Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Blog Evaluation III

For those who are not concerned about the class details with respect to blogging itself, I don't recommend torturing yourself with this post.  If you really want to see how I rate my blogging abilities, then by all means, read on!
I have to admit that I have had a blast with this class.  My uncle also graduated from Mines, though he did it back in the late 70s.  He told me as a freshman not to miss out on the liberal arts classes that Mines offers because he too had to take them and they changed the way he viewed life in many ways.  I never really believed him and always just kind of thought that the liberal arts core at Mines was just a vain attempt at getting engineering students to do something else for a while.  Well, I was wrong.  This class really changed how I believe dealing with any kind of communication should be done.  Before this class, I would never have believed that people wouldn't gain understanding by just hearing the facts...I mean the facts were communicating the meaning to me.  Jen, I thank you for showing me that facts are not communication.  The human aspect  related to understanding does not come from the facts.  Communication is all about capturing the human aspect.

So I had to say that to preface what I was trying to do with my blog over the semester.  At the beginning, I was definitely using the deficit model.  Bombardment with facts was key to everyone understanding.  It was basically the same approach that my professors were taking to teach such things as nuclear fission and basic reactor physics concepts.  As it turns out, people not become nuclear engineers just don't care.  I had to change my style.

My first strategy was trying to get my enthusiasm for the subject across to reader.  This had some mild success, but it can only carry you so far.  My presentation of the subject was still rooted in the deficit model.  I was just disguising bombardment of facts with an enthusiastic tone.  The trick eventually wore off and nobody seemed to care anymore.

It was when Fukushima hit that I really started understanding what science communication was about.  I couldn't just communicate facts, but I had to capture the human element of the reader.  A person reading a science blog probably has some want of getting facts, but they are still human.  They aren't really going to absorb the facts if their humanity is not engaged.  At first, I struggled a lot with how to do this.  In the wake of a disaster, there were a lot of people interested in nuclear power.  It was frustrating watching the media not give the straight facts about the situation.  Then I realized that they were bringing the human element into the story.  Nobody ever would have cared about Fukushima if the media had only presented numbers and facts and did not interpret what kind of impact the event was having on the people.  The general audience did not care about the science of what was happening at the reactor...they cared about what effect the events were having.  This is the line that science communication must walk.  How to communicate the information involved with the science while drawing interest by making it hit home.  I know this sounds like the obvious point of the class, but this point really took a while to hit home with me.

I really first began to develop my style at this point.  I had to learn to bring myself down and stop lecturing to the reader.  I wanted my blog to become more of a discussion (like around a fire) than a lecture that a person would get in class.  This is the basis for my voice.  I want to act like I am exploring the issue along with the reader.  The fact that I knew the information like the back of my hand has nothing to do with being a good communicator.  It is all about walking the reader through the information in a way that is not intimidating to them.  Perhaps I was not always 100% effective at this, but I think I got better with practice.

Many of the posts right after Fukushima and thus for the second grading period were more damage type posts and even a few rants.  It was important material to discuss as the science was not well understood by much of the public.  I had to base those discussions in more of a political atmosphere.  Because people love controversy being that it really reaches down into peoples emotions, it was easy to communicate about the Fukushima incident.  To really get better at science communication though, I had to get away from the politically charged posts dealing with Fukushima and get back to doing some good meat and potatoes type science communication.

This took me into the third grading period.  I had a list of material that I wanted to try and cover this semester, so I decided to get back to that list and present some technical ideas in ways that people might really relate to.  This is also when we began reading Randy Olsen's book.  I must say that that book has had a significant impact on me really finding not only my blogging voice, but also my general communication voice.  Reading this book is when I realized that being able to speak the foreign language of science was not to be used against people who aren't scientists.  It is like going to Mexico and seeing all the natives make fun of you in Spanish and you don't speak Spanish.  It just isn't fair.  I have to admit that this might have been something I have done in the past to people.  My attitude has totally changed though.

The biggest aspect of Olson's advice I tried to incorporate into my blogging was using a story to actually get people through my entire post.  I know that many of my posts are quite long and detailed, and I know this means that people probably read the beginning and then if I am lucky skim the rest.  Telling a story is the solution of capturing my reader and getting them to read the whole post without knowing it.  This is a technique that is a bit tricky when it comes to technical issues, but I find it can be done.  Whether it is telling about my personal experience with the subject or just developing the whole story of the technological scenario.  The key is that the information that you actually want to give is the punch line to the story.  It is kind of like telling a good joke.  If people know there is a punch line, they follow your every detail until you get to the punch line.  As a blogger, I want my readers to know that there is going to be a punch line, but they have to read to get there.  It is a story.  Science always has a story.  Why?  Because science is done by man.  What you have been saying all along totally makes sense now.  Where man is involved, there is a story to tell and this is what people are interested in.  I can present the cold hard facts, or I can present what the story of the facts, the story of the implications, and the story of the effects.  This is only done when it is realized that man is the reason this is being done.  The science has a long entangled story with man, and by making the reader that man the science was entangled with, they will all the sudden have an interest.  It is really a miracle!

Ok, so now I am preaching to the choir, but I was just so excited in figuring this out that I had to let it back out.  What I have been trying to say is that I have been trying to put both myself as well as a story into my writing.  And actually I think the most effective way to do this is to just sit down at the computer and let it flow.  At the beginning of the class, it was all about planning exactly what I want to say in a very structured and "easy to follow" format.  Now I just like to sit down and type it from the "gut" so to speak.  From a scientific point of view, the information is probably harder to decipher in detail, but hey, it is interesting!  Humor is also a big help.  Hit somebody with a funny image they weren't expecting and you have them stuck for another couple paragraphs.  These are all new strategies I was trying to incorporate over the last grading period.  I hope they showed as much as I was trying to use them!

I am not only applying these techniques in blog writing by the way.  I also play in a band where I actually have to communicate with an audience.  I am very excited to use some of the new techniques on won't necessarily be science communication, but it will definitely help me capture the audience.  I can't wait!  The video that we put together was all about satisfying the needs of this class.  It was a PSA project, and I figured communicating science was what needed to be done.  We went way above what Dr. King actually wanted from us, but science communication is not about just giving the facts.  We wanted more.  I was really proud of that video and put some of my blogging time into its production.  That is why I made it one of my posts!

I still feel that I have a lot of practice to do with story telling.  I need to get better at motivating the punch line at the beginning of the story so people don't think I am rambling about nothing.  I have worked on this, but I know it is a habit of mine.  I don't want people to think I just need to get to the point.  Story telling is a tricky business, and it requires practice.  More practice is exactly what I intend to do.  Though practicing in technical papers just gets you a lot of red ink in return...I learned that this semester as well ;)

As far as the logistical part of the evaluation.  I have tried to keep the three blog posts a week level of the course of the grading period.  There was one week where I was only able to do two posts just got too busy that week.  I have also tried to keep up my commenting and replying to comments on my blog.  I really like how blogspot gave us a way to subscribe to the comment feeds so we could see when we got replies.  I have tried to keep commenting about 6 or 7 times a week, but there have been a couple weeks where I didn't have that much time to follow blogs.  Those weeks I still tried to comment at least 3 to 4 times.  Being an active part of the blogging community has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had at Mines, and I am not just saying that either.  I have really had a great time and am sad to see the project coming to a close.  I think that I have earned an A for this blog project.  I have learned a ton and have put a lot of time, though, and effort into my blog.


Aaron Ackerman said...

Haha, I am sorry for making this so epically long Jen! It just kept flowing...I think I am going to be one of those old people that kids hate just because I love to reminisce about what I have done!

`Xandra said...

I think you deserve an A too, even with the spelling that makes an English teacher like me cringe :) I love you, and I can't wait to read through this blog and really try to understand what it is you do, what you are passionate about. I hope this will help me to better understand you while you are far away on the other side of the country tinkering with nuclear reactors on submarines!

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