Blogging to extend the classroom

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Tomorrow I will give a short talk on using my blog in a higher education setting. I only have a few minutes to talk so thought I should write a blog to explain in more detail. Read on…

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My ‘day job’ title is Senior Lecturer in Forensic and Analytical Science, at Sheffield Hallam University, where I teach mainly on the ‘BSc Forensic Science’ and ‘BSc Chemistry’ degrees.  For the past few years I have been writing blog posts on the areas of forensic science and sports drug testing for personal and professional interest. I started writing to help me keep on top of the news in the area and admittedly to promote my ‘brand’ as I was only employed on a temporary contract. It grew into an area to explore new and interesting topics and also the subject of my talk – extending the classroom. Many of the blogs are now embedded into my teaching and I will continue to add more as appropriate for this reason.

 

Extending the classroom

This was not an aim when I started writing, but it has become one of my main reasons for continuing to blog now. I use some of the posts to focus on a particular area of interest to a group of students, with either more detail or links to more papers/resources than given in the lecture. the two main areas I would break this content into are ‘professional practice’ and ‘science content’.  For some blogs I add the link in the lecture notes, others I promote via various other mechanisms. The aim is to get the student interested in reading around the subject outside of the formal contact areas, with items I know to be of use or interest to their studies.  These are additional to the formal texts and journal articles they are expected to read for their studies.

Professional practice

One of the key metrics for Universities is the post graduate employment of students. As such we all embed a lot of ’employability’ into the curriculum. My aim for the blog is to make students aware of professional issues affecting forensic science which they may be asked about in interview for particular posts. I have written articles on conferences I have been to, issues that have arisen that they should be aware of, or high profile cases. In the final year module ‘Advanced Topics’ we discuss the current models of forensic science service provision and issues surrounding them. Fragmentation of cases is discussed, it also linked nicely to a case I was involved in here: ‘Fragmentation…‘. These examples all help them keep up to date with what is happening in the world of forensic science, hopefully enabling them to appear well read and interested in the subject when it comes to interview!

Science content

Sometimes a topic will come up in the news which can be linked directly to my teaching. Sometimes before the session, sometimes after.  Two years ago I gave a session on forensic toxicology to our second years and a case of carbon monoxide poisoning came up – so I wrote about it, with some background and the types of cases that frequently came up when I was working as a toxicologist.

In the final year I teach a large chunk on ‘Sports drug testing’. For this I have a large amount of content for them to read. To enable a focussed search of the blog I use tagging of each blog, for instance ‘doping’ brings up a long list of articles here: http://www.weareforensic.co.uk/tag/doping/

Embedding content

 

BBsiteI use many tools to try and get students reading around the topic – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, as well as through the VLE site (shown here on the right). I embed a Twitter feed and link to the Pinterest board, just below the official ‘Module Resource List’ which links to formal texts and suggested reading.  In lecture notes I have given short url links or QR codes to encourage them to read the blog!

Summary

I have tried to engage students using these blogs, I try and discuss them in class when applicable and encourage their input. I get good feedback from those I know read them. It seems the sports doping blogs get particularly high readership – whether this is because the topic is of most interest to them, most relevant to their studues or as final year students they are more engaged I am not sure. One issue I do face is getting students to comment either on the blogs or through social media.  I would love to hear any suggestions on getting this conversations flowing.

 

Any thoughts?  Any blogs you use to encourage wider reading or as a student is there a blog you turn to to help your understanding or keep up to date with your subject?

Thanks for reading!

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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. Dr B is currently a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. And yes... he watches CSI.