Blogception: A blog about blogging

I’ve been asked by Emma Flint, Birmingham Law School lecturer and lovely lady, to write a blog about blogging. So this blog is full of my thoughts, hints and tips for good practice when starting a blog. (I leave it up to you to decide whether I am qualified to give such advice)

blogception

Make time to write

This is not easy by any means! Maintaining a blog whilst trying to balance work and life commitments isn’t simple. If you can set yourself an hour a week to write a post all the better. It does require discipline and if you can’t commit to it, ask yourself whether there is any point in starting. There’s something eerie about stumbling on someone’s blog that hasn’t had a post on it since 2013. It’s a bit like the opening scene of 28 days later.

What are you writing a blog about?

Is it about you and your life? Is it about travel, food or politics for example. Is it about your work/job? Once you know what your blog is going to be about it makes answering the following questions a lot easier.

For Who/why are you writing a blog?

I’m not asking about your audience here, that will be addressed shortly. I am asking why you are writing a blog and who you are writing it for? Are you writing it just for you? Are you writing for pleasure or reflection? Do you care who reads it? Are you blogging for your employer? Or for potential employers? It’s important to think about this as it will influence your tone and style, the kind of posts you write and even how candid you are.

Who is your audience?

Similar to my first question but subtly different, once you know why and for whom you are writing your blog you need to think about your audience.  What are they interested in reading? What tone will be appropriate? How honest can you be in your writing?

How much of ‘you’ are you comfortable sharing?

What I mean by this is how much personality are you comfortable with showing online. Remember publishing online is very exposing. It can make you feel very vulnerable. You are exposing yourself to potential criticism especially if you are sharing your ideas and opinions. You may get comments that criticise or disagree with you. You do need to ready yourself for that possibility. You need to decide how much of yourself you want to protect.

I share where I work and what I do for a living (only because that’s publicly available on the web anyway). I share my opinions and ideas on topics in Higher Education. I do not share anything about my personal life and that is a conscious decision I have made. I know plenty of people who blog about their personal lives and do so without incident. I share these posts with people who are frankly more intelligent and knowledgeable on the subjects than I am. I am prepared for the fact that they may disagree. But I am doing this for me, not for them. How candid are you going to be with your opinions? I have to strike a careful balance between giving my opinion and not saying anything that criticises my employer or others.

Inspiration

I can’t tell you where to find ideas for your posts. Read, keep your eyes peeled, talk to people and go out into the world. Inspiration can come at the most unlikely moments. You might be out and about and suddenly think “that would be a good blog post” but you don’t have time to write it there and then. So if you have a notepad or mobile device write it down and make a few notes about what you want to say. Then go back later and write it. I use WordPress which has an app which I use on my mobile phone. If I have an idea I can quickly write it down. I’ve even written a post whilst in a car on the A1.

Content, content, content!

What your blog looks like is fairly immaterial. Yes, they need to be able to navigate and read it but seriously don’t spend hours making it look pretty it. It’s a waste of time. Spend that time on your posts. Honing your writing, reading and re-reading. Adding references, linking to useful pieces of information and creating some multimedia is a far more worthy use of your time. People are here to read what you have to say not judge your web design skills.

Also if you refer to someone else’s site, materials, tweets, images etc. remember to attribute and link to it directly! Pay it forward guys!

Enticing titles

As you will see from this post, I like to give my posts stupid titles. Firstly because it’s a bit of fun for me and also I hope it might draw people in. I don’t know if it works but I enjoy it.

Timing is key

If you want people to read your posts timing is key. There is no point posting it at midnight. No one’s going to see it. Also talking about news, changes to legislation etc. are most interesting to read about at the time. If you’re writing about an event you’ve been to, writing about it before you forget what happened and whilst people are interested in reading about it. Writing about something months after the ‘buzz’ has cleared is not an optimum way to get people to read it. If you do, write about the effect the event/legislation etc. has had. That kind of analysis can be really interesting.

Getting it out there for people to read

How are you gonna get people to read it? If you don’t care about anyone reading it then move on to my next tip. If you do then think about where you are going to share it there are loads of options, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. The more places you share it the more traffic you will drive. Twitter is great because of retweets and likes. Plus you can tag other people, companies, organisations, hashtags etc. in the tweet and broaden your audience!

 Which platform?

To me, this is the least important decision but one you do need to make. There are loads of blogging sites out there a lot are free, some you have to pay for. You also need to think about the URL or domain your blog will be accessed by. I pay to have my kerrypinny.com URL and I pay WordPress.com to map my domain for me. It equates to around £20 a year. I am happy with that. You can have a totally free account but you will have to use their URL/domain and will be limited in terms of media storage etc. You could download the full WordPress platform and host it yourself on a server or pay someone else to host it. You get a lot more freedom and storage than on WordPress.com but I certainly couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. Whichever one you chose they will all give you slightly different features and pricing options so research carefully and choose whichever will make be easiest for you to use.

Below is a list of free options:

  1. WordPress
  2. Contentful
  3. Jekyll
  4. Tumblr
  5. Blogger
  6. Medium
  7. Svbtle
  8. Weebly
  9. Postach.io
  10. Google Sites

 

“I didn’t know Blackboard could do so much!”

Every time I train staff on Blackboard someone will say something along the lines of “I didn’t know Blackboard could do so much”. In accomplishing day to day tasks we forget to explore. We miss all the opportunities technology can afford.

Reflective practice

one effective way to develop self-regulation in students is to provide them with opportunities to practice regulating aspects of their own learning and to reflect on that practice. (Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick, 2006)

Journal

Journals allow students to communicate directly with you. Private journals are an ideal tool for reflective journals. Students are able to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions in private with you. Students could use a journal to:

  • Reflect on the results of their assessment
  • Tell you about their progress on a project
  • Share difficulties they are having with group work

Blog

Blogs allow students to express their ideas and opinions in a social learning space. Blogs are public and allow students to comment on each others posts. Students could blog about:

  • The development of an idea for a project
  • Record the progress of a project
  • Resources they have found

Collaboration

Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers (Boud et al., 2001).

Wikis

Think of a Wikipedia for your subject. Students can collaborate by creating pages, adding content and editing existing content to create a course resource. Students could create a Wiki on:

  • Topics that are covered in the course
  • Create a Wiki in a group
  • Sharing ideas
  • Collecting useful resources

Discussion Board

Discussions boards allow students to communicate asynchronously. Students can discuss course topics, pose questions and share resources.

  • Create a question and answer forum for assessments
  • Ask students to debate a topic
  • Ask students to share useful articles

Peer Review

Students indicated that completing a structured, comprehensive review for someone else is an illuminating way of becoming aware of areas that require attention in their own work. (Mulder et al., 2014)

Turnitin PeerMark

Students can read, review, and evaluate work submitted by their peers. Reviews can be anonymous and instructors can assign a student specific papers to review. Instructors can provide marking criteria and questions on which each paper is to be reviewed.

 


 

Boud, D. Cohen, R. and Sampson, J. (2001) Peer learning in higher education. [online] London:Kogan Page. Available from https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dHN9AwAAQBAJ [Accessed 8 April 2016].

Mulder, R. Pearce, J. and Baik, C. (2014) Peer review in higher education: Student perceptions before and after participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2) 157–171.

Nicol, D. and MacFarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2) 199-218.