3:45 PM 0 comments

How Blogs Will Be Graded

Blogs are messy beasts, having a life of their own.  You know that your grade on the blog project (700 points total) will take into account many elements—you effort in designing an effective blog, the frequency and quality of your posts, your engagement with news items and other bloggers or writers in your field of interest, and your commitment to comment on your classmates’ blogs. 

While I will read and frequently comment on your blogs and blog posts, keeping track of all of this for grading purposes is something of an administrative nightmare.  And, having one big assignment be worth 70% of your grade can seem intimidating.  So, I will need your help in evaluating your efforts on the blogs. 

There will be three evaluation periods for blog grading. For all evaluation periods, you will need to provide a one-page self-evaluation—posted on your blog--as to your progress, keeping in mind the grading rubric and guidelines below.  The instructor will review your blog and your record of other work according to the grading rubric provided below and provide you with an evaluation (not made publicly available).  The evaluation periods and point allocations are as follows:

February 9th:  First evaluation period (200 pts).
March 23rd:  Second evaluation period (200 pts)
May 4th:  Final evaluation period (300 pts).

The grading rubric provided below indicates how your blog projects will be evaluated.  My hope is that all projects will at least meet C requirements; some may not and will receive lower grades, and some may exceed those expectations and receive higher grades.

A “C” blog:

    Has met all of the basic requirements for posting (minimum number of posts required per week, on required topics, appropriate level of civility and formality, deals with topics of class),
    Is clearly written and well organized, with few grammatical or stylistic errors,
    Features posts that are focused on a particular issue, news item, research, or other salient issue,
    Garners engagement from other blog users,
    Reflects engagement with other blogs or publications on the topic,
    Uses multimedia forms of communication well, and
    Is written by someone who also engages other bloggers in the class by commenting on their blogs.

A “B” blog:

    Has fully met all of the basic requirements for posting (minimum number of posts required per week, on required topics, appropriate level of civility and formality, deals with topics of class), and has gone beyond what was required by posting additional posts, using design in surprising or interesting ways, or otherwise exceeding the minimum expectations for the assignment,
    Is clearly written and well organized, with few grammatical or stylistic errors, and is written in such a way that readers are inspired to follow up with comments, or reflects a unique voice and style that suggest additional work or effort beyond the minimum requirements,
    Features posts that are focused on a particular issue, news item, research, or other salient issue, and engages with those posts thoughtfully and meaningfully in original writing,
    Garners engagement from other blog users, commenting on comments and maintaining a dialogue with readers (forming a blog community),
    Reflects engagement with other blogs or publications on the topic, and posts/reflects on that engagement in meaningful and interesting ways,
    Uses multimedia forms of communication well, perhaps creating own multimedia to post, using hyperlinks persistently and well, and making sure content is relevant, and
    Is written by someone who also engages other bloggers in the class by commenting on their blogs (forming a blog community).

An “A” blog:

    Has exceeded all of the requirements for posting, including writing frequent, thoughtful and engaging posts, using blog design in innovative, exciting, or thoughtful ways, and updating posts/comments/design frequently,
    Is written in a clear, unique, and insightful manner such that the author’s voice comes through in an engaging, exciting, and respectful matter,
    Demonstrates a clear willingness to write about the topic and engage with new perspectives; posts are focused, interesting, humble, and seek public engagement,
    Is a respectful, consistent, and earnest member of the classroom blogging community, going beyond requirements to communicate and engage with other writers on his/her own blog and on their blogs,
    Interacts with scholarly, intellectual, or knowledgeable (and/or lay) publics about the topic beyond the classroom blogging community, and
    Persistently uses multimedia forms of communication in innovative, imaginative, or creative ways (maybe even taking some risks).

A “D” blog:

    Posts consistently short, incoherent, or jumbled content unrelated to the theme of the blog or the themes of the class,
    Displays a lack of care or interest in the topic, class, or assignment via the blog,
    Uses multimedia sparingly or not at all,
    Does not engage with important events, ideas, or writers on the topic,
    Is disrespectful or disengaged when interacting with fellow commenters or posters, and
    Does not meet all minimum weekly assignment requirements.

An “F” blog:

    Does not meet minimum weekly assignment requirements,
    Features posts that are irrelevant, incomplete, or inappropriate,
    Does not engage other writers, or engages them inappropriately, and
    Suggests no interest or care.
11:02 AM 17 comments

The Politics of Clean Coal

As someone with ongoing interests in energy development and its impact on the environment and communities, I've watched the public debate over the future of coal with keen interest, and have even written about it some here.  Granted, I'm not a scientist or engineer, and certainly am not a technical expert in carbon capture and sequestration (commonly known as CCS).  But from a communication and media perspective, it's fascinating to observe the political dimensions of this debate.

So I was interested to read this short article, which appeared in the journal Nature this week.  It's called "Low-cost carbon-capture project sparks interest," and in my view, it's similar to a lot of media coverage of CCS and its more popular but also nebulous cousin, "clean coal."  By that I mean that it seems to hit a note of excitement about the potential for CCS, but when read closely, may reveal nothing about CCS's advancement or potential.

The article details possible advancements made by the Huaneng Group in China, who apparently are capturing CO2 using an already-understood method at this plant:

From Nature

Not a big deal, right?  There is not necessarily anything of note technologically happening here.

Except, of course, that they claim they are also doing it cheaply, much cheaper than anyone else in the world has been able to do it.  And this is a hugely big deal, because right now, CCS is very, very expensive.  Those high costs could keep it from being a useful technology to answer worries over climate pollution.

This strikes me as interesting for a number of reasons.  "Clean coal" is an incredibly politicized technology:  if you say you are for clean coal, you are going to be seen as a dupe of big energy, a fool who believes in magic-bullet technologies, or a manipulator only interested in the status quo.  If you are critical of clean coal technologies, you are uninformed, a naysayer, lacking vision and understanding of technical progress.  This polarization has been exacerbated by ad campaigns from both sides, which have produced the following ads:

At least, that is what the debate looks like from the outside, in general terms.  Of course, CCS continues to garner huge amounts of federal funding; scientific research in CCS proceeds apace; and some demonstration projects are nascent but on their way toward yielding interesting results.  There have been some serious and substantial setbacks that should give us pause, particularly when it comes to the "storage" aspects of CCS.  Check out this story for one such case, where a storage project in Canada seems to be going badly awry.

Stories like the Nature piece on Huaneng, however, are more optimistic.  They suggest that the technology is potentially available, and that we are in a race to get there.  Whether and how those technologies can be shared between nations is another matter.

Furthermore, we are seeing a lot of stories in which China's amazing progress in energy production and extraction (both conventional and renewables) has really got the West worried, and the Nature article has more than a little of this competitiveness narrative informing its reporting here.

But the fact is, there is still enormous uncertainty when it comes to CCS and its future.  Climate change is not waiting for us to develop CCS, nor do we know what unforeseen effects may result from individual CCS projects.  It is also, for the moment, incredibly expensive (at least, it is everywhere but China, apparently).  So whether it will be a promising pathway to explore as we pursue our climate and energy options is anyone's guess.  I'm not terribly optimistic, but that doesn't mean it's not moving forward anyway.
2:16 PM 3 comments

Science in Policy

Check out this editorial by Roland Schenkel in Science Magazine on the difficulties of introducing and using science in policy-making.

Key quotation:  "Likewise, will the scientific community be modest enough to accept that science communication is just one important consideration on the table when decision-makers have to make choices?"
4:01 PM 10 comments

Climate Central on the New Normals

The Climate Central site is an interesting experiment in science communication about climate change.  Their tagline is "Sound Science and Vibrant Media," and the nonprofit organization--funded by an array of foundations and government organizations (including the Army Corps of Engineers)--aims to provide "clear, honest, nonpartisan, and up-to-date information to help people make sound decisions about climate and energy."  Their unstated goal, in particular, seems to be to produce short video clips about climate change basics that could, potentially, be picked up by other media organizations.

Their most recent offering, for example, is called "The New Normals."  It's a video narrated by scientist Heidi Cullen (formerly of the Weather Channel) that explains how our "normal" temperatures need to be shifted to account for increasingly warmer global averages.  Shifting what counts as normal will affect everything from how we predict the weather to how we plan agriculture.  It's a significant attention-getter that points to rapidly shifting global weather patterns over time (otherwise known as climate change).

The Climate Central experiment is interesting from a communication perspective for a number of reasons.  The videos constitute original science reporting content, which can be picked up by any number of organizations (media or otherwise) and which reflect the increasing trend away from mainstream science journalism and toward independent journalism.  Did you know, for example, that the National Science Foundation has its own state-of-the-art television studio, where it produces original science content for networks like Discovery?  Developments such as this, along with the explosive growth of science blogs, is no doubt a result of the fact that major news networks like CNN have laid off their entire science reporting staffs in recent years.

But the Climate Central videos also raise interesting questions about the role of science (especially climate science) and communication with the public.  The videos are aimed at a popular audience, and clearly are keyed toward explaining the basics of climate science, particularly as it relates to things like severe weather events.  They strive, in a sense, to be apolitical (though in the U.S. even attempting to explain the basics of climate science can seem political).  In general, I think they are hoping to serve as what Roger Pielke, Jr., might call "honest brokers."

But who is watching Climate Central?  Who seeks out original content online to understand the basics of climate science?  Are the reasoned voices of Cullen and the other scientists at Climate Central whispering in a vast echo chamber where only those who yell loudest can be heard?  And is simply providing more information what we need right now when it comes to climate policy?

None of this is clear right now.  We'll have to watch and see.  Meanwhile, the normals are changing.
2:19 PM 10 comments

LSD Research

I hesitate to post this as the first content post on CommForge, but it appeared first at the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I suppose LSD research counts as scientific research, so I'll post it here.

This video is funny, of course--I mean, who doesn't want to see a 1950s housewife freed from the constraints she must have experienced at the time?  She's so restrained and coy in the beginning of the interview, before taking the drug, and so expressive and interesting afterwards.

I wish the Chronicle had provided some context and commentary, though.  There are significant gender politics involved here--why are we so interested in a "housewife" taking drugs?  What is the representation of "science" here, in the form of the staid, controlled scientist observing the female subject?  What about the discussion between the two scientists at the end?  They are almost caricatures of the mad scientist themselves.  What message about the scientist is being communicated?  Why was LSD research being performed at that moment?  What are/were its political ramifications?

All of that is missing here, as this video has gone viral, and I think the Chronicle missed a chance to do some interesting science communication here.  I'm not convinced this video speaks for itself.
1:38 PM 0 comments

Recommended Blogs

Hi everyone!  Students will soon be creating their own science-oriented blogs.  In preparation for that semester-long project, we'll start by reviewing some blogs we like.

Students were asked to search for science and engineering or tech blogs online, and to submit their favorites.  Here are the blogs that made the cut:

Bad Astronomy
60-Second Science
GenengNews' Biotech Blog
Atomic Insights
Starts With a Bang
Engineering Ethics
Popular Science's Energy Blog
Time's Ecocentric Blog
Cooking for Engineers
Technology Review's Potential Energy
Science, Culture, and Knowledge
Rare Metal Blog
Wired's The Frontal Cortex
Wired's Genetic Future
National Geographic's Breaking Orbit
IEEE's Optoelectronics
Research Blogging
Nanotechnology Today
Drilling Ahead's Oilfield
Atlantic Geothermal
Wired's Gadget Lab
Big Think's Age of Engagement
Wired's Laelaps
Dean's Corner
Engineering.com's A New Weapon

Some of my favorites include:

Dot Earth
and Roger Pielke, Jr.'s, blog

Next up?  We'll be talking about the explicit and implicit rules of blogging, and what makes for a good blog dealing science and technology.  Stay tuned!