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Of Blogs, Science, Context(s) and Learning

June 21, 2011Patrick NunnallyUncategorizedComments Off on Of Blogs, Science, Context(s) and Learning

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty much a “20th Century” guy, not an early adopter of all this blogging, Twittering, and social media-type stuff.  I’ve had to be led kicking (and sometimes screaming) into the modern day, and I still sometimes think of bloggers as folks sitting around ranting.

But blogs such as Anne Jefferson’s “Levees and the illusion of flood control” are doing a lot to change my views.  This piece is so informative, and lyrically well written, that it stands on its own as a piece of writing, almost regardless of the content.

But the content is exemplary also, I believe.  For nearly a decade, I have taught a class “Making the Mississippi” to University of Minnesota students who aspire to be planners, landscape architects, architects, or just plain good citizens of their riverfront community.  I think I will (with Anne Jefferson’s permission of course) start assigning this blog as one of the opening assignments.  The hydrology is sound, yet accessible, and the historical and land use contexts in which hydrologic science becomes “real” to a community are vividly presented.  And there are even good comments:  if you read the blog post, scroll down through the first few comments until you get to the longish discussion of how FEMA regulations may be interfering with innovative floodplain management.

This sort of work is increasingly how we learn:  a strong narrative/explanatory thread, liberally illustrated with relevant images, and linked out to important sidebars that provide information that richly supplements the material at hand.  Great stuff, and, to use the vernacular of my teaching practice, should be “required reading” for people in a host of river-related practices.

So I was glad to hear today that “Levees and the illusion of flood control” was one of the winners in the 3quarksdaily 2001 Science Prize Contest.  I am not a scientist, but I have been a writer for a long time, and I welcome the encouragement such a contest offers to science writers.  Judge Lisa Randall has contributed an extensive summary of the winning entries, in which she offers cogent musings on the value of blogs as scientific discourse.  Again, should be “required reading” for science faculty who actually (as opposed to just paying lip service) want to achieve broader impacts of their work.

Readers:  I’d love to hear about other incisive, accessible science writing on the several disciplines that pertain to rivers–send them along, and I’ll respond as I am able!

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