Author Archives: Melissa A. Venable

About Melissa A. Venable

Working at the intersection of instructional design and technology, social media, and career development.

Adjuncts and Academic Blogging: #AdjunctChat

academic bloggingI’m excited to be guest moderating #AdjunctChat this week! This weekly Twitter conversation takes place on Tuesday at 4:00pm ET.

As a full-time education writer (a.k.a. blogger) and an adjunct online instructor, my interest in this topic is close to home. Blogging platforms (e.g., WordPress, Blogger, EduBlogs) offer the opportunity for an individual to be heard, to share a perspective based on his or her unique combination of experiences, context, and areas of interest. And many academics have turned to blogging, as an alternative form of publication, to do just that.

Blogging can be, well, whatever the writer wants it to be. Consider the possibilities for:

  • Developing an online presence
  • Sharing practical experience and advice
  • Disseminating research results
  • Connecting with students
  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Exploring professional development
  • Developing a portfolio

These questions will guide the chat:

  • Is there a value to blogging?
  • How can and adjunct faculty member add his or her voice without adding to the noise?
  • What cautions should adjunct bloggers be aware of?
  • What are your favorite adjunct resource blogs?
  • Do you blog? Share your link(s)!

If you are interested in finding out more about how students, faculty, and administrators in higher education are creating blog content, you can visit my ongoing collection of related articles via Scoop.it, and a related conference presentation: All about Blogs: Universal Tool of the Digital Academic.

What would you like to cover during this chat? Add your ideas and questions to the comments area below.

Please join us on Tuesday, January 28th at 4pm ET! All are welcome.

UPDATE: Thanks to all participants for their enthusiasm for this topic. A long list of ideas, experiences, and further questions were shared. The group took the chat in a helpful direction with a discussion about the use of blogs with students and in a class setting. The AdjunctChat site will post a transcript and a Storify version is linked below.

Image credit: Travelin’ Librarian, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-SA

Top 10 Learning Tools – 2012

Are you familiar with the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) annual “Top 100 Tools for Learning” project? Led by Jane Hart, this is a collaborative effort in which learning professionals all over the world submit their top 10 tools for the year. This year more than 500 submissions were included.

I’ve contributed to the project over the last several years, but having missed the deadline for the latest list, I thought I’d go ahead and post my thoughts here. As a blogger, freelance instructional designer, and adjunct online instructor, these are the 10 tools that have been the most helpful to me over the past year (in no particular order):

  1. Google Search: What would we do without it? As a blogger I use Google to begin the research for almost every post I write. In the process I’ve become a student of analytics and changing algorithms. I recently completed Google’s open access Power Searching class and highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to enroll or use the posted resources.
  2. Blackboard: I love it and I hate it. Both the class I taught in the spring and another I assisted with this fall used Blackboard to deliver content to online students. While it’s not my favorite, I think an LMS at its most basic can provide a helpful hub for information and communication during an online class.
  3. Gmail: Email may be dead, but I sure am using it a lot these days to communicate with students, co-workers, and even to conduct asynchronous interviews for blog posts. I currently have more active accounts that I really want to count, and continue to be issued new ones with new contracts.
  4. Twitter:Perhaps my favorite on this list, I spend a lot of time on Twitter for a multitude of reasons: current events, industry news, network building, conference backchannels, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, community-building and more. I also moderate a weekly chat focused on online learning and presented Twitter-related topics at several conferences this year.
  5. MS Word: Still my go-to for all things related to writing, I use Word to draft all posts here and at work, as well as for note-taking. Although I am using shared Google Docs more and more when collaboration is needed.
  6. Skype: I initiated Skype use this past year for virtual office hours with students and found several other groups asking me to join Skype meetings as well. I have also had a Skype phone number for the past several years and find it is more reliable (and has clearer reception) than my cell for work-related calls.
  7. WordPress: WordPress.com is home for this blog, and Inside Online Learning is powered by WordPress.org. One of the highlights of my year was presenting at WordCamp Miami in February and learning more about how to use WordPress from other speakers and participants representing a wide range of blog topics and web development skills.
  8. Google Chrome: As my favorite browser (although Firefox is a close second) Chrome has come a long way and just makes my work easier with a streamlined interface and great add-ons like Awesome Screenshot.
  9. Camtasia: Earlier this year I designed and developed an online course for CEUonestop (LinkedIn) which required screencasting. The Camtasia app was affordable and much more intuitive than I thought it would be, allowing me to quickly capture and edit resulting in a nice looking final product.
  10. Flickr: I continue to rely on the generosity of photographers providing use of their images with Creative Commons licenses. Flickr makes it easy to search for these via keyword and license type so that I can find items suitable for use in blog posts. I also try to add to the pool when I can.

Take a look at C4LPT’s final Top 100 list below, but don’t stop there. Go to the main page to explore more details about the submissions in the “Best of Breed” list and to see how this year’s tools compared to those submitted in 2011.

Image credit: (Top 10) iabusa, Flickr, CC:BY-SA

An Education Writer/Blogger Goes to School

I am thrilled to be participating in Words Awake: A Celebration of Wake Forest Writers and Writing, taking place today through Sunday. Part of the event includes visits to local schools and I was asked to speak with students at the Paisley IB Magnet School. I worked with their teacher, Mr. Marvelli, via Skype and email to craft a plan for what I should say. As my own editor at OnlineCollege.org put it, “good luck explaining what you do for a living.” What emerged was a series of questions about what I do and how I do it, and I thought a blog post might be a good place to start.

So, here are the questions and my thoughts (although I think I could write a full post about each one). Please take a look and help me provide additional feedback to these middle and high school students who are interested in writing. And wish me luck today!

What is your writing process?

Each week I post 3 to 5 articles at the Inside Online Learning blog, and each one starts with a “pitch” that my editor approves. I start with each pitch as a proposal for a post – defining the audience and topic, how I plan to approach it, and something about why I think it is an important topic – and expand on it.

The structure and flow of the post are important – conversational in nature, readable, engaging (hopefully), encouraging, and authoritative. I’ve usually done some preparation for the post already by reading about the topic (see below) and bookmarking (via Diigo) resources I want to go back and reference.

After I complete a draft, it goes to my editor for review. I make modifications and finalize, select an image to go with the post, and then add it all to the blog site (powered by WordPress). After I upload the post, but before I publish it, there is some tweaking after I proofread one more time on screen, and often read it out loud.

Where do the ideas come from?

They are all around! Once you put your antenna up, you begin to find them in items you read, watch, and listen to, and in lots of conversations with friends and colleagues along the way. There are five categories that organize my thoughts and writing ideas – resources for online instructors, resources for online students, current trends in online education, career advising, and educational advising/student expectations. My professional experience in higher education student services, as an online instructor, and as an instructional designer all inform my writing.

I was given the advice early on to spend as much time reading as I do writing. This can be tough to do, but helps me stay up-to-date on the topics I write about and is my primary source of new ideas for posts. I subscribe to lots of other blogs (via Feedly), news sites (via Twitter and Google+), and listervs. Browsing through these sources is a daily task.

What is the place of blogging in the U.S. and the World? What role do blogs play?

Anyone with Internet access and a blog account can write for a global audience. That is amazing and challenging at the same time. Blogs are platforms that can be used by an individual, or group of individuals, to amplify a voice or an idea. They can be used for business, to market a service or product. Bloggers can build communities around what they write, made up of participants with similar views, interests, questions, etc.  The ability for a reader to leave a comment on a post takes reading and writing to another level – you aren’t just reading, you can interact with the writer by leaving a comment. And the blogger is aware of this when writing the post.

Blogs can also be more private and personal, written only for you or for just a few friends. It’s not journalism. It’s not necessarily objective. It’s the bloggers perspective on the topic. In short, a blog can be whatever you, the blogger, want it to be.

There are currently millions (billions?) of blogs online and the variety of topics, purposes, and writing is as diverse as the population.  Technorati provides an annual State of the Blogosphere report and in the 2011 edition   identified five different kinds of bloggers: 1) hobbyists (61%), 2 -3) Professional Part-time and Full-time (%18%), 4) Corporate (%8), and 5) Entrepreneurs (13%).

How are blogs used in education?

Blogs are growing in use by educators and students. Academics are getting more involved in disseminating their research this way, in addition to more traditional publications, and schools are using blog platforms for school papers (like the Paisley Paw Prints!) and to build communities with parents and teachers. Students, particularly those in online courses, often find blogs as requirements in their courses for posting written assignments, peer review and feedback exercises, reflective journaling activities, and to create digital learning portfolios with artifacts that demonstrate what they have achieved in their courses.

Just as in non-educational settings, blogs can be used to build communities in education – communities of learners who communicate online through their writing and comments. And it’s happening at all levels, not just in college courses. Take a look at EduBlogs.org: With over 1 million blogs and counting, this community is specifically for educators and students. EduBlogs.org also sponsors annual awards (2011 Winners here) in which voting is open to the public.

Blogging platforms are easy to use, making a new blog quick to set-up and ready for use. They also allow for not only text-based content, but also the addition of multimedia, polling, and other communication tools. Blogging in education engages students and teachers with the course content and learning activities, with the technology required to establish and maintain blog sites, and with each other and potentially a larger audience as they make their blogs available on the Internet. Getting involved with blogs and a reader and/or writer also develops digital, information, and media literacy, as each source must be assessed for currency and accuracy.

The Discussion Continues

Paisley students, if you are reading, what other questions do you have? Ask here and I’ll answer, and hopefully others will as well. (You can also reach me via email: mvenable @ design-doc .com or through Twitter: @Melissa_Venable.) Do you have a blog? If so, tell us more about it – why do you blog and what do you like to write about?

I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion, especially about blogging and education. And as I continue to participate in the Words Awake event, as a blogger amid a host of other kinds of writers, I’ll be taking more notes about the purpose of blogs, blog writing, and how it all fits in with the rest.

Image credit: Search Engine People Blog, Flickr, CC-BY