We have at least three members of our current adult education class who are experimenting with blogs as part of their learning logs. The care and feeding of a blog can teach many things. Some of those things are inspirational; others are more practical.
As the center of your digital identity, your web site can give you of a fighting chance in creating a web presence that helps you accomplish your professional goals. Your blog can provide a forum for narrating you work and help attract a community to inspire, challenge and expand your thinking. It also can provide a way to save you some keystrokes.
As Jon Udell has pointed out, saving keystrokes can be very important, particularly if Scott Hansleman is right in his assessment:
There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. Next time someone emails you, ask yourself “Is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?”
If you can communicate with more people with fewer keystrokes before you die–that’s a good thing. I had the opportunity for the last few days to put the principle of conservation of keystrokes into practice, using another blog that I post to occasionally. Earlier this week, William and Mary got hit with a particularly nasty phishing attack and a group of faculty accounts were compromised. The resulting flood of spam resulted in William and Mary’s outgoing mail being blocked by most large ISP’s, including Blackberry. Every time someone sent email to Blackberry, the mail bounced. Every time the mail bounced, I got email asking what was going on with Blackberry.
Rather than answer each one those emails individually, I made a quick post to the SoE blog, then I could direct email to that link rather than respond individually. Using a blog entry works well in this case because I want to provide a little bit of the back story and show how important it is for all of us in the community to be involved if we want to protect our precious Internet.
Here’s a challenge for you to those of us in the EPPL 714 class. Can you find a way–high tech or low tech–to invest 1 hour in learning something that will save you 5 hours over the next month? Can you share it with 10 of your friends so that they can save some time, too? If an hour is too much, can you find a way to invest 10 minutes in something that will save you an hour? ( Want a hint of a place to look? If you use Microsoft Word, explore using named styles.)
I had pretty much made my peace with being an ex-blogger. It’s been a year since the last time I posted to this blog, and, even that last post was just a speculation about the wisdom of amateurs running their own servers. For the previous four years, the blog had been center of my digital identity and the source of connection with a host of interesting, challenging and involved colleagues. It also generated a fair amount angst, since writing is a form of torture for me; I’m prone to embarrassing typos, and I’ve been told by several colleagues that the defining attribute of my writing is my “keen sense of the obvious”.
That said, I’ve never quite gotten rid of that small voice in the back of my mind that keeps suggesting I ought to revisit the decision to abandon the blog. The volume of the voice has gone up this semester as I’m teaching my adult education course for the first time since 2006. The course is a bit unusual in that it builds explicitly on adult learning principles, which immediately frames the class much differently than most other courses that the students have experienced. (We write the syllabus together after the fourth week of class, for example.) There are a couple of guiding principles that emerge that relate to blogging:
- Adult educators an ethical responsibility to engage in sustained, systematic and critical reflection about their practice. One of the major goals of the class is to help students develop methods of reflection that will live on beyond this course and will become integrated into their own lifelong learning and will help guide their efforts in helping others learn over the lifespan.
- If you can find the courage to do it, sharing some of those reflections in a public way can be a source of continued creativity, inspiration and professional challenge.
Three or four of the students in the class are blogging as part of their reflection efforts, so I’ve been a bit sensitized to the need to narrate my own work. Then two things happened that pushed me over the top and back into the new post window. First Gardner posted a comment on a year old post saying stating that he was waiting for something new to appear. (Curse you, Gardo!) Then, one of the member of my class signed up for a Twitter account and started following me, causing me to think that maybe it was time for me to get a little more public about my own reflections and practice. Maybe it would be good to reopen myself to some of that creativity, inspiration and challenge.
Last week I spent two full days in sessions of the University Teaching Project in preparation for a new partnership at William and Mary focused on using the best combination of traditional and emerging technologies available to broaden and deepen the conversation about excellent teaching. IT’s academic information services staff will be working closely with the Roy Charles Center–the nerve center for WM’s interdisciplinary programs, competitive scholarships, University Teaching Project and the Sharpe Community service program. As a result, the Charles Center is the home of some of the most interesting programs focused on expanding the range of teaching and learning at the College, and dozens of faculty members are working on projects to make learning even more interactive, integrative and imaginative.
We’ve worked closely with the folks at the Charles Center on a number of initiatives, including one focused on understanding the process of undergraduate research, and we’ve laid the groundwork even more expansive projects in the future. The grand plan for the next two years calls for our group to focus the time and resources that we’d been investing in the former Technology Integration Program on expanding the reach of the University Teaching Project. Our efforts in creating TIP had some very real successes, but we never achieved the kind of seamless integration that we had hoped for.
In practical terms, we’re going to help develop a fully interactive web site that fosters communications and consolidates resources about teaching in a common location. We know that teaching is highly valued at WM, but a visitor from Mars would have to look pretty hard for evidence of our commitment. Efforts at teaching improvement have generally been highly personal and private–shared only with a few close colleagues and department members. Our goal is to keep the support for grassroots efforts at teaching improvement, closely tied to the individual classroom, while publicizing some of successes so that others can build on them. In the early stages of the project, we’ll focus on listening, gathering information and trying to understand what the teaching community of practice is really like.
We’re optimistic about the potential value of this partnership because of the strong alignment between our way of working in the academic computing group and that of Joel Schwartz, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies:
I am a catalyst,” he said. “What a good teacher does is kind of catalyze thinking and productivity in students. Teaching is not something in which you have a student sit at your feet while you dispense wisdom down to them and they soak it into their heads. You try to help them become original, creative people.” (link)
University Teaching Project