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As part of the University of Edinburgh’s Academic Blogging Service, I’ve been teaching a workshop on Blogging to Build your Professional Profile. This workshop has run once a month since September last year and I’ve also presented tailored versions of it to various groups around the University, most recently to student interns who are working with us during the summer.
In order to make the workshop materials as open and reusable as possible, I created them on a WordPress blog running Alan Levine’s fabulous SPLOT Point theme. This proved to be a smart move because it means it’s really easy to update the materials as I’ve gained greater understanding of which topics are of interest and concern to colleagues around the University.
One topic that I’ve always felt the workshop materials didn’t adequately cover is the drawbacks of using social media. During the workshop I point colleagues towards the University’s Managing Your Digital Foot Print resources, and in the section on Amplifying your Blog with Social Media I always make the point that social media can be a hostile environment for women, people of colour and marginalised groups in particular, however I didn’t have anything explicitly covering this in the course materials. Three things have prompted me to address this. Firstly, a female colleague who spoke to me in private after a workshop to ask about using pseudonyms on social media as she had legitimate concerns about her privacy and safety. Secondly a male colleague who explained to me during a workshop that it’s not just women and people of colour who experience harassment online. (This is true, but it does not negate the fact that there are specific gendered and racist aspects to online harassment.) And thirdly, this article by Katherine Wright, which I recently read, about how twitter can be a hostile environment that “can and does have serious repercussions for women and other marginalised groups.” Wright goes on to say:
“Given the severity of the gendered and racialised pushback many experience in the public eye, and twitter specifically, all training on social media or engagement should start with this. It is a responsibility of our employers and us as individuals who care about whose voice is heard.”
So in order to start addressing that responsibility the workshop page on Amplifying your blog with social media now includes the following note of caution:
Although using social media, particularly twitter, can be a great way to amplify and disseminate your blog posts, it’s important to be aware that social media can be a hostile environment, particularly for women, people of colour and marginalised groups, who may experience targeted harassment. You should never feel obliged to engage with social media, particularly if you feel unsafe or attacked. Your online safety is of paramount importance.
blogs.ed.ac.uk allows you to choose whether to make your blog posts available to the general public, to EASE authenticated users only, or to keep them completely private. It’s entirely up to you.
All users should exercise caution when disseminating potentially sensitive or controversial topics. A blog post that may not be controversial in an academic context could resulting in unwanted attention or abuse if it circulates widely in the public domain.
Further advice and guidance is available as follows:
I’d be really interested to know how other institutions and organisations are addressing this aspect of e-safety, so if you’ve got links to any guidelines, research or practice, please let me know.
I’ve been rather neglecting this blog recently, ironically because I’ve been busy blogging about blogging on other blogs :} The University of Edinburgh launched a new Academic Blogging Service, including a centrally supported WordPress platform, blogs.ed.ac.uk, last year and the service has really taken off.
In addition to our workshop Blogging to Build your Professional Profile, as part of the roll out of the service, Karen Howie (Digital Learning Applications & Media) and I have been curating a Mini-Series on Academic Blogging over on the Teaching Matters blog. The series features reflections on different uses of academic blogs from staff and students across the university. Together with Susan Greig (Digital Skills) and Daphne Loads (Institute of Academic Development), I wrote a post on blogging for professional accreditation Blogging: What is it good for? The post reflects on my experience of using my blog to create and evidence my CMALT portfolio, while Susan and Daphne discuss how blogging can be used to support CMALT and HEA accreditation.
We’ve also recorded two podcasts as part of the series; one on How Blogging can be used as an effective form of assessment, and another on Blogging to enhance professional practice, which is a conversation between Karen Howie, Eli Appleby-Donald (Edinburgh College of Art), James Lamb (Centre for Research in Digital Education) and I. Though I’ve recorded lots of webinars, this is the first time I’ve recorded a conversational podcast and it was a really fun experience! Karen made a great “interviewer” and, perhaps surprisingly, Eli, James and I managed not to talk over each other all the time. Although all of us have quite a difference experience of and approach to blogging we were all very much in agreement that blogging can be a great way to enhance professional and academic practice.
The week before last I had double blogging; on Wednesday afternoon I gave a talk as part of a panel on “Using Social Media to Engage Research End Users” for colleagues in the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences.
Thank you @EdinburghUni for today's Learning Lunch. All about using social media to engage research end users. Brought to us by an all female panel currently rocking social media. Thank you Clare de Mowbry, Jen Ross @LucyHunterB @LornaMCampbell #womeninacademia pic.twitter.com/kdxAGW07DC
— Marissa Millar (@Marissa_Millar) May 8, 2019
Then later in the evening I joined Girl Geek Scotland to give a talk on professional blogging (slides) as part of and event on “Your Online Self: How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?” Girl Geek Scotland are a network and community for those working and studying in creativity, computing, enterprise, and related sectors in Scotland. As most of the participants are working and building careers in the commercial sector it was quite a different audience to the kind I usually experience and it was really interesting for me to reflect on the affordances and tensions between using blogging and social media to develop your personal profile and to market a personal brand. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the whole event so I missed the discussion sessions later in the evening but Anne-Marie said that there was considerable interest in using blogs for personal development, so I’ll take that as a win. Now all I need to do, is get my own blog back in order!
Thank you to @girlgeekscot, @iZettle and speakers @LornaMCampbell, @ShannonMcEnroy, @SoozYoung for an extremely interesting and informative event tonight about how to present yourself online. Im inspired to knock the dust off this twitter account and tweet again! #womenintech pic.twitter.com/qWqzkdJpw7
— Katharina Bitzan (@katharinabitzan) May 8, 2019
This is the transcript of a talk I gave last week at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Post Graduate Tutors Away Day at the University of Edinburgh. Slides are available here: Opening Online Learning with OER.
Before I go on to talk about open education and OER, I want you to think about Ra’ana Hussein’s inspiring video where she articulates so clearly why participating in the MSc in Paediatric Emergency Medicine has been so empowering for her.
Ra’ana said that the course helps her to be better at her work, and that she gains knowledge and learning that she can implement practically. It’s enabled her to meet people from diverse backgrounds, and connect with a global community of peers that she can share her practice with. She finds online learning convenient, and tailored to her needs and she benefits from having immediate access to support, which helps her to balance her work and study commitments.
I’d like you to try and hold Ra’ana’s words in your mind while we go on and take a look at open education, OER and what it’s got to do with why we’re here today.
What is open education?
Open education is many things to many people.
- A practice?
- A philosophy?
- A movement?
- A human right?
- A licensing issue?
- A buzz word?
- A way to save money?
The principles of the open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of the “emerging open education movement”. The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need. The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.
Aspects of Open Education
Although there’s no one hard and fast definition of open education, one description of the open education movement that I particularly like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…
“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”
Open education is highly contextual and encompasses many different things. These are just some of the aspects of open education
- Open online courses
- Open pedagogy
- Open practice
- Open assessment practices
- Open textbooks
- Open licensing
- Open data
- Open Access scholarly works
- Open educational resources (OER)
Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.
UNESCO define open educational resources as
“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”
UNESCO Policy Instruments
And the reason I’ve chosen this definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of international agencies that actively supports the global adoption of open educational resources. In 2012 UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds, in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment. And in 2017 UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan. Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.
In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said
“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”
The Action Plan acknowledges that open education and OER provide a strategic opportunity to improve knowledge sharing, capacity building and universal access to quality learning and teaching resources. And, when coupled with collaborative learning, and supported by sound pedagogical practice, OER has the transformative potential to increase access to education, opening up opportunities to create and share an array of educational resources to accommodate greater diversity of educator and learner needs.
Open Education at the University of Edinburgh
Now all this may sound very aspirational and possibly a touch idealistic, but here at the University of Edinburgh we believe that open education and OER are strongly in line with our institutional mission to deliver impact for society, discover, develop and share knowledge, and make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to the Scotland, the UK and the world.
Support for Sustainable Development Goals
It’s also worth noting that the University already has a commitment to Sustainable development goals through the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability and the university and college sectors’ Sustainable Development Accord. And the new principal has recently re-stated the University’s commitment to meeting this goals.
The University has a vision for OER which has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission. These are:
- For the common good – encompassing every day teaching and learning materials.
- Edinburgh at its best – high quality resources produced by a range of projects and initiatives.
- Edinburgh’s Treasures – content from our world class cultural heritage collections.
This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience. This OER Policy is itself CC licensed and is adapted from an OER Policy that has already been adopted by a number of other institutions in the UK. The fact that this policy was approved by the Learning and Teaching Committee, rather than by the Knowledge Strategy Committee is significant because it places open education and OER squarely in the domain of teaching and learning, which of course is the domain we’re focusing on here today. The University’s vision for OER is very much the brain child of Melissa Highton, Assisstant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning and Teaching Web Services. However it’s also notable that EUSA the student union were instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education.
But of course policy is nothing without support, so we also have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER and engaging with open education. We run a wide range of digital skills workshops for staff and students focused on copyright, open licencing, OER and playful engagement. And we provide a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university, including some from this college. As well as working closely with our students, the OER Service also hosts Open Content Creation student interns every summer. And if you’d like to talk to me about the advice and guidance the OER Service provides…
Near Future Teaching
Openness is also at the heart of the Near Future Teaching project undertaken over the last two years by a team from the Centre for Research in Digital Education, led by Sian Bayne (Assistant Principal Digital Education). This project co-created a values based vision for the future of digital education at the University with input from more than 400 staff and students. The project report, published last month, sets out a vision and aims for a near future teaching that is community focused, post digital, data fluent, assessment oriented, playful and experimental, and boundary challenging. And one of the ways these goals can be achieved is through increasing openness. So for example the report calls for boundary challenging digital education that is lifelong, open and transdisciplinary, and the actions required to achieve these objectives are all centered on committing to openness.
So that’s the big picture vision, but what I want to do now is just take a few minutes to look at what’s actually happening in practice, and to highlight some of the innovative open education initiatives that are already going on across the university.
Open education is a great way to build community and if you cast your mind back to Ra’ana you’ll remember that she appreciated being part of a connected global community of peers.
One great way to build community is through academic blogging, and just last year the University set up a new centrally supported Academic Blogging Service. The service provides staff and students with a range of different blogging platforms to support professional development and learning, teaching and research activities. The service includes existing platforms such as Learn, Moodle, and Pebblepad and a new centrally supported WordPress service, blogs.ed.ac.uk. To complement the service, we provide digital skills resources and workshops, including one on Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile, we’ve recently launched a seminar series featuring talks from academic blog users around the University, and we’ve been running a mini-series on the Teaching Matters blog. And I’d like to draw your attention to the most recent blog post in that series from Bethany Easton from the School of Health in Social Science, about The Nursing Blog which was set up in 2014 as a community blog where staff and students from across the Nursing Studies Subject area can share their achievements, research, and work. And another great example of community blogging is Stories from Vet School which features blogs posts written by current undergraduate veterinary medicine students. And if you look carefully you’ll see that one thing both these blogs have in common is that they both carry a Creative Commons open licence, which means that the posts themselves are open educational resources that can be reused by other teachers and learners. It’s easy to see how this format could be adopted for use with online postgraduate students as a great way to connect them with their peers and build that all important sense of community so critical for distance learners.
Diversifying the Curriculum
OER can also make a significant contribution to diversifying and decolonizing the curriculum.
LGBT+ Healthcare 101 was a collaborative project run by EDE and the Usher Institute worked with undergraduate students, to develop a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. Although knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors, these issues are not well-covered in the Medical curricula. Using materials from the commons, this project sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health through OER. The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as Creative Commons licensed OER. New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children of all ages were also created and released as OER.
More recently the OER Service has released a series of resources on Openness, Equality and Inclusion which includes materials from a workshop we ran with EUSA VP of Education, Diva Mukherji, on Decolonising and Diversifing the curriculum with Open Educational Resources. And again it’s not difficult to see how important diversifying the curriculum is when you’re creating educational resources and learning experiences for global students from a wide range of different cultural contexts.
Access to Resources
Creating and using open educational resources is also an important way to ensure longevity of access to course materials, and this can benefit staff, students, and the university itself. It’s very common to think of OER as primarily being of benefit to those outwith the institution, however open licenses also help to ensure that we can continue to use and reuse the resources that we ourselves have created. I’m sure you’ll all have come projects that created great content only for those resources to become inaccessible once the project ends or great teaching and learning materials belonging to a colleague who has subsequently retired or moved on, and nobody quite knows if they can still be used or not. Unless teaching and learning resources carry a clear and unambiguous open licence, it is difficult to know whether and in what context they can be reused. This is a phenomenon that my colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt. If you don’t get the licensing right first time round it will cost you to fix it further down the line, and the cost and reputational risk to the university could be significant if copyright is breached. And this is one of the best strategic reasons for investing in open educational resources at the institutional level. We need to ensure that we have the right use, adapt, and reuse, the educational resources we have invested in. We already have some really innovative open educational resources from the College highlighted on the OER Service website and if you want to learn more about how to use and create re-useable open content without fear of breaching copyright, the OER Service runs a number of digital skills workshops covering this and we have lots of materials available online too.
In the context of online distance learning, using open licensed resources means that students can continue to access and use these resources after they have graduated. And this is an issue that is becoming increasingly pressing as there have been a number of critical press reports recently about postgraduate students who have lost access to resources after the taught component of their courses has finished but before they have submitted all their course work.
MOOCs and the Open Media Bank
Continued access to educational resources can be particularly problematic when it comes to MOOCs. Educational content often gets locked into commercial MOOC platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms are now time limiting access to content. Clearly this is not helpful for students and, given how costly high quality online teaching and learning resources are to produce, it also represents a poor return on investment for the University. So one of the ways that we’re addressing this here at the University is by ensuring that all the content we have produced for our MOOCs is also freely available to download under open licence from the Open Media Bank channel on Media Hopper Create. We now have over 500 MOOC videos which are available to re-use under Creative Commons licence, including “Mental Health: A Global Priority” from the School of Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences, and “Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People” from the School of Health in Social Science.
Wikipedia in the Classroom
Another way we can create open knowledge and embed open education in the curriculum is by engaging with the world’s biggest open educational resource, Wikipedia. Here at the University we have our very own Wikipedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, based in Learning, Teaching and Web Services. Ewan works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital and information literacy skills for both staff and students. And one of the ways that Ewan does this is by working with academic colleagues to develop Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments. Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context and at the same time, contribute to the global pool of open knowledge.
To date, 11 course programmes across the University have developed Wikipedia assignments, some of which are now in their second or third iteration. And I know that Ewan is working with colleagues to explore the creation of new Wikipedia assignments for the MScs in Global and Public Health.
Reproductive Biomedicine have been successfully running Wikipedia assignments as part of their Reproductive Biology Honours course since 2015. As part of her assignment in 2016, honours student Aine Kavanagh created a new Wikipedia article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer. This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams created by Áine herself, has now been viewed over 64,000 times since it was published in September 2016, it’s hard to imagine many other student assignments having this kind of impact. Not only has Aine contributed valuable health information to the global Open Knowledge community, she has also created a resource that other students and global health experts can add to and improve over time. Creating resources that will live on on the open web, and that make a real contribution to global open knowledge, has proved to be a powerful motivator for the students taking part in these assignments.
OER Creation Assignments
In addition to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments, there are also other examples of open assessment practices from around the University, including assessed blogging assignments and OER creation assignments. So for example, these resources on Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Pets were created by Silke Salavati for an assignment as part of the Digital Education module for the Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) in Academic Practice. And OER creation assignments also form an integral part of the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of the MSc in Digital Education. Commenting on this OER creation assignment in a recent blog post, Jen Ross who runs this course said
“Experiencing first-hand what it means to engage in open educational practice gives student an appetite to learn and think more. The creation of OERs provides a platform for students to share their learning. In this way, these assignments can have ongoing, tangible value for students and for the people who encounter their work.”
These are just some of the ways that open education and OER is already being embedded and supported across the University and I hope this will give you some ideas as to how open approaches can benefit your online courses ad modules here in the College. And if you think back to Ra’ana and all the reasons that she appreciated being a student on the MSc in Paediatric Emergency Medicine; ease of access to resources and support, the practical application of knowledge, the ability to share her practice with her peers, being part of a diverse and connected global community, these are all aspects that can be enhanced further by engaging with OER and open education.
I want to finish with a quote from one of our Open Content Curation student interns, and I make no apology for using this quote almost every time I talk about open education and OER. This is former undergraduate Physics student Martin Tasker talking about the value of open education
“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”
A test of snapthread which has been updated to version 2. When I tried the 1.8.1 version I rather liked it. It was then an app to stitch live photos into wee videos on iOS. Version 2 adds a lot more features. I still like it.
My class used the free version, limited to 30 seconds of video, last session a bit, we had a few crashes, but I think it is a promising app. Ease of use, limited time of the free version and lack of stickers, for now 2, are useful for the classroom. My class use iMovie and Clips too, but sometimes we might not want the greater complexity of iMovie or the wacky possibilities of clips.
Unfortunately CloudConvert doesn’t work for me on the school network, I’ve tried a few apps that convert and squash video but no really found a good one for pupils to use. I would like my pupils to be able to do that, to save space on their blogs and to speed up uploading. I am not sure on the official line on posting to silos in North Lanarkshire. Social media, especially twitter, is very popular. That is staff rather than pupil posting, I’d like my pupils to be involved in the uploading of video to their e-Portfolios and the class blog without my interference.
For Glow Blogs, I’d also like the app to change the file type to mp4 or m4v as .MOV files, that are apples favourite, don’t play nicely with all browsers. We made a change to standard WordPress functionality to accept .MOV files as video, but some browsers don’t play them. Strangely, just editing the file extension, from .MOV to .m4v works, at least for Chrome. I can’t find a way to change extensions on iOS but I’ve tested on the desktop.
FWIIW Snapthread’s videos are .MP4 when exported to the camera roll, so only need squashed for my needs.
Today marks the start of Open Education Week, the global celebration of the Open Education movement. Last year my OER Service colleagues and I didn’t participate in Open Education Week as it coincided with the USS Strike so this year, we’re making up for lost time and we’ve got a whole pile of activities and events lined up.
Open.Ed Spring Newsletter
We’ve published our latest Open.Ed newsletter to coincide with Open Education Week and to highlight events we’ll be running over the course of the week, along with other open activities and initiatives going on around the University. You can read the latest edition of the newsletter here: Welcome to the OER Service’s Spring Newsletter, and find back issues of the newsletter here Open.Ed Newsletter.
Open.Ed Blog Series
Over the course of the week, the Open.Ed Blog will be featuring a series of posts from students, staff, and open education practitioners from across the University of Edinburgh, covering a wide range of topics including Masters level OER assignments, Wikipedia and Translation Studies, tools for creating OERs, and much more. The series kicks off today with one post by me on Sustainable Support for OER and another by Jen Ross on Digital Futures for Learning: An OER assignment.
Supporting Open Education and Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh
On Tuesday 5 March at 12.00-13.00, the OER Service will be hosting a free and informal lunchtime webinar during which we’ll be sharing our approaches to supporting Open Education and Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh. Come and join me, Stuart Nicol (Education Design and Engagement), Ewan McAndrew (Wikimedian in Residence), Charlie Farley (OER Service), Rachael Mfoafo (EDE) and Anne-Marie Scott (DLAM) to talk about supporting open education through digital skills development, playful approaches to copyright literacy, embedding Wikipedia in the curriculum, and open approaches to MOOCs and distance learning at scale. The webinar is free and open to all, joining details are available here.
Decolonise & Diversify the Curriculum with OER
This one-hour workshop on Tuesday 6 March at 12.00 – 13.00 will explore what it means to decolonise and diversify the curriculum with EUSA VP of Education Diva Mukherji. My lovely OER Service colleague Charlie Farley will also demonstrate how creating, using, and sharing OER can be one avenue towards diversifying and opening up curriculum materials. The workshop is open to University of Edinburgh staff and students, further information is available here.
And of course I’ll be blogging and tweeting on the #OEWeek hashtag and hoping to catch some of the other fabulous activities going on over the course of the week too.
Last week I taught the third run of our Blogging to Build your Professional Profile workshop and also had the pleasure of joining a lunchtime call with colleagues from ALT to talk about different approaches to team blogging. Something that struck me is that whenever I talk about blogging there are a number of issues that come up repeatedly, regardless of whether the people I’m talking to are experienced bloggers or whether they’re dipping their toe in the water for the first time. And all these issues relate broadly to anxiety.
All is vanity
Even among experienced bloggers there can be a lingering feeling that blogs are really just a bit of a vanity project, a space to show off and blow your own trumpet, and well, it’s all just a little bit undignified really. I find this a bit odd because as academics and professionals we are already expected to disseminate our work broadly, through scholarly publications, professional papers, and academic and industry conferences. I think the difference with blogs is that they exist outwith the traditional academic sphere of acceptance and control. By and large, we control our own blogs; we control what we post, when we post, and who we choose to share with. I’d argue that far from being a vanity project, blogs are an invaluable way to facilitate reflective practice, and to empower colleagues to curate their own professional and academic portfolios and identities. If you need to be convinced about the benefits of academic blogging have a look at some of the great blogs that are linked on our Academic Blogging SPLOT and hosted on the University of Edinburgh’s new blogs.ed.ac.uk service.
Have no fear
Once you get used to blogging it’s easy to forget just how terrifying it can be to hit that little blue Publish button if you’re not used to putting your words out there. This is particularly true if you’re writing blog posts that are in any way personal or reflective. Even experienced academic and professional writers can suffer from this kind of anxiety. When we write academic papers or professional reports we generally abide by certain writing standards and conventions, which arguably place a degree of distance between ourselves and our words. When we write personal reflective posts, the buffer provided by these conventions disappears. Sharing a part of ourselves online can be a lot scarier than sharing our papers and reports. I’ve blogged for years but I still feel a little anxious when I publish something that’s a bit more personal, a bit more political, a bit closer to the bone than usual. In my experience it’s really worth it though, the response I’ve had on the odd occasions I have published more personal posts has been incredibly supportive and up-lifting. Few pieces of writing have terrified me more than Shouting From The Heart, but the response to that piece from colleagues was overwhelming.
Perfection is the enemy of the good
Another issue that often comes up is what if my blog posts aren’t good enough? What if my ideas aren’t fully formed? What if I post something embarrassingly bad? What if I regret it later? Perfectionism is one of the main stumbling blogs that often prevents people from taking up blogging, particularly in a domain like academia where imposter syndrome is rife. When we all set such ridiculously high standards for ourselves, it can be really difficult to put anything out there that is less than perfect, and the result of course is that we end up posting nothing. However the real beauty of blogs is that they are ideally suited to letting you develop your ideas and think aloud. Blog posts don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be fully formed, and if there are one or two typos, well, it’s really not the end of the world, you can always go back and edit later. Some of my favourite blogs are ones where I can see colleagues thinking through their ideas. Maren Deepwell, Melissa Highton, Sheila MacNeill, Anne-Marie Scott and Martin Weller’s blogs are all great examples of this. My advice if you’re struggling with perfectionism is to start out by blogging in private. Lots of bloggers keep both public and private blogs and that’s just fine. Blogging, like any form of writing, is 90% practice and hopefully as your confidence in your writing grows, you’ll find it’ll be easier to start sharing your posts in public.
Shouting into the void
So that happens once you’ve written your first blog post, taken a deep breath, hit the little blue button, and sent it off into the big world wide web? Quite often what happens is…nothing. Nada. Crickets. Tumbleweed. New bloggers are often anxious about getting lots of negative comments on their posts, but to be honest, it’s far more common to get no comments at all. Seriously, have a look at my blog, the vast majority of posts don’t have a single comment. That doesn’t mean that no one is engaging with them though, whenever I write a blog post, I post a link on twitter and that’s where the conversation happens, if it’s going to happen at all, because that’s where my community of open education practitioners is. Many of my posts still pass under the radar though, and there’s no denying that it can be discouraging to post a lovingly crafted piece of writing, particularly one you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into, and it receives no engagement at all. This can be heightened by the odd sense of loss all writers sometimes feel when they let go of a piece of writing.
One way to address this is to be strategic about how and when you post. There’s a lot of advice and guidance available online that will tell you when the optimal time to post is and how to use analytics to track the impact of your writing, however I’d caution against getting too caught up in tracking clicks and likes and comments. Online engagement can be fickle and it’s often hard to predict which posts will get lots of attention and which will sink without a trace. Don’t judge the value of your writing on the basis of social media likes; posts that get a lot of attention aren’t necessarily the “best” posts, and vice versa.
My approach to counteracting post-publication (post-posting?) blues is to try and write for myself first and foremost. That might sound trite, but it’s still good advice. I’m a great believer in the benefits of writing as a personal reflective practice. If other people engage with what I write, that’s a bonus, but if not, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve still benefited from the process of writing.
Don’t feel too dispirited if you don’t get much engagement on your blog, try to enjoy the process of thinking and writing for yourself. But if you do want feedback and engagement, don’t be afraid to reach out; find out where your people are, share your posts with them there, ask colleagues for comments and input, most will be only too happy to oblige.
Maren wrote a brilliant post on the creative process of blogging after our talk last week and I can highly recommend it if you’re looking for inspiration: Blogging is my sketchbook: reflecting on the creative process and open practice.
The first piece is by Mark Ensor, and it’s about parts of teaching which are not
Here is teacherhead revisiting Dylan Wiliam’s formative assessment strategies. When I’ve heard or read Dylan, it is a good reminder that his key principles of formative assessment have become many things to many people. He doesn’t think all of them are a good fit with his initial ideas.
If you’re wanting some podcasts for the new year based on education Third Space has this list.
I’m very interested in the use of retrieval practice to secure pupil learning and I’m always looking for ways to use it in class. Here
And here are some more ideas of how we can use recall in class.
Since I have an on this day page on my blog I’ve been finding old me interesting.
Yesterday I notice quite a few end of year reviews published on the last day of the year1.
Blogging highlights 3, followed 1 & 2 in 2006 but focused on the blogging my pupils (primary 6 ~10yr olds) carried out that year.
The links go to the internet archive now. Images and some links were broken but I enjoyed reading them.
I was surprised at the comments on the posts, from adults, pupils at other schools and classmates. At the time the idea of an audience and conversation was one of the main reasons I had pupils in my class blogging. We were posting photos, video, microcasting and writing poems.
It seems harder to get comments on pupils blog now. I admit I’ve not commented outside my own class lately.
This was the year before I was on twitter. A lot of the online conversation about what happens in classrooms has moved to there. While a lot of this is interesting and valuable it has mostly removed pupils from the publishing process 2. This is I believe a loss.
- I was thinking of writing one for 2018 but got lost in following these old posts. ↩
- see also ‘School social media has been terrible at engaging parents’ | Tes News by Susan Ward ↩
An interesting Rabbit hole, Arron is replying to Something Weird is Happening on Twitter Right Now by
This is the problem micro.blog set out to solve. So far I think it has done so, I’ve had some very good conversations there. There are not likes and retweets on micro.blog. These are mentioned negatively on the thread Dean sparked. Micro.blog make it as easy to post and comment as twitter.
Someone on micro.blog mentioned the other day that blogging superstars joined but didn’t stick (or words to that effect). Lack of reposts and visible likes makes the platform a bit more democratic.
The only thing I miss on micro.blog is the communities that exists on twitter. If there was a micro.blog for educators that would be very interesting. I’ve some thoughts on how this could happen, but finding it slightly hard to make them into an intelligible post.