Edutechie - the adventures of a learning technologist

Eli Appleby-Donald's views of educational technology

Tag: blog


Why do I blog? Time for some reflection.

I have been asked to take part in a podcast about blogging and normally I’d be very up for this and could, to be honest, chat the legs of a donkey. However, I’m being asked to chat about my professional blogging practice, namely this blog. This puts me in a bit of a pickle as to be honest, this isn’t “my blog”, and don’t get me wrong, obviously this is my blog, it’s me who writes it, but I actually have a lifestyle blog which is quite successful and I have built a community around that over the past ten years. I consider that “my blog”.   I consider this one, something I do for work.

So I am now trying to think about my blog (for work), why I blog, what I am trying to achieve and it’s quite daunting. I don’t think I have EVER actually thought about it.

So, a wee cup of earl grey and a treat to get the brain working and time for some reflection.

Photo by: Eli Appleby-Donald 2019

How did this blog start?

Apparently (some famous nun said) the beginning is a very good place to start, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Well, a while back, I started a blog which became this one. I started a site called The New College Technologist, as at that time this was my professional identity.  I looked after all academic tech related things for New College and I wanted a platform to put my thoughts and ideas out on so that people could find out about things I was interested in, implementing at the school or that I was championing. I wanted a way for people to choose to find out more, rather than me invading their email inboxes. So the New College Technologist blog was born and I was quite a regular blogger, but then I changed jobs and more importantly schools and I stopped being the New College Technologist. My new boss was quite keen that I keep the digital footprint I’d built so Edutechie was born.

photo by: Paul Dodds 2015

But why keep it going?

See this is where reflection is awesome, just telling you about the origins of this blog has opened the flood gates to thought.

My purpose, why then, if I was no longer trying to give my colleagues at New College news and info, did I keep going with blogging? Different audience, different purpose?

I guess it comes down to digital footprint. Although the purpose of this blog changed from delivering info, to me having a space to talk about educational technology, it was still about me having a place to think, to talk, to share my thoughts and opinions. It was about my existence in a much bigger pond. I now feel that I’m being a complete ego maniac, but it’s the truth, I wanted other people to know about the things I thought were important without the need to spend months on a paper for a journal. I wanted people to have alternative opinions of educational technology available to them so that they could make informed choices. After all not all learning tech types think the same things, do the same stuff, even those of us who work for the same organisation have differing opinions. So it’s good for all that to be visible and for me, the digital medium just feels right. Not for any clever reason tied into my role, but just because the internet and technology gave me a voice when I didn’t have one. I find social media and digital media in general comfortable. I would happily do so much more in the way of digital media for communication if I had the time. I happily create video and manage a twitter feed, so blogging is just another natural element of that to me.

Photo by Eli Appleby-Donald 2017

I also wanted a much more relaxed approach to being part of my academic community and this fit. Again I like that it’s something people can choose to read and be part of, no-one is being pressured which for me is important. I feel all too often that my job as an educational technologist is to “encourage” people to use certain tools or do things a certain way and I’m not always comfortable with that. I prefer to give people info and chat to them and be a part in their personal decision making process. This is much more me, a support and guide in the wings who is happy to say “ok this isn’t for you, so how can I help you make a success of the thing that is?”

Am I happy with the result?

Ha ha ha, oh this is a goodie, see my “other blog” has a huge community who contacted me on a daily basis. It even spawned a youtube channel which is growing steadily. I am very aware of stats for both.  I regularly check and I have rules about how I engage with the community. Which sounds crazy to me now when I say it out loud (or type it online) because this was never its purpose in the beginning. This blog, however, my work one doesn’t have a community, it has readers, I know because I see the stats, but I haven’t actually engaged with promoting it or encouraging feedback. Should I? I’m not sure. Is that what I want? Again, I’m not sure. I guess I won’t know unless I allow things to happen organically and judge from there.

I feel very much that this blog is in its infancy. I’m not sure yet what my voice here is, should I be reflecting? Explaining? Discussing? I just don’t know and I guess time will help me to find that meaning here. At the moment, it’s an outlet for me, a way for me to write, to communicate in something longer than a tweet.

So as results go, I’m not sure there is anything I can measure yet. I’m not even sure if I should, if I measure will it become something I feel is a chore, something I have to do? Or will I continue to just find solace in speaking to the void knowing that somewhere there is another soul who is happy to passively be part of an invisible community of two?

My other blog:

My professional twitter identity: @LearningTechEli

Other places on the web you may see the Edutechie:

Not sure if blogging is your thing? Here’s why it should be…

Blogging seems to have reared its head at work again, with a new centrally supported platform being launched, but it’s one of those weird things that I take for granted and yet I’m amazed at how many folk who surround me can’t imagine why they would or even how they would, start blogging.

I guess it’s because we connect a couple of things in our heads:

  1.  academics need to write a certain way and publish in a certain place otherwise it’s not “real” or respected.
  2. blogging is not respectable, it’s something people do to talk about cooking and make up, not research.

Well, both of these are kind of right, if you want to be published in an academic journal you have to write to and meet certain standards, but that doesn’t mean you may not also benefit from writing in a different way and publishing somewhere else, like blogging.  Afterall, you don’t spend your career only being published on one journal?

Put it this way, not every inspirational thought you have will end up in a journal, you could still share them as blog posts though, rather than let them drop off the face of the earth 🙂

Also, lots of people read blogs, and yes lots of those people work in academia too, so it can also help you reach a wider audience and build stronger networks. You can even blog to talk about journal articles you’ve written, it’s all impact.

How to get started blogging in academia (regardless of your role in academia)

Blogging versus academic writing

Most academic writing involves time, blood, sweat and tears. Blogging is the opposite of that, not that you still shouldn’t take this seriously, after all it’s still your name out there, but, aim to create a more relaxed writing style that’s interesting to both other academics and the general public at large.  Use first person, it’s personal and easy to connect to and makes your readers feel like you are speaking directly to them. Letting your personality shine through is a good thing.

I should also point out, another key thing is word count. With a blog post, you should be aiming to keep it short and sweet, about 800 – 1000 words. That can be a real challenge, ask the students currently trying to write 1000 word position pieces,  but if you remember this is a conversation between you and your readers about something you find interesting, it might seem more managable.

5 tips to help you write that first blog post

1. How big: the average blog post should be roughly 500-1000 words.

2. First paragraph: the first paragraph is what hooks your readers, make it interesting but also use it to say what that post is about. Often when you share blogs, it’s that first paragraph that people see as a “teaser”.

3. Titles: this is your headline, treat it as such. Keep it short but make it interesting and avoid anything generic.  So “Not sure if blogging is your thing? Here’s why it should be…”  not “Blogging for academics”.

4. Visual: blogs are a visual medium so include appropriate videos, graphics and photos to help get your point across, but remember you will be responsible for abiding by copyright law on these images.

5. Keep your blog active. You don’t have to produce a post every week, but don’t let your blog sit unloved for months at a time either and if you allow your readers to comment, respond in a timely manner. Remember I said it was a conversation?

My last tip is that if you are struggling to shake off the cloak of academic writing and get into your blogging flow… try writing it on your mobile phone. It’s much harder to write an academic piece with autocorrect ruining things, and it might just switch your brain from work mode into communication guru mode. Try it.

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