Immiscible Learning

Here’s some stuff I said at ALT West Midlands meeting at the University of Birmingham. The theme was “It’s all in the mix: new blended learning opportunities for educators”. So, I thought I’d reflect on a blended learning programme that I was a student on.

You can find the slides below. I explain what I felt didn’t work and how that could be better. Oh, and I made up a term for an unsuccessful blend.

The delegates have collected their experiences, positive and negative, and their advice on Padlet.

Made with Padlet

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 am not a specifically identified key individual

vip

“The dinner is limited to a short list of specifically identified key individuals and so I’m sorry but Kerry would be unable to join us”. These are the words I recently received in an email. I don’t object to them. It’s true, I’m not, nor am ever likely to be, a key individual (although key how and to what was never defined). But it did lead me to wonder about email etiquette and communication skills.

I’m not sure if it could have been worded better. It’s hard not to say you’re not important enough when actually that’s exactly the reason. Perhaps they should have just gone along the lines of limited availability, one representative and lied a little. It’s difficult not to be slightly insulted that you haven’t made the short list. No one wants to get picked last for sports. But I must remember that my self-worth is not defined by the words of a stranger, representing an organisation, that knows nothing about me.

This high point in my career made me think about the many ‘oops’ moments I have seen over the years. Those times people send something they live to regret.

The mailing list errors

Yes you know what you know what f*** you your face

This message was sent to a mailing list I am subscribed to. I don’t know the context of it or how the person explained it. If it was an accident it was a very unfortunate one. If it was deliberate no amount of training could have avoided it.

OOOOO – it is so blissfully wonderful that I think I just might reward
you with a bonking!

This message was meant to be one privately sent to the individuals partner. Unfortunately, they sent it to an entire mailing list. Apologies and embarrassment ensued. Perhaps a lesson neede here on keeping your private communications separate from your work ones.

The social media fail

Ed-Balls-tweet
Ed-Balls-tweet

The “Ed Balls” incident is a wonderful example of a Twitter fail. I wonder what he was trying to do. Search for himself maybe? Perhaps some Twitter training was in order before letting him loose.

Susan Boyle Twitter Fail
Susan Boyle Twitter Fail

The Susan Boyle one is just funny. The hashtag was meant to launch her new album at a party Susan Album Party. Instead it reads #SusAnalBumParty. This was just an error in judgement. Perhaps having someone cast their eye over the idea first would have been a good idea.

tay tweet
Tay tweet

There are loads of example but I will end on the ill fated Microsoft Tay artificial intelligence experiment. Of course all experimentation is risky but maybe they should have tested it first. Maybe double check how long it takes to descend into hate crimes.

The breaches of data Protection

There are thousands of examples of data protection breaches I could point to so lets look at a couple.

In 2015 the 56 Dean Street clinic, which cares for patients with HIV,  accidently sent an email that revealed the identities and email addresses of around 800 registered patients. If you didn’t spot this in the news read The Guardian article Inquiry launched after HIV clinic reveals hundreds of patients’ identities.  The clinic called it a ‘human error’ and yes it was to some extent. But essentially someone put it in the To field not the Bcc.

In February 2016 The University of Greenwich identified that student personal data was freely available on the internet. The data includes names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile phone numbers, signatures and medical details.

This was a serious, unprecedented error, in breach of our own policies and procedures.

At it’s core the breach demonstrates a lack of understanding of how ‘the internet’ works. Policies and procedures help but, this could have been avoided if the member/members of staff responsible understood the implications of data sharing and how the internet works.

Digital Capabilities are important

What all of these examples show is that digital capabilities are very important. The errors we make are not simple human errors. They are evidence of a lack of capabilities which lead to mistakes that could be easily avoided. They show a fundamental lack of understanding about the way systems, communications and the web works.

Jisc six elements of digital capability
Jisc six elements of digital capability

They are encapsulated in three of the six elements of digital capability. Information, data and media literacies, ICT proficiency and communication, collaboration and participation. Living without these fundamental capabilities can, as we have seen, have dire consequences on businesses and people. We should be doing more to support and develop our staff in these key areas.