Josh Gross and I have been teaching a graduate-level Genetics of Adaptation course this quarter. It has been an extremely fun class--students present a seminar-style lecture on a recent paper, followed by a discussion--and the discussions have been excellent. The students appeared to enjoy the reading and the discussion never really faltered throughout.
Along with being graded on their presentations, and the discussion following the presentation, the students are required to write a blog post about a topic that covers, broadly, the genetics of adaptation. We have given them very little restrictions over their blog topic, but we have asked them to write their posts for the general public. There are a few reasons we went this route rather than having them write a term paper. First, just as it takes training to write scientifically, it also takes training to write to a general audience. We figured they should begin to learn how to do this sooner rather than later, because, practically speaking, they will have people outside of their field critically evaluate their writing at some point--whether for a grant, a job, etc etc. It makes sense to begin developing this skill now. Second, one of the very important tasks that we do as scientists is outreach, again, to the general public. For example, some scientists will get involved with the local community and give general topics lectures to gardening or naturalist clubs. Some people work with local non-profits, some with local school-age kids and science fairs: it's all in the name of making a difference, promoting change, or just being a good citizen and contributing. I can get behind that. Thus the blog posts that we require from our students is an exercise both in writing and in contributing their knowledge of evolutionary biology, the cornerstone of biology, to the general public.
I will be posting these blog entries here at Science in Cinci over the next week or so, and will indicate when an entry was from the course along with the student's name. Please check in often, and leave comments!