Blogging helps students AND professors to write more clearly

Plant ecology students in the greenhouse 2014

Some of my 2014 Plant Ecology students, with TA Mel Goral, right

I didn't do much undergraduate teaching when I was director of IRIS (York University's now closed Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability). My course releases enabled me to attend loads of meetings, in place of lectures, where I ate A LOT of baked goods. I also ground through piles of financial, and other administrative paperwork, in lieu of grading student assignments!

I was excited about getting back to teaching undergraduate courses, and incorporating the stuff I had learned from working with colleagues across the university. I added a blogging assignment to the Plant Ecology and Applied Plant Ecology courses. I wanted students to have some form of writing practice that was less daunting than a major research essay, and less nerdy, than a lab. report. In short, some form of science communication that they could show their families. In my 2014 field course, my goal was to give students sorely needed practice in communicating about science, via something as simple as a photo and title.

Kudlik stone lamp used by inuit and arctic cotton plants used for wicks

A well written blog post is as accessible as a clear powerpoint slide. My 10th Advent Botany post on Arctic Cotton will be published December 21st, 2017

Like a clear powerpoint slide (right), a well-written blog post requires disciplined, clear thinking. A post is a form of writing that can build the confidence of anxious science students. Short posts lends themselves to students getting and incorporating feedback into a re-write during a semester-long course. Learning to hear, and absorb constructive criticism, and then using it to update work, is a skill that we don't emphasize enough in undergraduate degrees around the world.

I continue to blog at this lab website. I want to maintain my hard-earned skills learned from when I started writing posts back in 2006, as part of our efforts to renovate the prettily-designed but un-dynamic and uninteresting IRIS website. I soon realized that blogging was like no other form of academic writing, and a great exercise in science communications.

Cranberry juice bottles

Field research for my latest Advent Botany post about cranberries

I also write guest blogs for friends' and colleagues' websites. I'm contributing, for the 4th year, to the Advent Botany blog at the University of Reading, founded by Drs. Jonathan Mitchley and Alastair Culham. My 9th Advent Botany post about cranberries, was published yesterday. These posts have been a way for me to revisit, reflect upon and reinforce the linkages between people and plants that I make in Plant Biology, as a way to lure students into liking learning about botany!

I get to do fun field research, like looking for good shots of cranberry juice. My next Advent Botany post is on arctic cotton -- plants used in the wicks of the qulliq (kudlik), the traditional Inuit seal oil lamp that lit and warmed snowhouses through the depths of winter. See the powerpoint slide above, that has photos that I will use for the post.

If you want to improve your writing and your science communication, then dipping your toe into science blogging isn't a bad idea.