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

 

Live blogging the verdict: madness

seagull

Live blogging. How do I loath thee?

How do I loath thee? Let me count the ways.
I loath thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I loath thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I loath thee freely, as men strive for right.
I loath thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I loath thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I loath thee with a hate I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I loath thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but loath thee better after death.

Adapted from How do I love thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

If my poem was too subtle let me tell you how much I have hated every moment of my live blogging experiment today. It was the worst idea I have ever had. I should have listened to those of you who warned me. It was hideous.

I arrived at the venue full of optimism. Although I could have done without carrying the laptop all the way here. Woop woop I thought, there are tables in the lecture theatre, I can use my laptop. I couldn’t find a plug but we’ll return to that later. So I eagerly set up and log in. Connect to the WiFi but wait, the WiFi drops out constantly. I managed to get on to this website for a few minutes before it died.

Let’s not forget the adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy:

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It’s tongue in cheek but seriously,we need WiFi to communicate. I had no better connection on my phone but at least I had signal.

So I used my phone. Writing my posts in Google Keep and then pasting it in to the WordPress app. It was the least comfortable thing I have experienced in a while. I am convinced I now have RSI. I kept hitting the full stop or it would auto-correct the words. It was a tiny screen and I was hunched over looking at it. I did this until after lunch.

IT Crowd
IT Crowd

So during lunch someone ‘fixed it’ and I endeavoured to use it. It still dropped out. But we did find the plugs on the inside of the chairs. Phew, POWER. Particularly when I clicked the publish button on my posts. I think this was just the WiFi demons having their fun. As you will see on my Twitter I produced a blog for every session I attended.

I found I couldn’t fully concentrate. Too busy thinking about what to write or trying to capture what someone has said and missing everything afterward. It stopped my participating and enjoying the conference. It probably annoyed my neighbours too. Keyboards are not subtle.

I haven’t read them back yet so can’t comment on their ‘sense’ or ‘quality’. I leave that to you dear readers. But I did what I set out to do. I have experienced live blogging. I’ve practiced what I preach.

Will I be doing it tomorrow?

Dr Evil - How 'bout no
Dr Evil – How ’bout no

Nope. I will go back to micro-blogging with Twitter. My hand hurts.

Tips if you’re thinking about live blogging

  1. Don’t do it.
  2. Make sure you have quality, reliable WiFi access.
  3. Don’t do it.
  4. Use a device you will be comfortable typing on.
  5. Don’t do it.
  6. Make sure you have a comfortable environment. A table preferably.
  7. Don’t do it.
  8. Decide what you’re going to write, your interpretations or a transcript.
  9. Don’t do it.
  10. think about alternative methods. Twitter and Storify for example.

I am rubbish at Twitter

My colleague takes great enjoyment from telling me I am rubbish at Twitter. Those of you who have met us will know exactly who I’m talking about *cough* Marcus. It led me to wonder what does that actually mean?

Too much of a good thing?

Marcus tweets regularly every day. I am more of a lurker. I look at Twitter everyday but probably only tweet every now and again. I go mental at conferences or during Tweet chats but otherwise I can go days without tweeting anything. I follow a number of people who tweet regularly sometimes about the most mundane topics like drinking coffee or the weather. I should probably tweet more regularly but I always think when I tweet, who would actually want to read this?

The life balance

I spoke to a member of staff the other day who said “I don’t want a social media presence”. All I could think was fair enough, I don’t blame you. It’s very easy to get obsessed with social media. It feels a bit like a drug addiction. You crave views, likes and re-tweets the desperation is alike the withdrawal scene in Trainspotting. Do we have to have one? No. Until recently I had a Twitter account but only tweeted once in a blue moon. Social media can take over lives, I saw a friend at the weekend who lamented that her partner was never off his phone. I’ve tried not to let Twitter take over my life. That’s probably why I’m rubbish.

The TMI effect

There is a balance I feel that all people should be more aware of between the mundane and TMI (too much information). Yes I would love to see another picture of your child or what you’re eating for dinner, oh wait, no I don’t. My life is not interesting enough to tweet about constantly and frankly few peoples are.

Being funny

Marcus is ‘good’ at Twitter because he is funny. He has an easy charm that everyone warms to and his personality/general grumpiness comes across in his tweets. I have probably erred too cautiously on the professional side. I generally tweet about work related topics. I always think about who is reading my tweets and am careful not to say anything contentious.

Saying something worth reading

Again, I can’t help but wonder who would want to read anything I write anyway? I have adopted an approach to Twitter that is “if I don’t have anything interesting to tweet, don’t tweet anything”. It’s probably why I’m rubbish.

Getting involved

The one thing I have started doing recently, to try and increase my presence, is to involve myself in tweet chats. I particularly enjoy #LTHEchat which is a weekly tweet chat for people interested in learning and teaching in Higher Education. Follow @lthechat on Twitter to join in. Each week has a different topic, last week was about connected classrooms, and is run by members of staff at HE institutions. A guest is invited to facilitate and pose questions. It’s a great way to connect with other practitioners and have meaningful conversations.

Re-tweeting overload

The one thing I find really annoying on Twitter is people who just re-tweet everything. Yes it’s handy but at least personalise it a little with your own opinion. As a result I try not to do it too regularly.

Conclusion

Yes I’m a bit rubbish at Twitter. But I really don’t mind.

You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg

Creating videos is notoriously hard, creating a good quality video is even harder. There is a huge investment of time (let alone money) when creating video content. So, it’s not surprising that the format is largely avoided in academia.

There are a lot of things to consider when creating video content, here’s a, by no means exhaustive, list:

  • Equipment (what I find to be the biggest stumbling block in HE)
  • Copyright and permissions (who are you filming, do you have their permission. Do you own the rights to the video?)
  • Location (it’s almost impossible to find somewhere quiet!)
  • Editing (it can take a long time to edit a video especially if the software is complex)
  • Storage (the size of a HD video can be huge, how do you store it)
  • Availability (where can I put it so people can view it?)

So all things considered, making a video takes a long time, you need to plan, you need equipment and the expertise to use it. (If you’ve not been put off creating a video Jisc have a really helpful video production infokit) In light of all these potential difficulties, why would you bother?

We all recognise the positive effects video can have in the classroom. This post, Pedagogical benefits of video by the University of Queensland, succinctly sums up the positive effects of video and provides links to a helpful further reading. Videos are beneficial because they:

  • are an effective method of storytelling
  • engage students
  • spark conversations
  • are visual
  • are attractive
  • are flexible (students and teachers are able to pause, rewind, play again)
  • emphasise important messages

It was with a deep joy that I was introduced to Adobe Voice. An iPad and iPhone app which allows you to create engaging video content quickly and easily. Watch the video below (I spent about 10 minutes making it) to learn a little about what Adobe Voice can do.

//voice.adobe.com/a/qEzNX/embed/

What did you think? I reckon it would take me a few days to learn how to make something like that but it took me no more than 10 minutes to make using Voice. It’s hosted online so I don’t need to worry about storage and I can link directly to it using a URL or embed it on a page like I have above.

All you need to start using Adobe Voice is an iPad or iPhone and an Adobe ID, which is free and only involves entering an email address and password. So, you can use it with your students, why not get them to create some video content.

You don’t need to be Steven Spielberg to make a good video resource!