Sue Waters Blog

September 29, 2009
by Sue Waters
45 Comments

What Are Your Thoughts on Educational Blogging?

I’m doing a presentation next week for Alec Couros‘ s EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education course and as part of it I’ve need to organise some required reading one week prior to the presentation.

I’ve been asked to focus on educational blogging and building personal learning networks so I’m hoping you can help as I want to:

  1. Demonstrate how conversations in blog comments provides greater knowledge gain for all involved, because each individual sees a different perspective of the task – giving everyone greater “food for thought!”
  2. Model personal learning networks in action!

About The course

EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education course is an open access graduate course from the Faculty of Education, University of Regina for both registered and non-registered students.

Participants are all teachers, or principals, and most are new to using social media.

Can you share your thoughts on the following:

  1. What are the benefits of blogging with students and/or yourself?
  2. What are some of the challenge of student blogging and how do you avoid them?
  3. Can you recommend any ‘must read’ articles on student blogging?
  4. What questions would you most like me to answer if you attended a presentation by me on educational blogging and building personal learning networks?

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September 18, 2009
by Sue Waters
14 Comments

Here’s My Blogging Story! What’s Yours?

Well I’m a bit late  to help John Connell with his session at BBC’s Glasgow HQ!

But I like the blogging questions and think others would be intrigued by my answers.

1.  How did you get into blogging?

I’m sure lots of people that are very glad I’m blogger would be totally surprised by the fact that initially I really struggled with the concept of blogging — Why anyone would blog and why others read their blogs?

It took almost a year from being shown what a blog was to becoming a blogger.

The turning point were a result of:

  1. Subscribing to blogs (which gave me a greater appreciate of blogs)
  2. My strong desire to reflect on what I was learning.

2.  What were (are?) the motivations?

My podcasts and wiki were excellent for sharing information but weren’t great for other aspects.

Blogging gave me what podcasting and my wiki lacked; the ability to reflect, collaborate, exchange ideas and connect with others.  These aspects plus my strong motivation to help others motivates why I blog.

3.  How does your “private” blogging relate to your work?

Well my ‘private blogging’ developed into my work.

And if you had told me when I first started blogging that within 8 months I would end up employed by a blogging company — I’d have said Get Real!’

Key events that lead to this were Darren Rowse’s 31 Days Project that made me a better blogger and James Farmer who saw potential!

4.  How do you achieve a balance of personal voice and authority

Sorry but I really don’t like words ‘authority’ or ‘expert’

We each have our own personal voices and own opinions — when we share and collaborate together we all gain in knowledge and skills.

5. What can be achieved through blogging that can’t through ordinary news/reporting routes?

Any one, any time, any where can share their thoughts, opinions and beliefs. We can now make the news, report the news and connect in ways we couldn’t previously.

6. How do you follow other blogs and other forms of “public conversation”?

By subscribing to blogs and using twitter.

7.  How does your blog connect to others in a “conversation”?

Wonder how John Connell answered this question?  Boy that’s a hard one.

My blogs help others become bloggers, or hopefully better bloggers.  Working together through engaging in conversations in comments  we connect and help with each other.

8.  Are there other bloggers you follow especially, others you think are exemplars of the practice?

Really hate those types of questions.  Reading  blog to me is like reading a novel.  Some people like romance, or horror, or sci fi or ……  PS don’t make me read a romance 8-)

9. How do you feel about “lighter” practices such as Tweeting, facebook status updates etc…?

I think it’s s a mistake to see them as ‘lighter’ practices… a very bad mistake.  They are both complementary and becoming increasingly important for bloggers.

Many readers now prefer to grab links to posts from twitter.  Others like to read the posts as updates in Facebook.

Blogging is all about making your blog be more easily read by your audience.  Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed and email subscription all make it easier for your readers.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So that is my journey… would love to read  your responses to John Connell questions!

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September 13, 2009
by Sue Waters
14 Comments

Twitter (and Humans) Don’t Always Get It Correct!

Credit where credit is due is important.

Yes the “Twitter Handbook for Teachers” is an excellent resource.

While it is lovely for people on twitter to regularly thank me for the resources I create (and to get all the retweets of thanks) — I DID NOT write Twitter Handbook for Teachers.  But I can understand why people think I did.

It was written by Tomaz Lasic (@lasic) who used the quote from my PLN Yourself wiki on the front page of his handbook and then made the very human mistake of not adding his own details as author on the front page.   So now everyone sees my name (and website) and automatically assumes I created it.

But it is also important that I give Alan Levine credit also — as he pointed out in the comments I should have attributed him.  I’ve always felt that the following words were inspired by his audio he provided for a podcast I was asked to proved for the Knowledge Tree (here is the PDF version of the podcast).

“Watching from the outside, Twitter like the the dumbest thing you’ve heard of “Why would anyone want to tell others what they are doing in 140 characters.” And yet to dismiss Twitter is a mistake because it’s an incredibly powerful tool for your personal learning and connecting with others”

However they could have come from his Being There presentation that I attended twice in 2007 and wrote about on my other wiki.

Image of Twitter handbook for teachers

Please thank Tomaz Lasic (@lasic) for his great resource – he deserves full credit for his excellent work.  And Alan Levine (@cogdog) deserves full credit for his work.

And if you want to thank me here are the resources I created on twitter for my PLN Yourself wiki:

  1. Set up your own Twitter Account – helpful information for building your PLN using twitter
  2. Step 2: Set Up Twitter Account - designed as a step by step guide for f2f workshops

PS for those that know me I can’t believe you thought the handbook was my work — not one single step-by-step screenshots that is characteristic of my work!

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August 13, 2009
by Sue Waters
27 Comments

Can Addictions Scare Readers?

Can be only one response to this tweet! Readers should answer it 8-)

Image of chocolate addict

Personally I find it hard to believe for two main reasons:

a) I’m a chocolate addict – I think we need a clarification of addiction!

b) That it could be very scary!

Your thoughts:

  1. Is Ashley Proud right?
  2. Does it make me scary? And can an addition scare readers?
  3. Perhaps truth – he’s a chocolate hater?

Disclaimer: Sue Waters is a serious blogger

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July 12, 2009
by Sue Waters
48 Comments

The Great USA Coca Cola and Chocolate Scandal!

It’s my last day in USA and I’m taking home so many lovely memories of USA…..except for Coca Cola and Cadbury chocolate.

IMHO it is a scandal!

The Taste of American Coca Cola and Chocolate

Being well known for my Coca Cola and chocolate love (it’s what I’m holding in my avatar) I feel a need to expose this scandal. Worse still that I have to confess I’ve been drinking Pepsi and feeling physically sick from the memory of eating Cadbury Carmello chocolate.

While other Aussies rush off planes from USA to grab a true Aussie meat pie all I’m thinking about is drinking my first real drink of Coca Cola in 3 weeks. It may be an extremely long flight home for the Qantas flight attendants if they serve American Coca Cola and not Australian. Off course I’m also now concerned that I will no longer cope with the sweet taste of our Coca Cola and our chocolate :( .

Reason for the taste difference

Before coming to USA I was aware that the chocolate would taste different but assumed that Coca Cola tastes the same World wide (as did most non-USA people in my network).

So why the different taste? Well here they use high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. Besides not being as sweet it has a horrible taste.

In USA the price of sugar is considerably higher than the World sugar price due to factors such as sugar quotas on the import of sugar and government subsidies of USA sugar growers (read more here about the history of USA inflated sugar prices). The solution for reducing food production costs has been to replace sugar with high-fructose corn syrup or move production to countries like Canada where sugar is cheap.

Meanwhile Americans who want to drink soft drinks containing sugar go to stores that sell Mexican imported Coca Cola and Pepsi.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m arriving into Sydney airport Monday 13 July at 6.15 AM. Hopefully no one gets in my way as I run to grab some real Cadbury chocolate!

Sigh with a short time between my flight from Sydney to Perth hopefully in my rush to get some chocolate I don’t miss my flight home :(

PS yes I will tell you more about my USA adventure than just the chocolate and Coca Cola scandal. What else would you like to know?

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July 10, 2009
by Sue Waters
6 Comments

Connecting at NECC!

Did I ever imagine that one day I would be sitting at a desk in USA writing a blog post?  NOPE!

Yet, according to Google Maps, I’m currently about 14, 816 miles from my home (Perth, Western Australia).  Fortunately I didn’t follow Google Maps directions and kayak across Pacific Ocean from Australia through Japan to get here!

Purpose of my trip was to attend NECC 2009 (one of the World’s largest conferences for Ed Tech professionals).  This year over 18,000 people attended. Those following The Edublogger’s USA Adventure… to NECC and Beyond! have been asking me what the conference was like so here goes!

The Sessions

Many of my Australian friends would love to know how the NECC sessions compared to Australian conferences.  Unfortunately this is where I go sorry!  I only attended two sessions, both of which were keynotes, neither did anything for me.

There were several reasons why I didn’t attend sessions. I was representing Edublogs at NECC; I knew I could watch recordings of NECC sessions and read blog post reviews later.But most importantly, a fact that people don’t appreciate, is I’m quite isolated living in Perth (costly 5 hour flight to most conferences just in Australia).

I don’t have many opportunities to meet and network with others f2f.  NECC may have been my one opportunity to ever meet a people who I network with online f2f as there is no guarantee I will ever get a chance to visit USA again.  Creating stronger connections with people, by interacting f2f, in my view long term provides greater opportunity for learning than any session you can attend.

Biggest NECC Takeaways by Others

Looking for reflections by others?  Check out survey results of other people’s biggest takeaways from NECC09.  Or if you attended NECC, either in person or virtually, add your own reflections using this form.

Thanks to Alice Barr for creating this document which I will use to guide my viewing of NECC session recordings!

What I did At NECC

Most of my time at NECC was spent at:

  1. Bloggers Cafe (a casual space set up for people to connect with each other)
  2. and NECC unplugged (NECC’s unconference area where any one who wants can present to both f2f and virtual global participants).

I really enjoyed presenting at NECC Unplugged and plan to follow up with a later post on it.

Majority of my time was spent networking with others. Too many people, and too many stories to mention, but the slideshow below contains photos of most those I met.  Definitely existing connections through blogging and twitter enhanced these f2f interactions.

The Edublogger Shirt

For those unaware I has a shirt custom made for me by Paul Morris (CheekyTeez in Perth) with design input from Gary Barber.

The idea of the shirt was to fit with the beginners series I faciliate for Classroom 2.0 and followed the same theme of badges we organised for NECC.

In a crazy Sue moment I decided to use one of the shirts as a sovenior by getting people I meet at NECC to sign the shirt.  I’m hoping now poor Paul (or anyone) can figure out how I might frame it to keep as the souvenior.

Here is a photo of my favorite blogger signing my shirt!

The Slideshow below has a closeup of all the different signatures.

The Exhibitor Hall

WOW!  What can I say about the Exhibitor hall?  It was massive!

Felt like the size of a football oval and had to be seen to believed.

Lots of NECC posts were critical of the exhibitors hall however I think Alfred Thompson’s Sponges and Participants post is a reminder to Edubloggers about the needs of different types of conference participants.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks to everyone that I meet at NECC!  I enjoyed every second (except for all my misadventures on US air planes).  I will follow up later with some USA reflections in later posts.

Extra special thanks to James Farmer for giving me the opportunity to attend NECC!

  1. For those that attended NECC — would love to hear about what aspects you enjoyed the most?
  2. For those who attended NECC unplugged through Elluminate – what was it like?  What was the best aspects? The most challenging aspects?

Feel free to also any questions about what USA is like to an Australian :)

Badge image by Greatnews licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike

June 21, 2009
by Sue Waters
14 Comments

Baiting the Digital Hook to Build A Professional Learning Community!

Last week I was invited to present on PLNs (personal learning networks) as part of Getting Connected 09 for The Australian Flexible Learning Frameworks.

As the conference targeted the VET sector I decided to take a different PLN approach and share how social networking tools can create communities of professionals, and students, that help each other.

Skills level of participants

Participants were surveyed near the start of the session to help guide how little/much information on each aspect need to be explained. The results are shown in the table below (Yes= has their own or uses with their students; No = doesn’t have own or use with students; No response = they didn’t respond to the question).

Value of Creating Communities

The message for creating professional learning communities using social networking tools was similar to PLNs. Our daily face-to-face interactions offer limited opportunities for:

  • Asking our work colleagues/students questions
  • Reflecting on ideas with each other
  • Effectively sharing information

Social networking tools provide the ability to easily connect ourselves, our students, with educators in the same/similar fields, and people from industry to form a global community. This greatly increases opportunities to receive assistance and provide assistance.

The main difference to a PLN is technology skills of individuals you may want as part of your professional learning community are often (very) low. This means you need to use a range of tools including ones they are more likely to feel comfortable using.

To stay sane remember:

  • Not everyone will share your excitement (and it is unrealistic to think they will)
  • Let them choose whether or not they join
  • Don’t be offended if you can’t encourage everyone to participate
  • Be grateful for those that do participate
  • It takes time!

During the session I discussed the main tools I use for aquaculture industry to highlight their benefits and how it can be done.

Facebook

In terms of aquaculture Facebook is used mainly with my students (but I do have some work colleagues in my account). My students are given the option to add me to their Facebook account knowing that they can email me, use the chat or leave comments on my wall.

Years ago I used to give students my email address and never get got any emails. With Facebook student regularly contact me to help with both my work and other courses. Many continue to remain in contact when they leave.

Ning

Our AquaEd Ning community to connect educators, industry and my students together (consists of members from within Australia and oversees).

Benefits of Ning are ability to have forums, upload photos, upload/share videos and easily email all members etc.

For me this Ning community meant I was about to source training material and images to use for an aquaculture elearning unit. I couldn’t have sourced this material as well (or as quickly) using traditional methods.

My students, and other community members, are using this Ning to share what they are doing and ask others questions.

Ning challenges are you need to be prepared to facilitate and encourage conversation. The more people you can encourage to help you facilitate the more likely it will grow. As a Ning owner you need to closely monitor all new members (using RSS) due to spammers.

Twitter

Never thought it would happen but have people from aquaculture joining my twitter account. Which has been excellent because they also then join AquaEd Ning.

As these people are already into social networking they add value to your community because they aren’t reluctant users.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This session was recorded and you can watch it here!

My advice for building a community remains the same as for a PLN — your first step is to start using these tools for your own learning then start thinking how you can connect with members from your industry. Check out my PLN Yourself website to get started!

Meanwhile for those that have created professional learning communities — please share your stories. What has worked well? What aspects have caused problems?

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June 9, 2009
by Sue Waters
8 Comments

Need WordPress MU Support? Here’s Where You’ll Find it!

In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to for the past few months, and why I’ve had less time than usual, I can now explain.

Although maybe not everyone has noticed this less time?

Working with WordPress MU

Besides all my usual Edublogs responsibilities I’ve also been working for Incsub developing WordPress MU (WordPress Multiuser and also known as WPMU) support material (some is still a work in progress).

While installing and managing your own single install WordPress blog is relatively easy, but can cause problems, WordPress MU is considerably more specialized and requires a certain level of expertise.

The reason why people use WordPress MU is once you want to hosts lots of blogs on the same domain then you need to use it. Edublogs is a customized version of WordPress MU designed to include features that specifically assist educators with using blogs with students.

Most themes and plugins used on WordPress can’t be used on WordPress MU, and you also use mu-plugins on WordPress MU (some of these can be challenging to install). The idea of these support material is to help make the process of installing and using WordPress MU easier.

WordPress MU Support Material Locations

For a ‘one-stop shop’ for those that use WordPress MU here is where you will find these support materials:

  1. Site Admin user manuals
  2. WordPress MU manual – for installing WPMU 2.7.1
  3. WPMU.org – where The WPMU Manual is being serialized (here is the RSS feed if you want to subscribe).  Below are the first two posts!

Next step is adding more detailed instructions to the Premium plugins, where required. For example. this is the new instructions for installing the avatars plugin.

FINAL THOUGHTS

And yes, if you were wondering, it does mean I’ve had to install WordPress MU, bbPress, plugins, themes, languages, mu-plugins, use FTP and Text Editors.

I’ve also felt like I’m going crazy (occasionally) remembering the Site admin differences between Edublogs (WPMU 2.6.3/2.6.5 hybrid), Edublogs Campus (WPMU 2.6.5) sites, newer versions of WordPress MU (2.7 & 2.7.1) and site admin (and system admin) in blogs.mu.

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May 27, 2009
by Sue Waters
24 Comments

Latest Statistics Say My Blogs Are……?

Unfortunately it is very easy to misinterpret and/or mis-use any type of statistics.

People often look at the number while failing to consider how the statistic was calculated or what it truly means.

About Misinterpreting Statistics

Here’s an example:

Statistics show that 45% of the population can’t read the newspaper.

Shocking literacy rates! Or is it? How many included in that statistic were too young to read, didn’t speak English, had some form of disability etc? What percentage of the entire population was sampled, what method was used, did the method bias the result etc?

Using Statistics in Blogging

So where am I going with this? Well bloggers love statistics and they love to know how they rank against other bloggers. Since Technorati authority is no longer reliable bloggers have looked at other options.

So some bloggers are using PostRank. For example, here are the top blogs on education based on their ranking by PostRank. Trouble is bloggers are looking at the statistics and the number 1-10; not considering how it was calculated, how blogs are ranked against each other using PostRank or what these numbers mean.

Effective use of PostRank

Let me be clear! I love PostRank. It is an incredibly valuable tool for quickly analyzing and comparing all of your blog posts in terms of number of:

  1. Comments
  2. Bookmarked (Delicious, diigo etc)
  3. Twittered
  4. Linked to

All of which helps you reflect how the different post types impact how readers engage with the posts. For example, if your aim is a long informative post you would expect few comments but hopefully lots of bookmarking and/or linking. PostRank helps you work out if you achieved this goal.

Misinterpreting PostRank

But if you are using PostRank to compared your blog’s performance against another blog, or identify the best blogs for a topic than you need to look more closely at their statistics.

In particular look at those eye icons that represent views. What do they mean? Well they are the number of your readers that click the post title in the PostRank widget in your sidebar.

Should high clicking on the PostRank widget in a sidebar make a post (and blog) high ranking?

Below is a screenshot from PostRank. The example on the left is a perfect 10 from another blogger (educational) whose rank on that post is entirely based on click on the PostRank widget. While The Edublogger post had high bookmarking, linking and comments.

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May 12, 2009
by Sue Waters
15 Comments

Have your Blogs.mu cake – and eat it too!

People are now asking me about Blogs.mu in terms of school blogging programs so I’ve decided it’s better to clarify because most people won’t appreciate how very different Blogs.mu is from other hosted blogging solutions.

But before I do it is important to point out, to ensure full disclosure, that I work for both Edublogs and Incsub (who own Blogs.mu).

WordPress blog vs WordPress MU blogs

When you sign up for a blog on Edublogs or WordPress.com what happens is these companies host your blog and you can get on with the job of writing your posts and blog design. The highest level of access you have is as an administrator and because it is a hosted solution features like adding extra plugins or uploading themes aren’t possible.

The other option for single blog users, who want to use WordPress but have more control over their blog features such as extra plugins or custom themes, is they will install WordPress from WordPress.org and host their own blog on either their own servers or pay a hosting company.

Once you want to hosts lots of blogs on the same domain then you need to use WordPress MU (WordPress Multiuser and also known as WPMU). Both Edublogs or WordPress.com use WordPress MU but Edublogs has been highly customised by our specialist team WPMU coders to include features that specifically assist educators with using the blogs with students.

WordPress MU blogs vs Edublogs Campus Site

Often schools and universities want higher level of control and access than achievable with Edublogs so they will look at solutions like hosting their own WordPress MU site or Edublogs Campus.

While installing and managing your own WordPress blog is relatively easy, but can cause problems, WordPress MU is considerably more specialized and requires a certain level of expertise.

This is why educational organisations choose Edublogs Campus because it provides all the powerful features of a WordPress MU site without having to worry about the stress of hosting, maintenance and upgrading the software.

The main feature which provides the higher level of control that educational organisations want is access to site admin. On a WordPress MU the next level of access of access above an Administrator is the site admin user.

As site admin user you can:

  1. Manage the access and level of responsibility of all users
  2. Manage blog features including access to plugins, themes and blog privacy settings
  3. Create new users and new blogs
  4. Edit posts, pages, comments on any blog
  5. Reset passwords
  6. Edit and delete any blog

In really simple terms, if you have problems with a student, as site admin user, you can immediately log into the dashboard of their blog, without being attached as a user to that blog, then edit/delete a post/comment plus change whether that student can access their blog.

WordPress MU blogs vs Blogs.mu Community

Blogs.mu is quite a bit different from the hosted Edublogs and WordPress.com. When you sign up with either of these services you are provided with a blog.

On Blogs.mu you can sign up for WordPress MU site of your own and then set up your own blogs, or blog community under it. For example you might like to set up a community on writing called writerspot.blogs.mu and then if the writer John Smith signs up in your community his blog is writerspot.blogs.mu/johnsmith.

Similar to Edublogs with Blogs.mu you can choose to be a free user or a supporter.

With Blogs.mu just like Edublogs Campus you are getting your own WordPress MU site with the high level of control minus the stress of hosting the site and specialist expertise required to maintain or upgrade WordPress MU.

The features of these two sites are quite different because Blogs.mu is designed for anyone who wants to set up a community using their WordPress MU while Edublogs Campus has been customised specifically to meets the needs of the educational community.

For a comparison check out:

  1. Blogs.mu Site Admin Guide
  2. Edublogs Campus Site Admin Guide and log into the University of Blogs Sandpit site

If you’re interested in the technical aspects of how blogs.mu was created check out Barry’s On Muing MU – A technical introduction post.

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