Sunday, July 28, 2013

Impact of failed satellites

An article on the website BBC Future asks “what would happen if all satellites stopped working?”

The author, Richard Hollingham, writes a scenario of what could possibly happen throughout the day – at 8:00, 11:00, 16:00 and 22:00. The way it is written is a classic impact analysis; that is, a step-by-step description of the domino effect started by such an event.

At my university, we like to teach engineering students impact analysis so that they can be more aware of the possible impacts of their future work. So I will definitely use this article next semester.

Students can be asked to brainstorm the effects of all satellites no longer working, and then compare their ideas in a class discussion. In small groups, they could put their in chronological order, or in the order that each would impact the others, and from this decide how they would write their list as an impact analysis.

The article presents each possible scenario written in the past and past progressive tenses, as if the effects are being reported after they happen. For extra language work, students can change some of these sentences into a form of the conditional. For example: A pilot squadron lost contact with the armed drones they were flying over the Middle East would be changed to A pilot squadron would lose contact with the armed drones they were flying over the Middle East.

Finally, at the end of the article, readers are asked: “Do you agree with Richard? If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.” Instead, students can write their comment in class or as a follow-up homework assignment. A message for Twitter would be particularly interesting, because they would have to limit their comment to no more than 140 characters (which requires a clear focus on word choices).

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