Looking forward to ALTC: Wikimedia, Academic Blogging and Creative Engagement with OER

Not content with liveblogging the ALTC keynotes, gasta sessions and AGM, I’m also going to be taking part in two presentations and one panel.  Yikes!  So if you’re interested in learning why Wikimedia belongs in education, how to develop an academic blogging service based on trust and openness, and supporting creative engagement through open education, why not come along and join us 🙂

Wikipedia belongs in education: Principles and Practice

Wikipedia belongs in educationTuesday Sep 3 2019, 2:45pm – 3:45pm, Room 2.14
Lucy Crompton-Reid, Ewan McAndrew, and Lorna Campbell

This panel session, featuring short presentations and audience Q&A, will outline the thinking and research that underpins Wikimedia UK’s education programme, present some of the work that’s been delivered as part of this programme over the past few years, and discuss opportunities for future educational partnerships. We’ll also highlight the ways that you can get involved in this work at an individual and/or institutional level, and the benefits of working with Wikimedia in education.

Read more.

Supporting Creative Engagement and Open Education at the University of Edinburgh 

Thursday Sep 5 2019, 12:15pm – 1:15pm, McEwan Hall
Lorna Campbell, Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, and Stewart Cromar

This joint presentation will introduce the University of Edinburgh’s vision and strategy for OER and playful engagement, showcase examples of some of the playful approaches we employ, demonstrate how these help to foster creative approaches to teaching, learning and engaging with our collections, and reflect critically on researching their effectiveness.  Come along and see real world examples of how supporting openness and playful engagement at the institutional level can foster creativity and innovation, and gain inspiration about how these approaches could be used in your own contexts and institution. You’ll also be able to pick up one of our free “We have great stuff” OER colouring books! 

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Influential voices – developing a blogging service based on trust and openness 

Thursday Sep 5 2019, 2:00pm – 3:00pm, Room 2.14
Karen Howie and Lorna Campbell

This presentation will reflect on the first year year of the University of Edinburgh’s new Academic Blogging Service.  We worked closely with academic colleagues, to take a broad view of the different uses of blogs, including reflective blogging, writing for public audiences, group blogging and showcasing research to develop a new academic blogging service that launched in October 2018. The service incorporates existing tools (inc. those built into our VLE and portfolio platforms), improved documentation, new digital skills workshops and materials, and a brand new centrally supported WordPress platform (blogs.ed.ac.uk) to support types of blogging that were not well catered for previously. The philosophy of our new blogging platform was to start from a position of openness and trust, allowing staff and students to develop their own voices.  Come along to learn more about our Academic Blogging Service and find out about the free and open resources we developed along the way.

Learn more. 

Look forward to seeing you at ALTC! 

Professional Blogging: Acknowledging social media harassment

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:

There’s a lot more that could be said on this topic, but that would be the subject of a whole other workshop. 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 do let me know. 

Have No Fear – Learning to love your blog

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.

Blogging to Build your Professional Profile

Last month the University of Edinburgh rolled out a new centrally supported Academic Blogging Service, which provides staff and students with a range of different blogs to support professional development and learning, teaching and research activities.  The service has already been hugely successful, with almost 200 new blogs created in the last four weeks.  My colleague Anne-Marie has written a lovely post about the service here: A month of Blogs.Ed

I’ve been blogging for more years than I care to count and my blog has been hugely important in supporting my career and my professional practice.  So much so, that I reflected on the significance of my blog in my CMALT portfolio, which is also hosted here, and I presented about Using WordPress to build an online academic identity at last year’s PressED Conference.  So I was really pleased to be asked to develop a new digital skills training workshop on Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile to support colleagues at the University.

Because we like to practice what we preach, I’ve created all the workshop resources on a WordPress blog running the SPLOT theme developed by Alan Levine.  The SPLOT was Anne-Marie’s idea.  I’ve been a fan of SPLOTs for a while but this is the first time I’ve used one and I think it’s the ideal format for presenting online resources like this.  The workshop covers using blogs to build your professional profile, writing for blogs, group and syndicated blogs, privacy, openness, copyright and licensing, and amplifying your blog with social media. It also includes practical guidance on setting up a blog on the new blogs.ed.ac.uk service, provides links to additional training courses running by the University, and examples of some fabulous professional blogs to provide inspiration.  There’s far too much material here to cover in a one hour workshop, but the beauty of the SPLOT format is that workshop participants can access all the course materials at a single URL, work through them at their leisure, and refer back to them as needs be.

And because we believe in spreading the love and supporting OER and open practice, all the workshop materials are CC BY licensed so you’re welcome to take them away and adapt and re-use them.  All the lovely header images are from a collection of  Architectural Drawings by William Henry Playfair, and they’re available under CC licence from the University of Edinburgh’s Image Collections.

If you’ve got any comments or feedback on these resources I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Blogging to Build your Professional Profile

thinking.is.ed.ac.uk/professional-blogging/