Archive for December, 2012

The blogging boomerangIt has been six months since my first post. This, after setting up my WordPress account (via a colleague at the school I teach at) in November 2011. At the time I had no idea what I was going to write about, so it lay “fallow” for half a year. In what has been probably the best new thing I’ve done in 2012, you can work out, by association, that my knowledge of blogging has come about behind the process of blogging itself – therefore, less than six months of experience. This includes ideas such as (as obvious as it might seem now), reading other blogs, commenting and “liking” on other blogs, as well as finding ways of promoting your voice more broadly.
During this time (and I type this as a mere acolyte!), I have come across a range of other blogs, bloggers and topics. This has included the “super” bloggers, who command readerships in the many thousands, down to the minnows who, like me, are relative newcomers to the blogosphere. And the way that I have come to engage with the blogging community has changed as well.
Initially, I would seek out the established blogs, hoping both to find the ‘secret’ to a wider audience, as well as seeking the wisdom of those who had been doing this for years. What were they writing about? How did they use voice? Did their content change much to reflect different topics or was it consistent for the most part.
Now I find myself looking for the diamond in the rough – the newer or smaller blog. It is affirming to find new, fresh content and I know from personal experience, there is a compelling child-at-Christmas-like (in keeping with the current festive season) wonderment for the blogger, whose site you visit and like or comment on. This goes even more so for those moments when you discover that they are in a different country to your own, asking yourself, How is it that they came to view my site?
Not that I want to say I’ve left the “big” blogs behind- I haven’t. It’s just that I’m also enjoying finding the rarer gem. I’m equating it to a “Blogging Boomerang” – an analogy along the what-goes-around-comes-around concept, except that the small boomerang that you throw out, in the shape of contributing on other sites, returns to you as a much larger device, in the form of fresh interest in your own site, coming from the reciprocal viewing that might take place, along with other passers by who observe your comment on that visited site, never mind all the varied reading that you discover along the way.
So then, in my blogging greenness, I profess to not being adept at finding these sites. I’ve used Freshly Pressed and this offers up a good smattering of possibilities. Likewise, I’ve typed in various topics (such as ‘Education’ in my case, as one example) into the Reader setting, but with limited success. I know that there are over 58 million WordPress Blogs alone, so even taking out 50 million as private blogs, “dead” blogs or even ones that never got “started”, there should still be a gold mine worth of content to find out there (and, I’m guessing, a lot of under explored sites).
Put simply, I’m not sure I’m doing the searching the best way I can. Ideally, I’m looking to keep it reasonably “in house” using the WordPress platform, rather than go “out” to Google and search more broadly that way. Is that a mistake or a limitation on my part?

So, a promise to anyone who has got this far in reading this (hello!), as a relative “minnow newbie”, I will come and peruse your site should you let me know you’ve been to mine – and hope to grow your readership too. If you have tips of how to find those burgeoning sites (or even some great ones to look at that you think I’d appreciate), I’d love to hear from you, as always.
Till next time then…

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Remember that well-worn idea; you are holding a dinner party and have the chance to invite any guests, from any time – who you would like to attend?

I’d been giving it some thought over Christmas and, having let my ideas drift, have decided to bring it up to the present a little more. What about if we could use blogging as the vehicle, rather than the dinner party? And, instead of inviting guests from anytime, what if we could consider some other options, like a menu of speakers, or even ideas?
First things first, what about a look at the original format and its pros and cons.
The premise is simple enough; who would you select, from all of history, on the basis of their conversation, ideas, notoriety or the like, to attend your dinner party. With a ‘gem selection’ you would have, in theory, stimulating and provocative discourse for the whole of the evening. The likely limitations? Well, how about these:

    • You wouldn’t want anyone who would dominate the conversation. What’s the point of having six influencial figures, only to have one individual dominate the discussion all night long?
    • And, ideally, one wouldn’t want to pick six diverse individuals, only to see one topic of conversation hold court at the expense of the others. Thus choosing Mozart might well see music at the fore, while Fermat might sit quietly, listening for the whole night.
    • On top of this, history being what it is, this occasion would also, unfortunately, tend to favour male guests, for the most part, particularly when you go back 150 or more years.

So then, let’s come forward to the present day. How might we use blogging to have our “discourse dinner party”? Well, as a suggestion, consider any of the following:

      • Using a blog as a space to discuss compelling, unorthodox or provocative ideas. This would extend beyond the usual “make a comment” at the end of a post
      • Developing a small group of bloggers, exploring a common theme. Blog spots, such as WordPress, represent an excellent community for finding and fostering like minded individuals
      • Using a blog as the transcript of the “night”. Like the old fashioned chess game, carried on through months of correspondence, this could act as the repository for the discourse. Of course, this might operate over a defined period, or a broader, extended timeframe.
      • Inviting guest bloggers to attend a “dinner”. This might be on the basis of acting as a stimulus to other bloggers, or the topic being considered.

So, what are the big ideas, the big questions worth considering, defining and debating?
More than happy for you to take all this as your invitation to the dinner… If inclined, feel free to R.S.V.P. (aka Comments?) to get the party started! Not sure how it’ll all go, but that should be part of the fun…

Over the Australian summer holidays, I’ll change tack a little and look to write more often and more broadly. Normal blogging transmissions will resume late January/early Feb next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these posts.

How good is StumbleUpon?!

Dice five

I’ve got WordPress to thank for this. Doing my usual look around the workings (read “Dashboard operating system”) I came across some of the extra ways of having readers ‘respond’ to one’s writing. I’d noticed the StumbleUpon button but had no idea what this actually entailed. So, having come to the end of a school term, I decided to do some investigating.

Why is it good? Well, simply, I keep coming across items that I like (hence StumbleUpon). This comes from selecting a number of Interests at the outset and then, as the site says “We take in a lot of different signals to ensure we are showing you the best stuff on the Internet. You can make sure you are getting the best recommendations by Liking and Disliking web pages we show you, following other members whose Likes you find interesting, and following to a variety of Interests. This all helps us personalize your Stumbles so we can show you the best of the Web.”. I’m not sure how this works, or, in the scheme of things, how accurate this even is. All I know is that I have “liked” quite a few things and “not liked” only a couple, hopefully allowing some hidden algorithm to feed me more of the content that I find most stimulating, striking and useful. What I do know is that I have unwittingly posted to Facebook a couple of times – mind you, broadcasting some of the top info about the best Sci-Fi books of all time is probably a half-decent thing.

The other way that StumbleUpon grabs me is via the ability to list items. Below is a screen shot from my iPad of how my lists look.

My Stumble Lists

My Stumble Lists

For me, the boon here is the ability to press a button and have it “saved for later”. So, for items of interest, ideas and even examples to use in teaching, I have a kind of repository to draw upon. I think that the ability to Follow like-minded Stumblers would also prove rewarding – something I have yet to master.
I also have a Pinterest account, but have not done a lot of searching with this tool. I think the difference for me is how the “stumbles” come to the viewer one-at-a-time. This means you have a moment to assess whether you wish to view the item (especially with its preview ability) before selecting or discarding it. There are still a lot of stumbles which are just that, stumbles – items which have little merit for me. However, I think this is also a good thing. As an imperfect process, you are more likely to find that gem and decide that it is something worth treasuring.
I can highly recommend StumbleUpon to anyone who has yet to have a look – assuming I am not the last person to catch on, that is!
Any stumble fine-tuning suggestions or other ideas about its features would be happily accepted!

Over the Australian summer holidays, I’ll change tack a little and look to write more often and more broadly. Normal blogging transmissions will resume late January/early Feb next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these posts.

A Year in Reverse

A year ago, I was in the process of moving out of the school Boarding House, having lived in for more than six years – four of which I oversaw the running of the place. I left for a variety of reasons, but was quizzed by a few students as to “why it had to be now?” In answering, I said that first term was just too hectic a time. There were all the new boarders and, for this next year, I would also have my youngest child starting school. It felt like I was juggling a few too many things. At the time, I also said

If the year could start as it is ending, then I could do another year. But with the big start it’ll be just too much. I want to dedicate my time to a whole number of areas, but feel like I’m spreading it so thinly none might be covered fully.

Fast forward to now and, while recently chatting to a colleague, I reflected upon the these sentiments. Currently, teachers start the year with a full battery, full of ideas, only to be met with a full load, the need to be fully prepared and (perhaps) not with sufficient time for reflection. By the time one gets to the end of the year when there is possibly more time on your hands (say with the exit of a Year 12 class), you are often mentally, if not physically tired. It’s that time of the year when someone could show you the best app of all time, the greatest teaching strategy, the best book you could read and your reaction is lukewarm to indifferent. What, we mused, if the year could start the year as it ends – with Term 4, moving towards Term 1. Here were the perceived benefits of our grand manifesto:

  • Rather than starting at full tilt, in a Reverse Year (RY), you might start a little more slowly. The year 12s don’t even arrive for a whole term (this would be their “stu vac” time!!)
  • As a result, you’ve got at least one lesson per day to put towards your own R&D – what about that online open uni course you’ve thought about that always starts in the first part of the year?
  • Or do some app trialling, rather than having only a basic understanding of how “Explain Everything” or “iMovie” works. Now you can get some real functionality.
  • Continue reading and perhaps even writing, rather than “dropping everything” as might be the case in the normal year, when the pressures of lesson preparation are at their most pressing.

Of course, the middle of the year would be kind-of-the-same, but the downside would now be the end of the year. You would end the year at full throttle and fall over the line into the holidays (quite likely factoring in the first week to get over the looming illness that you’ve managed to stave off for the last couple of weeks… but then again, how often does this happen now at other points of the year?!)

But perhaps this has, to some degree, been offset by the sense of gain already achieved over the course of the year. As teachers, we need to remember the need to be learners for life and, while not perfect by any means, a RY could offer a starting point for further consideration.

iBlog – uBlog – we… Blog  luring

This post might seem to preach a little to the converted, and for that I apologise from the outset. If you are already writing a blog, what I am about to say may well be obvious. For those who are considering starting one, or want to know more about the aspects that you might not even be aware of, this will have pertinence to you.
Firstly, I should mention that I have been running a mini-unit in my Year 9 & 10 English classes in the wind down towards the end of the year. It has been the first time I have run something like this and many of the students, with the “post exam afterglow” were initially resistant to doing something “on blogging”. For those in Year 10, who started this first, the word blogging equated to some journal writing; something they had no interest in. Step one in amending-as-you-go-teaching saw me do away with the word blog and look to use site more generally. This (Year 10) is not a highly graded class, but there are a lot of students with specific interests and abilities. Some of them hope to play higher level/professional sport. Suddenly, the nomenclature changed, a few souls could see the worth of such an enterprise. The Year 9s, following a week later in the process, were far more amenable from the outset. For many of them, the ‘hook’ took quickly.
So what is the lure?
For them (and me), the hook to addiction comes in several parts. The first comes in determining your site name. The bit that will come after the old “www” part. Because it is what I have worked with, I have used WordPress as our key format. I am sure that other blogging sites use similar systems, but for now, bear with me.
Seeing students assume that (and at this point, I didn’t know how many sites there are hosted by WordPress – now I am aware that, as I type, there are over 58 million worldwide) they can walk in to “basketball.wordpress.com” because basketball is their thing and (because WordPress is in the title, so it’s not like “basketball.com”) no one else will have thought of it as a title, is amusing. What they thought would take 1 minute to do, ends up taking half a lesson or more, as they want to get the website title just right… not settling for something that’s too obscure. And why not? Wouldn’t you rather stumble upon something memorable and feel like you’ve staked your claim to that title? They certainly did.
The next two things came in quick succession. Before I could get round the room in the case of the Year 10s, most had already put up their first post. It was only after this that I was able to steer them back to considering why their “About” page might be worth a little bit of thought. This, along with working out what the site title would be (and the summary subheading that sits underneath this) made sense, when they had got past the excitement of setting the whole thing up. Helping me to ‘sell’ this idea, was the concept that this might well be the start of their ‘digital’ identity – one that they would like to develop and promote. Suddenly, students weren’t that keen to link their site to Facebook. It wasn’t about their friends seeing their efforts, it was more about creating something that went beyond the quick here-and-now that FB offers. As one student in Year 9 also offered, Even if we did connect our first post to FB, we all have so many ‘friends’ that the feed goes by so fast and no one would necessarily see it. 

Suddenly, substance took priority over immediacy.
While this was going on, the real hook was about to catch. I had been showing the class my own site (this one) in the form of its Dashboard. This has some compelling pieces of information embedded into it. Amongst them are the “site stats”. I’ve copied the scene that you would see, were you to have access to my Stats page.

The snapshot for the last week

The snapshot for the last week

Jokes aside regarding the (relatively) small breadth of my readership from the boys, they soon made some striking realisations. The most telling of these is that, for whatever reason, someone in Venezuela, came across my site. This came to prominence when, after several days, a few students realised that they only had ‘stats’ from Australia and, to be frank, these probably came from friends in the class who were ‘clicking’ on their site. A few boys had managed to get some views, mostly from the United States and these were held in high regard. However, even these were ‘trumped’ in days to come, as a couple of students managed to establish their first “followers” – mostly linked to the blogs that were sport based and had a broad appeal. But the seed had been planted in many minds. How and why would someone in Venezuela be in a position to be clicking (by the way, hello there in Venezuela!) “on Sir’s site!!”. I was reminded of an excellent blog by Daniel Edwards on The 10 Stages of Twitter – as the students  “Sit waiting for a response – feel unloved.” – highlighted in Stage 3!!

And so, the hook ‘takes’. For those not new to blogging, I wonder how accurate the following is: how often do you log on to see if you have ‘more hits’ and, perhaps even more compelling, whether you have new countries in your Stats? Isn’t it both satisfying and addictive, in equal part, to discover that there IS an audience out there for your efforts? For those contemplating starting a blog, this (and so much more, such as how people type phrases and questions into search engines and, by doing so, end up ‘clicking’ on your site) is a fascinating side to the form that you might not be aware of.

It certainly makes the process and the thought behind what I do, all the more considered. Even if I know that many coming to my site might be there by accident, and so, not hang around for long. Who doesn’t appreciate an audience?

Anyone else got any blogging lures?