Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pages on my blog

For the extension activity I made a mindmap using bubbl.us and like mindmapping generally the very act of doing it generates ideas you wouldn't have had without doing it (even when you are convinced you have thought of everything already and you don't need to do it). Here's mine (click on the image for a larger view):

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Adding a page

Wow, this was a difficult part of the challenge, but very necessary for me. Using blogger I had never considered a separate About me page as there was a brief profile of me on the page. But that was a blogger profile and when I changed it for one of my blogs it ended up on all them. Obviously not satisfactory. And just when I was wondering about all this comes this post from Anne. Now another dilemma, a much harder one. Who am I now? Who am I really? That took some time to write.

Some ideas I found helpful were fellow #ksyb participant Elaine Willis' list of blogs she's commented on. This has become a repository of interesting reading and I have taken it on as well. Elaine got the idea from Hadley Ferguson who says: "I have created a page to keep track of the blogs that I comment on. I will update it each time I leave a comment. Come and join the conversation. Let’s get to know one another!"

Other useful posts were this one (I used some of these ideas to tweek my About page after I'd written it) and Britt Gow's great post which I also used.

Like Paula Naugle I had to learn how to add pages to my blogger template. Also like Paula I had to change my template which I have had for over 5 years - guess it was time for a change, huh?

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Friday, January 14, 2011

What makes an effective blog post, or how to write so readers want to read

I am participating in the teacher professional PD on blogging and am enjoying it very much. The second challenge is to write about effective blog-posts. I have heard it said that reflective blogging and reading blogs are the best ways of learning anything - whether learning and teaching, gardening, photography or writing to name some of my areas of interest. I think that blogging is just another name for learning.

So I don't even need to ask: Why blog?

But in case you're not convinced - maybe you're a reader of blogs but wouldn't think that you could write one - here are some reflections garnered from some influential blog- posts on why blog.

One blog post nominated as most effective is from Shelly Blake-Plock. He says: "My blog represents me not as an edited professional voice, but as a human being struggling to express ideas, thoughts, reactions, dreams, and general b.s. via a means that uncompromisingly allows for the immediate feedback of strangers and fellow wanderers." This is the characteristic of transparency. He goes on: "Because real maturity is not about having the right answers, it's about having the audacity to have the wrong answers and re-address them in light of contemplation, self-argument, and experience." This is the characteristic of honesty.

Chris Lehmann has said: 'Blogging for me has to be about reflective practice. It's about putting ideas out there, exploring them, sharing them, and taking part in a larger community. Sometimes, yes, it's just about an announcement or two, but at its best, my blogging helps me think, brings others into my thought process and improves it because of their input and forces me to make sense of my thoughts -- which is why it's so damned hard sometimes." This is the characteristic of reflection

So now to my 5 steps of an effective blog post (or 5 steps to be an effective blogger)

I have to say that this is what, in theory, I aim to do. So often in practice I take the easy way out.

1. Find your voice
Whether it is cheeky, refreshing, serious, humorous or anything else it is uniquely yours and readers appreciate it. When I find it hardest to blog it is because I can't find the voice to write in. I have found the reading the blogs you enjoy is often a way to overcome this problem.

2. Write with honesty, transparency, compassion and reflection
As seen in the examples above, to write with these qualities is not easy. It takes time and it is a struggle. But it worth persisting.

3. Leave comments
Writers love to be read, and the best way to show you are reading what others have thought about and crafted is to leave comments.

4. Link to others
Link love, most important in a community. It is spreading the influence of those who write well.

5. Find out where your readers are from and read them, understand them and communicate
Who is your community? I remember putting in Sitemeter (free) and finding what percentage of my readers were from which different countries and what had referred them to my blog. I have discovered new blogs that had linked to me or the search terms on google that had led them there (very strange, some of them). You can find out what links in your post were clicked on or even what browser they were using. But mostly like blogging itself it is a way or tool of communicating.

So now what blogs am I enjoying at the moment:
A new discovery: Josie speaks up, a teacher musing about life
An oldie but a goodie: Lucacept – intercepting the Web A very inspiring blogger and educator
A infrequent poster but one I always learn from: The Fraudulent Teacher

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Monday, January 10, 2011

It's all about the connection

This post is in response to this one: Down Blog's Memory Lane and what fun it was to write.

10 questions to ask my blog

1. When did you start?

Well, thank you for this opportunity to speak after all these years. It is amazing to consider but I have been the medium of communication for my author now for 5 and half years (since July 2005). Of course the quality of communications have varied over the years. I really think I was better in the early days, but perhaps it's not too late to get back into some quality writing. I think my author still sees me that way.

2. Why did you start?

I have reflected on this a few times in my existence: Let me see now... yes I can just lay my hands on the appropriate passage: This is from December 2005 - "I started reading blogs about 18 months ago starting with my friend Scott’s blog and just kept reading. Sometimes I read from his blogroll as well but I felt a little bit like that was o.k. for these people: they were young enough, techie enough, maybe radical enough, but I wasn’t anything like that. Scott seemed, however, to assume that it was not totally impossible that I might one day start a blog but I was fearful. What if I made a mistake, what if I wrote something wrong, what if …. Oh well I’m sure you know the kind of thing. Then one day in May I stumbled across a podcast by Steve Dembo (I wonder if it was the same one, Graham) and through him found Will Richardson and David Warlick (it must have been the same one) and all of a sudden the world seemed to open up. At one particular point when faced with the Blogger home page it just seemed easier to start a blog than to continue to resist."

And yes this still rings true. It was the example of others that encouraged me to start. I didn't know many bloggers in Australia at that time even though there were many, and my community was very North American. I feel honoured to have been nurtured by so many of these very generous and wonderful friends. I know my author was thrilled to meet many of this community f2f in 2008 at ISTE in San Antonio. Any now my community is full of great Aussie educators and there is lots of cross fertilisation happening.

3. What is your most exciting moment?

There have been so many. Introducing blogging to successive classes of students in my author's English classes. So many stories of learning (chronicled in my many posts over the years). Another is meeting the bloggers who have meant something to me f2f at our bloggers' feasts. Often when bloggers (or later twitterers) have been coming to Melbourne for a visit or a conference we tried to set up a meal at a restaurant in Southbank in Melbourne. These have been fun over the years. Have to thank Sue Tapp for initiating these.

4. Where does your future lie?

I'm sure I will keep going. My author says: "I want to keep blogging even though when I started it was mostly reflecting about my experiences as a classroom teacher. I felt that it was helping me be a better teacher and giving my students better learning opportunities through the sharing by teachers. And that was true. But now I am no longer a classroom teacher, I want to reflect on my lifelong learning and that of others. I am so impressed by my husband's learning to swim aged over 50 and now swimming 15+ laps regularly. We are all learning all the time and reflecting on our experiences can help them be better experiences."

5. What have you learnt?

Again, I better let my author have a say about this one: " Every day when I connect to the community I have been privileged to know though blogging and twitter I learn something. Information, ideas and ways to solve problems. I also hope I have learned to be a better writer and more reflective person.

6. How have you changed?

Looking back it was easier when there were planning student experiences and classes to write about. The blog title "The Open Classroom" and the content matched. But when my author stopped being a classroom teacher she had to have a long think about how she related to the education community and what she would continue to write about. The blog changed as my author changed, and as her job (role in life) changed. You can read about that here. To accommodate the changes my author has branched out with 2 extra blogs: one is on the 365 photo project and one is about her garden.

7. What do you think of your author?

I have to pass on that one.

8. What is most exciting about being a blog in this new decade of the 21st century?

Is it a new decade in 2011? Didn't it start in 2010? Oh well, maybe we'll have to agree to disagree there. Reminds me of the millennium debate. But there is sure a lot going on. The network is the most important thing and that is connected through the tools available but also the desire of individuals to get involved. I loved this google doc I learned about today Why Networked Learning Matters by Alec Couros

9. Twitter, facebook, diigo... do they affect you? and how?

Well yes, I have to say that they do. Twitter is an easy way to let people know what you're thinking about, to say nothing of the like button in FB where you don't even have to articulate a thought. It takes more time to compose a blog post and of course in taking the time the learning and reflection happens. I suppose in a way twitter and FB are about more instant gratification. But they are a great adjunct to blogging. I must admit that my author was very lazy for a long while there and all her blog posts consisted of links to her diigo page. Oh well, a lot of readers lost that way I guess. But there was always hope that some more reflective and connected writing could still happen and I am hoping that this is the start of a new era.

10. Why will you continue?
Definitely the community. And it's been fun and there are always new things to learn. Like this challenge. I am so looking forward to it.

Image attribution: Image: 'X-Factor'

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The 365 photo challenge

This is the 3rd year I have started this project which is called 365 Countdown. I am still interested even though I have had months go by without doing what it was I set out to do. But persistence is one way of learning, right?

What I love most about it is the community. There are places to gather here on this wiki 365 Photo Project and in Flickr 2011/365photos and through Twitter by following #365photos There also Daily Shoot and the associated twitter community: @dailyshoot with the hashtag: #ds412

Irmeli is looking to find out if there's been any research made on using the 365 method within learning, teaching, innovating... Will be asking that via twitter during next week after the holidays. This particular wiki would be a good forum for collecting also possible articles, blog posts - and later on, maybe joint research papers on the process and method itself and in general in addition to the 365 core photo collections & blog sites." What a fantastic idea this is.

I learned today that you can get a free iPhone app for the project which sounds great.

Wish me, wish us all luck as we try, try and try again. I think Allanah was one blogger who completed the challenge with an excellent collection of photos. There is so much to learn and to do. Here is my first photo for 2011

Things to do, people to see