into my teaching. I wrote about my interests outside of physics for a general audience, but before long, I found myself writing for 18 year old science-minded people because that's the audience I found myself in front of – all the time.

And before long, instead of writing about whatever interests I may have had, I started writing about teaching the kind of content I’m teaching. You know, I had been an engineer; that was my life, but suddenly, I was teaching, and those interests came to the fore. Before, I wouldn’t write long articles on how F = ma pertains to one’s life and philosophies, but suddenly that seemed only logical. It was only a matter of time before I would integrate them into the class.

The leap from theory to reality, however, is not always graceful. My first attempt was reading a hard copy of an article out loud to my class. The article was controversial because the title was – The Relativity of Religion. I was teaching relativity in the waves class. Student response was lackluster.

This semester I’m treating my articles as pre-reading material because they’re not so technical; they’re conceptual. There are not many equations or numbers. I’m trying to go deep into a concept, and my target audience is somebody who’s not in my course, someone who never got into science but who wants to learn a bit of physics.

Therefore, I can assign such an article as pre-reading for students unfamiliar with such material. I have students put their thoughts about the topic on paper before class in physics journals, and then we can begin class on that topic. The journals are a reasonably new idea for me. Although I could have students write their ideas or opinions as a reaction to a post in my blog, weeding through that many comments would be a bit messy. With their journals, I can see how students are progressing. I see the journals as students’ path to success. When I grade, I’m looking for two things - Is it done on time and has it been taken seriously? The grade is not a significant percentage, and these aren’t long assignments, but I am hoping that these exercises will make a difference in test scores.

Finally, students do comment on my blog some times, even though they’re not required to. As the blog is an online space, I have had situations where student comments received a reaction from someone as far away as Europe. Suddenly, they’re in an online conversation.

Changing the Subject

Get hooked on science!I’ve tried to update the blog once weekly for the past 2 ½ years. I’m pretty much on pace at 110 postings of about a thousand words each. Content in the blog shifted after I required students to write journals and currently, there are three focuses. The theme of physics concepts relates to my classes. I’m trying to delve deeply into the concept philosophically from many points of view. That’s currently my favorite kind of post, and is an outgrowth of my teaching.

A third of the topics discuss current events in physics and engineering. A few weeks ago, I wrote about sub-absolute zero temperatures, something that’s been reached recently in the lab. I’ve also explored NASA’s futuristic plan to travel faster than the speed of light in a spacecraft, not by actually moving through space faster than the speed of light, but by compressing and expanding space around the spaceship. The remaining topics are of a more varied and eclectic nature.

Learning from my Experience

The experience of writing my blog has taught me a number of things. First, whether there’s classroom involvement or not, you have to be interested in what you’re writing. It’s easy to start and there’s no pressure to continue, but that’s the only way your readership grows.

I invite Profweb’s readers to visit and comment. Get hooked on science!

I have found that my blog has produced a number of unexpected results. Your students, at least the more ambitious ones, see you as more human, because they’re interacting with you outside of the classroom by actively reading your work. This is where you can build interest for your subject that goes beyond the material that’s presented in class. I can even keep in touch with some students who have graduated and remain science-minded. Comments on The Engineer’s Pulse allow students to develop an enthusiasm for science that goes beyond the classroom!

Recently the Engineers Pulse became an external site on Profweb’s Personal Space. I invite Profweb’s readers to visit and comment. Get hooked on science!

We’ve all dealt with the issue of keeping online personal lives distinct from academic identities. I have found that bringing my personal blog into the classroom has made a real difference in the instruction I offer my students, while keeping my privacy intact.Therefore, I can assign such an article as pre-reading for students unfamiliar with such material. I have students put their thoughts about the topic on paper before class in physics journals, and then we can begin class on that topic. The journals are a reasonably new idea for me. Although I could have students write their ideas or opinions as a reaction to a post in my blog, weeding through that many comments would be a bit messy. With their journals, I can see how students are progressing. I see the journals as students’ path to success. When I grade, I’m looking for two things - Is it done on time and has it been taken seriously? The grade is not a significant percentage, and these aren’t long assignments, but I am hoping that these exercises will make a difference in test scores.

Finally, students do comment on my blog some times, even though they’re not required to. As the blog is an online space, I have had situations where student comments received a reaction from someone as far away as Europe. Suddenly, they’re in an online conversation.

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