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Presentation Star Certificate

I wasn't expecting this!

I mean - I made a definite stumble in my presentation and there's no way anyone didn't notice as I made direct reference to it a dozen times!

Fighting the idea that I got a 'sympathy vote'! I know I didn't give any sympathy votes.

Three of the six people I voted for also got an award. My favourite from the first session didn't which was off as the presentation and subject were so interesting and well explained.

The EMA is in. And I am a few days away from beginning H819. Enjoying a slight rest from study but feeling guilty with all the free time I have!!!

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Judith McLean, Friday, 13 Mar 2020, 08:22)
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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!
Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 14 Mar 2020, 17:01)
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The Redemption of Twitter

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I have a love hate relationship with Twitter. On the one hand I have found myself embroiled in a lot of nasty arguments (mostly with Brexiters, Tories, Trump supporters and so on) but today Twitter, and WhatsApp were wonderful examples of 'backchannels' where conference observers discussed and commented and sometimes giggled a bit!

So here's some Twitter screenshots! They made me smile and, I think, demonstrate the softer side of networking. And by soft I mean 'hard to define' rather than 'unimportant'. The soft stuff is VERY important.

Twitter screen shot

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The conference and the lost page

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It's fair to say I was nervous! It all began ok. Tech set up was fine and my slides appeared as they were supposed to.

I began to read my notes, click through the slide show... all was well....

And then my notes and my slides didn't match! I had lost my place. I didn't quite 'die' but it was close.

I now know exactly what happened. I had printed my notes out and, to save paper, I had printed it double sided. This meant I read one side, turned over the sheet, read the second side, discarded the sheet, read the top side of the next sheet and so on.... I got mixed up and discarded too soon. I stumbled.

People were very kind and said I had coped well, and that my project came across anyway but I was super frustrated. So I recorded the conference presentation as I wish I had managed to do it!

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Jenny Duckworth, Thursday, 20 Feb 2020, 17:41)
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Huuuuuge Imposter Syndrome

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So the presentation is tomorrow at 9.10. Slight hiccup in that my teenage children, who would usually be at school, won't be as their school was damaged by Storm Ciara. Suddenly the 9.10 feels like a blessing as they will most likely be in bed and not on the internet!

Suddenly my entire endeavour - the poster, abstract, project, presentation, script - feels like it was thrown together by an earnest and slightly geeky ten year old. Everyone else has much more impressive sounding project titles and (I fear) much more academically slanted projects to present in a much more academic style.

I am terrified. And I am first.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Friday, 14 Feb 2020, 09:36)
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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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Who, Why, What and How....

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My project title was developed after, oooh, about three seconds of careless consideration!

However - my throwaway but catchy words have actually helped me form a mental structure of the eventual project output which has eased my general panic over the last couple of weeks (possible a bit too much!).

Who blogs?

Who used the OU blog tool? In short - not many people. I have been unable to get official figures but there are around 168,000 OU students and about 50,000 public blog posts each year. Given that a small number of blog users are quite prolific and a lot of individual student blogs consist of a single post (or three at the maximum) it's not unreasonable to assume that usage is low. Of course there may be private blogs in the system too but even assuming a generous 'three times as many' it still means that each OU student uses the blog tool less than twice each year. The blog is only open to current students and staff.

Why is there a blog tool?

The blog tool is part of a suite available to OU students. Different courses may feature different extra options but the blog tool is part of StudentHome. The potential for the blog is a part of the body of research and theory surrounding technology enhanced education - practitioners can see how it could function as a reflective learning journal, an online collaborative space or a 'can't be lost' repository for ongoing work and activity. There is lots of sound pedagogical research surrounding the activities which blogging is thought to be a technological enhancement of but somewhat less about how much it has (so far) fulfilled the theoretical promise.

What do people blog about?

The blog post analysis revealed a few indisputable patterns.

1. Some people who blog a lot often simple use their blog as a journal. There may be some reflection within it but essentially it's a diary.

2. Other people blog a lot and their posts are short, thought provoking, amusing.

3. Some people only blog when their tutor requires it.

Defining the 'right' way to blog is counter to the aims of reflective or collaborative practice but it doesn't look like this tool is principally being used for either of those things.

How can good blog use be encouraged?

I have got a lot of comment here from OU students (past and present) and some tutors, VLE designers and other experts. I hope to add narrative from different perspectives here. There are many stories of good blog use.

Permalink 8 comments (latest comment by Helen Darlaston, Wednesday, 5 Feb 2020, 12:33)
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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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Poster and Abstract - The Who, Why, What and How of the OU blog

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 14 Jan 2020, 20:18

The value of reflection and collaboration is broadly accepted within learning and education. Reflective journaling and collaborative work have long been part of ordinary and common learning and studying practice. As with so many aspects of pedagogy the advent of the internet has offered new technological enhancements to augment traditional activities – extending their reach, convenience of use, functionality and a network of examples of good practice. 

In this presentation the way in which OU students use the provided blog tool to reflect and collaborate will be described and insight into how further such activity can be encouraged will be given. 

The blog is potentially, and reportedly, a valuable tool for both reflection and collaboration – the main two aspects considered within this paper (Mohamed 2013, Byington 2011).  The blog can provide a learning journal which cannot be lost, within which there is a search function and which can, if the writer desires, provide support and encouragement to numerous other learners.  The blog could enhance and extend the capacity for collaboration to be less bound by geographical and synchronicity constraints.

Including a blog function within a VLE is a way which institutions can offer access to these benefits to their learners at little expense or effort. However – provision of a tool is not, on its own, enough to guarantee effective use, or indeed any use. A blog tool is not an example of a feature where ‘build it and they will come’ seems have much validity! (Shana, 2015)

There are many reasons learners may not perceive the value of blogging: they may perceive it as an additional and unwelcome chore; they may lack confidence with the technology; or they may simply feel that they have little to contribute. Unless students use the tool neither party gains any benefit.

Yet blogging cannot become a ‘requirement’ and remain useful. Collaboration and reflection cannot be truly effective unless undertaken voluntarily and formulaic reflection or mechanical collaboration will not confer any benefit and may be counterproductive (Chang 2019, Fernsten 2005, Musanti 2010). Institutions can encourage learners to reflect and collaborate (using a blog) in the hope that benefits become obvious and habits form, and for some learners this will be enough to begin their blogging journey with all the associated benefits. For others it won’t be - and those learners may benefit from other tools to facilitate reflection and collaboration.

In this paper there is

  • an analysis of a sample of public blog posts on the Open University VLE.
  • results of a survey asking OU students if, how and why they use the blog tool provided
  • details of deeper conversations about how individuals have benefited from, or not, using the blog tool
  • a literature search detailing blog use in reflective practice and collaboration within learning
  • applications for learners, educators, institutions and within wider extra-learning contexts.

This presentation may be of interest to VLE developers, online learning designers, students and tutors.

Key Words: Blogs, Reflection, Collaboration, Learning Design, Virtual Learning Environment


Byington, T. A. (2011) ‘Communities of practice: Using blogs to increase collaboration’, Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(5), pp. 280–291. doi: 10.1177/1053451210395384.

Chang, B. (2019) ‘Reflection in learning’, Online Learning Journal, 23(1), pp. 95–110. doi: 10.24059/olj.v23i1.1447.

Fernsten, L. and Fernsten, J. (2005) ‘Portfolio assessment and reflection: enhancing learning through effective practice’, Reflective Practice, 6(2), pp. 303–309. doi: 10.1080/14623940500106542.

Mohamad, S. K. et al. (2013) ‘Pattern of reflection in learning Authoring System through blogging’, Computers and Education. Elsevier Ltd, 69, pp. 356–368. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.07.031.

Musanti, S. I. and Pence, L. P. (2010) ‘and Navigating Identities Collaboration and Teacher Development ’:, Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(1), pp. 73–90. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ872650&site=ehost-live.

Shana, Z. A. and Abulibdehb, E. S. (2015) “Engaging students through blogs: Using blogs to boost a course experience”, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 10(’, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 10(1), pp. 30–38. doi: 10.3991/ijet.v10i1.4240.

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020, 23:27)
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