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Blogs In Design Engineering Classes

:: We haven't posted for a few days. Geoff and I attended Netspeed 2004, where Geoff and James Rout of The Banff Centre presented an excellent session on RSS. Geoff also took "rough notes" from some of the sessions he attended, which are available for viewing on his web site.

Yesterday I presented a session on information resources in chemical engineering for students in the fourth-year chemical engineering design class. As with my October 12th presentation to the fourth-year mechanical engineering design class, I took a few moments to mention blogs as a project management tool.

Since the Oct 12 class, four groups approached me for help setting up a blog for each, and all are making good use of them. After my chem eng presentation, I helped one group set up their blog, and another is meeting with me today.

Unlike other schools such as U Minn or Harvard, we have no campus-wide support for blogs as instructional technology. We are fortunate to have a campus-wide support unit called Academic Technologies for Learning, who work with instructors to develop best practice teaching and learning environments. ATL is aware that some instructors are incorporating blogs into their teaching, and is in the preliminary stages of addressing the need for campus-wide support.

With no blog support at the University of Alberta, students can be directed to Blogger. What I am doing is taking it one step further. Blogger offers the option of hosting the blog on your own server space. I am suggesting to students that one of the group members hosts the blog on her or his server space, provided by the U of A to all students and staff. One benefit locally is that the blog can be password protected, permitting only team members, and anyone else so designated, to have access to and/or post to the blog.

I provide the information necessary to do this, to each group. Last year, when I set up blogs for the mech eng class, it wasn't too difficult. Changes in programs used to access and maintain Unix accounts have made the process more complicated, so much so that I realized I needed to create my own cheat sheet, still in draft form to this day.

That said, the rewards of helping set up blogs for group project management outweigh the time it takes to set each one up. The students are grateful for the support, and see the immediate benefits of using a blog to manage their work: less e-mails, text messaging, phone calls, scheduled meetings, which saves time to work on their designs. In addition, the blog lets them upload and store critical links and documents to one location.

Another challenge for me, and any librarian who chooses to provide such support, is time management. More on that later, if warranted.

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