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Questions from the Conference

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I found blogging really scary. How do you overcome that Anna?
I suppose, in common with everything we find scary, by doing it! It's only scary if you are worried there is a 'wrong' way to blog. There is a million right ways to blog and no wrong ways (assuming you're not planning to incite crime!).

I didn't think of it as an online filing cabinet. That's interesting.
We store so much online now - photos, diaries, documents. A blog can be an extension of this.

Did you look at whether bloggers used PCs, laptops, tablets or phones and whether that's shifted?
I didn't even think of this! It could have been an interesting diversion but I don't think it would have changed my focus or conclusions. The caveat to this is where a blog tool doesn't have functionality over many platforms.

There are already loads of channels for online discussions (discussion rooms, etc.). Is there anything about blogs which you think make them more effective than other channels (you might be about to answer this!)
There are lots of online discussion spaces but a blog is one where you get to ask the opening question! Plus it can fulfill so many other functions too.

I have found myself not blogging as have felt it needs consistency in terms of frequency of posts etc - lacking inspiration to do this has stopped me engaging fully. I wonder if this is another reason for lack of engagement.
You blog for *you* and not for your audience (or at least that's what I do). If I don't post for a while I don't feel guilty. As for inspiration - I find blogging allows me to record and expand on moments of inspiration in my studies but also has trained me to look for inspiring and thought provoking things to post about. It helps me both record and seek interesting and engaging subject matter.

That's one of my concerns too - if I started I feel I'd have to post regularly to maintain continuity and 'presence'. I wonder if there is a link with people using the blog privately?
Your blog is for you. You can (depending on the tool) opt for a range of privacy settings. If you seek to gain and maintain an audience you might want to post regularly and publicly. If it's just for you and / or a small group of people then you can blog exactly as you wish.

I did this for a while when I lacked confidence.
The blogosphere can feel like a lot of people shouting for attention but it's just as full of private people who selectively record and sometimes share their journeys in an accessible and cloud based way.

good recommendations Anna - I think the OU blog tool could be improved.
Definitely - and thanks

I use pen and paper. I've kept a journal for years; I guess the difference is that I don't share them. I wonder how many blogs that are shared are actually read by anyone else?
I used to journal using pen and paper for years and years. I didn't share them but it was always at the back of my mind that my notebooks may be found and published posthumously! I don't know how many blogs are read regularly - as a percentage of bloggers probably not many. But - I have not actively sought engagement and yet I have (to date) almost 40,000 views on my blog. I must be posting about something that someone is interested it! That's NOT my motivation though - just a realisation that sometimes we can undervalue the things we put out into the world. Just because we don't think anyone will be interested doesn't mean that no-one will be.

Oh wow. How do you keep the files you have stored if you lose it when you leave? Do you lose it immediately?
I think there is a 3 year 'grace period'. I will certainly be investigation how I am able to keep mine. As it is a 'public' blog then it will probably remain viewable to all but I may well lose access to continue contributing. If I had know how useful I was to find blogging I may have started using another tool. That said - the convenience of the OU blog tool means I can easily reach it when I am studying and want to record a thought or idea.

I agree - I don't think students are necessarily 'aware' of it. Wouldn't say it's flagged up at all on any of the (UG STEM) modules I tutor.
There are definitely some STEM students using the tool and, I was told, it's far more heavily used in some STEM areas. Some of the posts I reviewed went completely over my head they were so sciencey!

the question of whether to oblige (or very heavily encourage) students to use blog posts is really interesting - I remember this question coming up in H800 with 'making' students use discussion boards by it being part of assessment. Do you think the benefits would justify making it part of assessment?
I think that mandatory use of the blog may, for some, spark a very useful learning habit. I think the problem with it is that people are just told 'blog about it' and they often have no idea where to begin. I think that if learners were directed towards a few examples of good blogs as examples it would reassure them that there isn't a correct method and that the tool is there for them - not they for the tool.

DO you think an OU Blog is a training tool before considering a tool like Wordpress?
Possibly - less functionality does mean easier so for a complete novice the lack of bells and whistles may actually make the whole process less intimidating.

How often did bloggers look back over their -- or others -- blogs?
I didn't ask. I can say that I look over my own blog quite often. I am not very engaged with anyone else's though!
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Presenting the "Paper"

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My paper about the OU blog tool specifically, and the use of blogs in education and learning more generally is far from written. In fact - I have a whole heap of data and a lot of ideas but only the faintest of conclusions and nothing like a logical narrative in my internal thinking about it all. This does not bode well for presenting the 'paper' which has not only remained unwritten but is still, as I write, unplanned.

I have decided to make my presentation mostly narrative in style. I cannot be alone in finding academic and statistical presentations somewhat difficult to concentrate on and enjoy! I want to use the words people said to me (actually wrote to me) above to demonstrate some of the statistics I have gleaned from my post analysis.  

That said - I have hit a bit of a wall. I have created a presentation which is okay but I am not convinced it is as good as I can make it. I have to submit it on Tuesday so I don't have a lot of time to play with but I'm going to have a go at sketching out my paper in my detail so I can make sure I can do as I have been asked - present my paper. As things stand I am more likely to find myself writing a paper to expand my presentation! Less than ideal!

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Attention! Reflect and Collaborate!

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Now the TMA is done and the conference presentation scheduled it's time to do the actual project and write the actual paper!

I have a whole heap of 'data' now - most of it is essentially qualitative. To be honest I prefer quantitative data - I'm not a scientist but I find numbers easier to draw a conclusion from than words. This is especially true in this case where my quotes are often quite definite and strong and entirely contradictory to each other! The fact is I have not been able to get any firm numerical data from the OU. (I will keep trying - there are a few weeks to go) and my numerical data is based on a google search about the number of OU students and the number of blog posts which are visible.

My initial assessment is that the OU blog tool does not work well for collaboration. Unlike external blogs it is not really easy to subscribe or keep track of who commented on what. OU students have other tools within the VLE, and outside of it, where they can collaborate much more easily. This observation is supported by an analysis of a sample of OU blogs - comments are rare and long comment thread even rarer.

However - the OU blog tool can (and does) work well for reflection. Reflection need not have an audience (indeed many express a preference for their work to be private) but it seems not only possible to gain insight and understanding from other learner's reflections but it seems almost commonplace.

I'm hoping to collate key quotes from all of my research to date to, if not draw a firm conclusion then, offer insight into barriers which discourage effective blogging and keys which encourage it based on the testimony of OU blog users.and OU non-blog users.



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Charting New Waters

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:12

TMA 2 of H818 is proving to be a challenge! So much so that I pursued my time-honoured transition of pretending it wasn't happening for a slightly too long. I suddenly found that I should have done more and that I really hadn't got any clear idea of what I was supposed to do, let alone what I was expected to achieve!

I knew I was doing my overall project - essentially the whole of H818 - on the use of the blog tool with OU students. I knew that the main two benefits of blogging reported in most of the literature was reflection and collaboration so my initial poster simply reflected that:

A large word BLOG with the mirror image reflected in water. Lots of smaller words 'BLOG' interconnected with arrows above.

I liked this poster but, upon seeing the lengths my colleagues were going to, became sure it was too simple. I couldn't see how I could add additional media such as audio or animation as the point of the poster was its simplicity and the room it allowed the viewer to make their own interpretation.

I remembered the TED talk by Amanda Palmer which we viewed a few weeks ago. The point we were supposed to get was about open access models but what most struck me was the power of story telling. The reason I find blogging helpful and one of the reasons I believe blogging is so popular is because of the power of stories. It therefore made sense to give my poster an element of story telling too.

With this in mind I created a narrative path of two people - one of whom blogged for reflection and the other who blogged for collaboration. I wanted to underline that both paths were both theoretical and actual uses and benefits of blogging, and that both augmented and enhanced learning.

Using PowerPoint I have added an audio track which are also on the slide and viewable to anyone not able to hear the audio.

This has been very 'out of the comfort zone' for me... but I guess that's the point! I also having to write an accessibility statement, an abstract and an essay detailing the progress of my project! Argh!

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Leverage (aka taking advantage of your friends!)

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 11:33

We have chosen a context for our TMA03 group project - we are going to develop a technology based way for NQTs in secondary schools to keep a digital diary for reflection as they train.

In the end it was an easy decision - teaching is an area where reflection is already well established in professional training and practice and we all have some experience with teaching.

I know loads of teachers. I just thought I'd shoot a few of them a message asking about reflection in their own training and practice. Two have already proven very helpful to me in narrowing my focus and giving me a real vision of what already happens and why.

My first conversation was with an experienced secondary school teacher. (I have know him since he was 6 so calling him experienced is weird to say the least! But he has been qualified and working as a teacher for more than ten years so.....) Let's call him Ben (because that's his name!)

Ben mentors NQTs. He explained that reflection becomes second nature to effective and experienced teachers as they are always asking about how lesson plans, learning activities and individual encounters have worked. They reflect automatically on reasons things may not have been as effective as hoped, or what factors contributed to greater engagement and success than anticipated. Good teachers will seek to identify factors which impact on learning so they can be replicated or mitigated as appropriate. Ben spoke about how it is hard to avoid the process becoming a 'box ticking' exercise where facts get reported but application and evaluation are not part of the process.

My conversation with Ben crystallized  to me one of the core reasons that reflection is important for teachers. It is not enough to report back on why something did or didn't work - a sober assessment of the modifiable and fixed factors which affected the event must also happen if good practice is to be replicated and mistakes not repeated.

My second conversation was with my son who has just finished a degree in primary education. He has yet to do his NQT year but obviously has done a lot of placements during his degree and reflection has been part and parcel of that. Most useful in this conversation was learning about how he and his tutor / mentor used Padlet to converse, exchange notes and keep in touch. From what he says it was an ideal tool for a two way (mentor or tutor and learner) conversation where the learner can offer reflections and the mentor can guide them in becoming more effective in it.

My reading around the subject has led me to the 'acculturation' which I feel is key. What the NQT year aims to do is change trained individuals from students into practitioners. They must develop a new mindset so that they can operate as fully independent teachers at the end of the year. Becoming fully acculturated involves moving from 'reflective practice' being a mandatory part of the curriculum to being an automatic, intuitive and natural part of daily practice. It would be great if the tool we develop could enable that.

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