Tag Archives: WordPress

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

Begin at the Beginning and Blog On

After attending WordCamp Miami in 2010 and 2011, I was thrilled to be able to present at the 2012 event that took place just last weekend. It was an opportunity for me to indulge in one of my favorite topics: blogging. The session followed a morning of the technical side of setting up a WordPress site, so my goal was to present practical tips for getting started with the writing and content development. Here’s a summary of the four main points I addressed:

  1. Goal Setting: Why do you want to blog? Whether it’s find a creative outlet, learn something new, address a burning issue, or start a business, the potential motives for blogging are seemingly endless. Your reasons will be unique to you and help you frame your expectations for the adventure ahead. Remember, it’s your blog, so you’ve got ultimate control over when, where, what, and why, but it can help to establish a few goals to get you moving forward. Put your goals in writing! And revisit them often.
  2. Finding Your Voice: What do you have to say and how do you want to say it? Consider your intended audience and describe their demographics. Take a tip from Problogger and “brainstorm  a list of 10-20 personality attributes” you want people to use to describe your blog, then narrow the list down to 3-5. Is your blog going to be: clever, authoritative, inquisitive, opinionated, helpful, witty, outrageous, controversial … ?
  3. Getting Organized: Chances are you have a day job and other life responsibilities that make adding blogging to your schedule a challenge. Consider adding frequency and topic goals to your calendar. Be realistic, especially at first and set up a plan that’s doable. Use categories to organize your thoughts about the topic your blog addresses. Identify 3-5 broad categories under your broader blog topic, and develop specific ideas as for individual posts related to each category. Consider using an editorial calendar to schedule your writing. Developing a list of writing ideas in advance provides you with a starting point when it’s time to write.
  4. Joining the Blogging Community: As a new blogger you are joining a vast group representing every possible demographic you can imagine. It will be helpful to find other bloggers that share your interests and also write for a similar audience. Conduct a search, add them to a blog reader, and get to know these bloggers better. Take notes about what you like and don’t like and try a few new things on your blog. Leave thoughtful comments on other blogs and look for opportunities to meet other bloggers in your field. Consider scheduling time for this and plan on reading as much as you write.

If you are new to blogging and interested in finding out more, take a look at some of the other offerings from WordCamp Miami 2012. No matter your goals or topic area of interest you’ll find helpful resources and advice in these presentations:

Blogging can be an adventure on many levels allowing you to explore your own learning process, share your perspective with other learners, and connect with those who have similar interests. Many thanks to the WordCamp Miami sponsors, organizers, and volunteers!

Going Green with a Paperless Conference Session

For anyone who has participated in a traditional conference poster session, you know that they can be a little awkward. From the perspective of the presenter, it’s a little like a junior high science fair with students standing by their projects hoping someone will stop and ask a question. From the attendee’s perspective, browsing the poster tables leaves you feeling bad about walking by some tables (while avoiding eye contact with the eager presenters) and a little frustrated trying to locate the few posters that are of interest to you based on the descriptions provided in the program.

Last month I was fortunate enough to present a paperless poster session, entitled Online Career Services: Blogs as ePortfolios, at the Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando. This was a great opportunity to further explore my interest in blog formats and ePortfolios, and to rethink the traditional conference poster format. Sloan-C’s challenge to us was to “go green” and conduct these sessions “electronically rather than utilizing printed poster materials tacked to display boards.”

Session Logistics

The conference’s poster session venue included high tables where participants and presenters could stand and talk in a reception-like atmosphere in the exhibit hall. The wireless Internet access worked well, and power strips were available for all presenters. The “go green” challenge also allowed for a little experimentation.

  • Blog: Since my presentation was focused on bringing awareness to the flexibility of blog formats, it made sense to create a blog to illustrate the point. I created a WordPress.com blog, Blog Your Portfolio, to display the content of the presentation via pages and widgets. I used an iPad during the presentation to walk attendees through the navigation of the site and answer their questions about blogs and ePortfolios. The blog continues to remain “live” online and I hope to add content and encourage reader comments as well. The Examples page has gotten the most attention so far, linking to five career ePortfolios built using blog platforms. (Please let me know if you have one to add to the list!)
  • Live Chat: I moderate a weekly live Twitter chat (#IOLchat) in my role as an education writer/blogger with OnlineCollege.org. We decided to try conducting the event from the poster session. This was a little chaotic for me, talking with people in person at the session while contributing to the chat participants via Twitter, but it was a success and a lot of fun to do. (You can review the conversation here.)
  • QR Codes: Sloan-C provided QR codes for all conference sessions, including the posters. This turned out to be a great way for people to stop by a table quickly, gather info from the QR code, and keep moving. The codes took the user back to the presenter’s session page on the conference’s website. Each page included an abstract, session description, and additional resources (e.g. links and PDFs) uploaded by the presenters.
  • Slideshow: Wanting to be prepared in case of limited wireless access or slow connections during the session, I created a PowerPoint file as a backup. As it turned out, the wireless access worked well and I didn’t need the slides, but I ended up uploading the file to Slideshare. This made it easy to add the presentation to my LinkedIn profile and hopefully reach a few more people with the content.

Going Green is Good

Overall, this was a great experience and an opportunity to experiment a bit with a traditional conference format. The one complaint seemed to be that there just wasn’t enough room for people to move around comfortably, but this was addressed in the morning announcements the following day as the conference organizers recognized the problem and vowed to allow for more space in 2012.

The primary benefit I see, beyond the positive environmental impact, is that the digital materials last longer. The links, files, and codes can all be shared and referenced well after the conference ends. They can also be used in advance of the event to promote sessions via social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Have you presented or participated in a paperless conference session? If so, please consider sharing your feedback and suggestions here.

Top 10 Learning Tools – 2011

This is my third year of submitting my Top 10 Tools for Learning to Jane Hart’s annual project. Jane invites you to add your input as well:

If you are a learning professional (e.g. teacher, academic, trainer, consultant, developer, practitioner, analyst, etc) and active in the field of (e-)learning, please share your Top 10 Tools for Learning to help refine the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011.

She goes a step further and defines learning tool for us:

This could be a tool you use to create or deliver learning content/solutions for others, or a tool you use for your own personal learning.

This year I’ve done more writing than designing, but have put these tools through their paces for my own personal learning purposes. So, here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Hootsuite: I have written about information curation and management systems several times this year and use Hootsuite every single day to manage Twitter tasks: monitor the incoming feed, correspond with other individuals in the field, track topics of interest, follow conference events, and develop writing ideas.
  2. Twitter: This one pretty much goes without saying after #1! I have come to rely on Twitter a great deal, but I am also exploring Google+ more and more for information, conversations, and network building.
  3. Google Search: This is the go-to search engine for me without a doubt. Especially since I made the move over to Chrome.
  4. Chrome: Using this as my primary browser not only opens up the convenience of Google-related features and functions (e.g. searching via keywords in the address bar), but also does a nice job of tracking most frequently visited and most recently visited sites for easy return.
  5. GMail: Another Google product and the one I use for work. Email continues to be a mainline connector for me, and a place where other communication efforts (i.e. Twitter) seem to end up eventually. Did I mention it works well with Chrome? Chrome allows me to set up the notification of new messages so I get a visual on-screen.
  6. Feedly: This is another information management tool that I have written about this year. Set up your reading list of blogs and other websites, and access them in an easy to scan interface. This is a daily routine as well. (And, yes, connects with Google Reader). The Feedly App also allows you to sync your reading list and progress across devices.
  7. WordPress: I use WordPress.com for this blog, and my work is posted on a WordPress self-hosted blog. When asked for recommendations for pretty much anything web-based (i.e. blogs, websites, portfolios, online course delivery, content management ) I mention WordPress. With its large and helpful user community, easy to learn admin side, and design flexibility, you’ve got to give it a try. Oh, and don’t forget to check out a local WordCamp!
  8. MS Word: I made the move to a MacBook Pro over a year ago and haven’t looked back, but I still use Word. For me it’s tried and true. I know how it works and document creation is essential for me. I even admit to creating drafts in Word first before moving to Google Docs or WordPress to share, and then I back up the shared files in Word.
  9. Delicious: I’m still using Delicious pretty heavily, even after the move to AVOS last month. The transition was a little rocky, but everything seems to be back up and running – except, sadly, for Chrome extensions. So while I am shopping for another bookmarking system, Delicious is it for now.
  10. iPad: I am not sure if devices are allowed on this list, but it does fit the definition provided for learning tool. I resisted this purchase with the original then pre-ordered the iPad2 and use it to access everything listed above, except MS Word.

After I completed this list I looked back through my Top 10 for 2009 and 2010 and was a little surprised at how my use has changed over time. How about you? If you haven’t added your Top 10, consider doing so before the project wraps for 2011 sometime in the next few weeks!

UPDATE! Jane Hart’s list of the Top Tools for 2011 is complete! Take a look at the list and slideshow presenting the submissions of 531 learning professionals.

Image credit: zigazou76, Flickr

Blog as ePortfolio: Demonstrate Your Skills

Portfolios have many uses ranging from assessment in an academic program to personal marketing in the job search process. As I prepared for a recent conference presentation on career ePortfolios for students, I wondered how many instructional designers have portfolios. This post explores the possibility of using a blog as a portfolio presentation tool.

Why use a blog?

The features and functions of a blog lend themselves to both presenting work samples and reflection on the work itself. They allow you to tell the story of a project and demonstrate the result. Blogs are also low or no cost alternatives to having a personal website. And since blogging toolsare designed for those without advanced web design and programming skills, they offer quick set-up, a professional look and feel, and intuitive administrative dashboards.

Organization

Blog pages allow for easy organization of portfolio artifacts. Think about structure before you get started. Two approaches to consider:

  • Resume/CV – use typical resume sub-headings to create your blog and present related information (Education, Experience, Certification, Publications, etc.)
  • Standards/Competencies – consider using an existing list of standards or professional competencies to frame your portfolio (AECT, ASTD, IBSTPI, etc.)

Selecting Portfolio Artifacts

  • If you decide to include current or past coursework assignments, review and modify, tweak, to make as perfect as possible. Only your best work should make it into the portfolio!
  • If you decide to include current or past work projects, make sure you have permission to make them, or elements of them, available online. This work is usually owned by your employer or a client, so prepare accordingly.
  • Build something from scratch for the purpose of the portfolio if you don’t already have something available.
  • Focus on what you want to do in the future and choose artifacts that demonstrate skills and experience related to your goals.

A Few Examples

Resources

A lot of portfolio/ePortfolio advice is available online. Here are a few sites to get you started:

Share your portfolio! Do you have a web-based portfolio? If so, please share your lessons learned (and your link!) in the comments area.

Image credit: Plearn, Flickr

 

What I learned at WordCamp 2011: Messages for eLearning

Last weekend I attended WordCamp Miami. This was my second year at this event and I highly recommend it if you use WordPress or are interested in blogging. WordCamp is…

“…a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users…. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.” – WordCamp Central

This one-day event featured three tracks – beginner/blogger, marketing/design, and development/coding. I felt like I fell a little in between the tracks – not a beginning blogger, but also not a skilled programmer. That being said, I really enjoyed the sessions I attended and left with a list of ideas that will keep me busy for some time to come.

Getting started with WordPress:

If you aren’t familiar but want to find out more, take a look at this Introduction to WordPress presentation from Adam Warner. It’s a nice place to start.

Take-aways for eLearning:

I found that many of the presentations spoke not only to bloggers and WordPress users, but also to designers and developers of online education experiences. We’re concerned about a lot of the same things. The ideas and tips described below could be adapted for use in instructional design and development.

  • Keep mobile development in mind – “The mobile web is growing”, says Steven Mautone. Check out this presentation: WordPress for Mobile. Kevin Zurawel’s presentation on Responsive Web Design recommends developers plan for mobile delivery first, then look at the rest.
  • Let data drive your decisions – In a session on analytics, the stress was on gathering data about blog members and visitors. What data do we collect about online students? How can we better leverage the existing information to improve learning and the online experience? For WordPress users, several presenters mentioned WP SEO by Yost.
  • Improve user experience – We know we don’t ask our students and faculty enough about their experiences with our online courses. How can we get better at this? A user experience checklist might help. Jeremy Harrington presented a User Experience Flight Checklist for a WordPress site that could be adapted for use in eLearning.
  • Prepare to hand-off to your client – In this case I think we could consider both instructor and student “clients”. Too often we complete course development, upload the course pages, then more or less walk away. What can we do to make the transition easier? Tammy Hart discussed future proofing and tips for simplification.
  • WordPress as an LMS – I have friends at the University of Hawaii who are using WordPress to develop and deliver online courses. They are not alone in taking WordPress beyond the blog. Take a look at this presentation by Josh Guffey about using WordPress as a CMS to create a portfolio site. How could students do this for study and/or career portfolios? This plug-in was lauded for making the admin side a lot easier – CMS Tree Page View.
  • Take a long-term approach – It takes time to develop a quality product of any kind. Multiple presenters, especially those talking about the art and science of blogging, stressed this point. It takes time…and practice. And you get better.

Thanks to all:

Thanks to the organizers and speakers for a great event! Lost of positive energy and ideas, all at an affordable price. Visit the WordCamp Miami website for more information about the event and additional links to presentations. If you are at all interested in blogging, social media, or the WordPress platform, find a WordCamp in your area and go!

See you in 2012, WordCamp Miami!