The Research Student Blog Challenge – #HDRblog15 – November 2015

Get involved! Let's learn together with #HDRblog15

Get involved! Let’s learn together with #HDRblog15.

Writing begets writing. Somehow, the more I write the more I write. The more I think about writing, write about thinking about writing, and write about writing, the more I write. For me, tweeting, blogging and academic writing are all writing practices, ways of thinking and writing my way to understanding. They are also ways of connecting with others. Being part of research conversation and blog conversation and Twitter conversation. Telling stories. Sharing stories. Learning from others’ stories.

There are blogs which host posts by research students such as the Thesis Whisperer and PhD Talk. There are active and dormant blogs by research students which can be hard to find in the heaving mass of the blogosphere. And some research students might wonder about what blogging could offer them, but not have the impetus to start.

I’m currently taking part in the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC (massive online course) which has expanded my network of scholars, fellow researchers and fellow writers. The course, especially through its discussion forums, #survivephd15 Twitter hashtag and Periscope live chats, has shown how much a community of past and present research students, and supervisors, can gain from engaging with each other.

I am keen to build on the momentum of this course, and on the wonderful and generous scholarly Twitteratti, with an initiative that will share the stories of research students who are juggling life and supervision with writing dissertations, theses and journal articles. My answer? The #HDRblog15 blogging challenge. I’ve called it the HDR (higher degree by research) challenge as I’d like any research students (PhD, professional doctorate, Masters), and those involved with research students, to feel welcome to join in.

The challenge will be held during the month of November 2015. Its purpose is to encourage past or present higher degree by research students, supervisors, or those interested in pursuing a higher degree by research, to connect, communicate and share resources and experiences.

The challenge involves writing at least one blog post (you might write more!) and commenting on at least one other blog post in order to develop conversation and community.

If you are new to blogging, the first step would be to set up a blog. I use wordpress.com, which is very user friendly, quick to set up and easy to manage.

Ideas for your blog post/s might include the following.

  • Sharing a celebration from or positive spin on your experience of being a research student.
  • Exploring a question you have.
  • Illuminating a challenge you have faced in your HDR journey, and how you approached or conquered it.
  • Sharing a tip or technology.
  • Exploring a metaphor for where you are in your HDR/PhD/Masters journey.
  • Explaining a strategy you have for coping with the demands of a research degree.
  • Using an image, animated gif or video as inspiration. Just make sure that, if it’s not one of your own, you attribute it to the site or person from which you got it.

So, the steps for participating in this challenge are as follows.

Step 1: Fill in your name and blog url here in this Google doc.

Step 2: Write and publish your blog post.

Step 3: Share your post in the Google doc and on the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC discussion board, if you are enrolled (but any research students, past research students, or supervisors of research students, or people interested in becoming a research student, are more than welcome!). Tweet your blog out using the #HDRblog15 hashtag. To extend your reach, you might also like to use other hashtags like #survivephd15, #phdchat, #acwri (academic writing), and #ecrchat (early career researcher chat).

Step 4: Keep an eye on the #HDRblog15 hashtag on Twitter and the Google doc to read others’ contributions as they arise.

Step 5: Comment on at least one other post.

If you’re new to blogging, remember that reading on the web, including on a mobile device, necessitates information being presented in a way that is engaging and easy to process. This means a ‘hook’ to draw your reader in, a catchy beginning to grab the reader’s attention and short paragraphs readable on small screens and on the go.

I find 800ish words is best; it’s meaty enough to explore a topic, but short enough to be readable in one sitting. I find if a blog post pushes over 1000 words, it’s getting too long and I try to think about how I can parameterise it to reign it in, or split it up.

Visualise your audience when you are writing, to help you personalise the content and lead decisions about language, style, voice and approach. Are you writing for others in your industry? Other research students? Future employers? As a record of your own thinking for yourself?

Blogging allows us to connect with others and develop ourselves. Your blog can be a free writing space where your persona can be unrestrained and experimental. I look forward to reading your contributions!

Deb

* This post is in response to the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC 2015 ‘final activity’.

* If you are a PhD student who blogs, take the time to complete this research survey for Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson on why and how you blog.

Happy birthday to the édu flâneuse: Reflections on a year of blogging

I don’t think there is any truth. There are only points of view. ~ Allen Ginsberg

happy 1st birthday

happy 1st birthday to me

Over the weekend the édu flâneuse blog had its first birthday, and so I’ve been reflecting about what a year’s worth of blogging has meant for me.

As a blogger, I am small fry. But with 15,000 views in over 100 countries in a year, this blog is being read. That’s many more views in many more places than I am sure my PhD thesis will receive! When I see my analytics I wonder how those people in Libya or Uzbekistan or Iceland have stumbled across my words. What drew them in? In what surroundings and on what device did they read? What did they take away?

The blog’s top 5 most-viewed posts have been:

  1. Teacher Growth: Helping teachers open their gates from the inside. A post about the beliefs underpinning my school’s teacher-growth-focused coaching model.
  2. Can and should teachers be (viewed as) researchers? The first post where I dared to say something which might be considered controversial.
  3. Work-family fulfilment: The elusive sweet spot. In which I attempted to explain my approach to making the family-work-study-self ecosystem work for me.
  4. No grades? No marks? No worries. An explanation of a term of Year 10 English with no marks and no grades, and its surprising outcomes.
  5. 2015: The Year of Writing Boldly, Abundantly & Dangerously. Where I set myself the challenge of being deliberately writerly in 2015, in my blog, my thesis and elsewhere.

Blogging has allowed me the opportunity to reflect, to work through my thinking, to share snippets of those things about which I am passionate, and most importantly to connect with others. It is an antidote to isolation (for me this is so important in my PhD, where I am largely without a face-to-face community of peers). Sometimes it just feels good to throw some thoughts out into the ether in the hope that they might resonate with someone else who comes across them, a kind of blogging message-in-a-bottle tossed out to sea.

Matt Esterman has written about the separate-together-ness of our offline and online identities. This blog allows me to explore parts of myself online which would be mind-yawningly dull to many in my offline life. It has allowed me to find a tribe of like-minded (lovable) weirdoes who want to engage with me around passions, interests and experiences.

Blogging has allowed me to make real connections, with real people, some of whom I chat to on Voxer, and some who I’ve since met with in real actual life. It has expanded the depth of my participation in the online world in a way which isn’t possible in even a long line of 140-character tweets. While Twitter forces us to haiku-ise our ideas (therapy for my verbosity), blogging allows longer-but-still-focused explorations of thought. And it is a free form of writing which provides reflection on, and escape from, the constraints of academic and thesis writing. I find that the more rigid my thesis schedule and the more rigorous my PhD work, the more lyrical and creative my blog posts become.

My favourite posts have been those which opened up online and offline discussion, in which I responded to someone else’s thinking or writing, or from which I was responded to. These posts, connected as they are to other people and other posts in the intricate spider-web network of the blogosphere, add layers to blogversation or lenses to well-worn issues.

Today, Naomi Barnes published a post in direct reply to one of mine, about the knowledge-building nature of blogging in a kind of collaborative parallel dialogue. She writes:

We stop being experts and start being co-learners. We have part of the knowledge. Not all of it and not necessarily true. We break the teacher-student archetype and become networked learners. Use the Web, the network, the connections, to create new knowledge. Crowd sourced, collaborative knowledge. Wikipedia on steroids. ~ Naomi Barnes

Naomi’s post challenges us to consider what the blogosphere and online knowledge might look like if we spoke more collectively, rather than as a cacophony of voices speaking in our disparate shadows or on our disconnected milk crates. She is daring us to harness blogging, the web, social media and technology for what they could do, for what they have the potential to be.

Thank you to my édu flâneuse readership so far, for indulging my pursuit of flânerial being and blogging, and especially to those who take the time to comment, retweet, respond and connect. This blogging thing is a vehicle for personal learning and global communitification. I’m in for another year.

Spider-web connectivity: Technology for networked learning

Nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle. ~ E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

This image was passed from Dr Helen Kara to Dr Naomi Barnes, after I had challenged Helen with an image for the #blimage (blog+image) blogging challenge (see how messily interconnected that is?). You can read Helen’s post here and Naomi’s post here. You can see my first #blimage post, with an explanation of the challenge, here.

Helen’s image spoke to me. It reminded me that one of my research participants used the metaphor of the spider’s web to describe the school as organisational web. It is reminiscent of the symmetrical black and white webs in my mandala colouring book. Mostly, it speaks to me of connectedness in education, in our schools and classrooms, but especially through technology and social media.

So the image forms the basis of this post about technology which connects.

The labyrinthine tangle of webs are like snow-flake-like in their perfect imperfection. The wintery stems provide angular anchors for the fragile delicacy of the web strands which stretch and overlap. Some strands extend long distances, while others are strung tightly together. There is symmetry and asymmetry. Strength and vulnerability. Flexibility and rigidity. Beauty and disorder. A clamour and a stillness.

These dewy webs evoke my experience of the professional connections I see and experience through technology and social media. My journey through various tools of connectivity as an educator has been one mirrored by others. Often I adapt before educators in my own school environment, but after those in the global spheres. As this blog approaches its first birthday, I am reflecting on how blogging has transformed my use of social media and my connections with others.

mandala sunburst

mandala sunburst

Twitter has been a place of learning for me since 2009. As with most educators, I began lurking in the background, figuring out what might be in it for me, or consuming information. I moved on to curating others’ content, and then participating in education chats. That is where I stayed for a number of years, although the more chats with which I engaged, the more people with which I connected. The chats were a place for me to participate in conversations. In fact, my favourite part of being in a Twitter chat is when a small group goes off piste into their own tangential conversation. These are moments of connection and engagement, which are epitomic of Twitter’s rhizomatic chaos; its tangle of webs. In one Twitter chat Adriano di Prato and I came up with an accidental concept of ‘leaning environments’, showing the unexpected possibilities of connecting via social media.

(I enjoyed this recent New York Magazine article about why the messiness and “vast confusion” of Twitter should be celebrated.)

Last year, I began this blog as an experiment in blogging, and as a way to log and record my fellowship experiences in New York. My continued blogging has shifted the boundaries of my self and my connections.

Not only does exploring my thoughts and ideas in 600-1000 word blog posts allow me to thrash out and clarify my thinking in more than 140 characters, it also opens up conversations with others who might want to engage with me or with the content of my posts. It is this opening of conversation which has expanded me and my network. My spider-web tendrils reach out and curl together with others’. Some connections are tentative while others are strong. Some traverse long distances while others are at arm’s length.

mandala web

mandala web

As an individual, my blog feels like an extension of myself. Colouring outside the lines of my demarcated self, I share parts of my story, my thinking, my experiences, and my teaching, researching or writing practices. These tendrils of me reach out and entangle with the labyrinth of connection and conversation in the blogosphere. I respond, and am responded to. And so I become absorbed, in part, into the often unpretty cacophonous jumble of thoughts, hyperlinks and voices.

More recently, thanks to the encouragement of Andrea StringerI have started using Voxer and I’m loving the immediacy and personal, conversational, collaborative nature of the medium. Right now, I’m involved in different professional learning groups and a doctoral researcher group. Valerie Lewis, who I’ve connected with on Voxer, in this blog post calls her Voxer PLN her ‘Vox Squad’, a kind of A-Team of professional learning and solidarity (‘I pity the fool who doesn’t Vox!’). I’ve introduced Voxer to my students as a collaborative tool for group work, and to my team of coaches as a tool for our collective growth and the ongoing refinement of our practice.

To finish this reflection on connectivity, I’ll leave you with a very different web, as a contrast. Below is a picture I took in Richmond Park when I lived in London. A solitary dew-jewelled web at sunrise. This image doesn’t speaks of connectedness in the same way that the first image of webs does. It shows a beautiful but lonely structure, tenuously clinging to the solidity of the fence posts.

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Which would you rather be? The solitary web or a web in a mess of other webs? A lone voice or one of a cacophony of voices? Are we better alone or together? Can our individual voices be heard in amongst the noise of social media?

if the web were perfectly pre-set,

the spider could

never find

a perfect place to set it in; and

if the web were

perfectly adaptable,

if freedom and possibility were without limit,

the web would

lose its special identity. ~

A. R. Ammons

* Note: this is what happens when I am in the middle of tough PhD work. Lyrical, metaphorical musings and colouring-in become my creative antidote to the hard systematic work of thesis revision.

Balance, not division. Compassion, not attack. Conversation, not war.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. ~ Pema Chödrön

by @debsnet

Often I am struck by argumentative battles in traditional media, on social media and around the blogosphere. I appreciate those writers, commentators and educators who share their musings, experiences, readings, and perspectives, without using divisive loaded language or attack. I think the rantiest I have gotten was this post on the APPR reforms in New York and this one around whether teachers can be researchers, but I attempted to frame my criticism through making transparent my perspective and asking clarifying questions. Balance.

I have written a lot about my school’s coaching model, as it is kind of my baby and it’s something which I think is worth sharing; others might gain from hearing our story. Yet this coaching model is not stand alone. It is not as though teachers at my school are only coached by teacher-coaches in a non-evaluative, non-hierarchical model. In their first year at the school, teachers participate in a rigorous evaluative permanency process. Every year they have a conversation with their line manager, who touches base with them on their work, goals and classroom practice. Every third year, teachers have their coaching cycle with their manager. This is more evaluative and performative by its nature, and by the nature of the relationship. Teachers additionally work with instructional consultants. Leaders work with coaches. Professional learning community teams and action research projects work alongside. Growth and evaluation. Balance.

I have written about the creative things I trial in my classroom like a term without grades and genius hour for students and teachers. These are things at the experimental end of the spectrum of what happens in my lessons, so I share them as stories of experience and part of a conversation. I do these things to develop engagement of my often-reluctant high school English students, to build their self-efficacy and to help them learn to rely on themselves as drivers of learning, rather than entirely on me as Teacher with a capital T.

Does that mean I don’t use explicit instruction? Of course not! I explicitly teach concepts, skills and texts, although I temper this with encouraging students to do their own thinking and to trust their own thinking, rather than expecting that I can fill them, as vessels, with the answers. What are the ideas of the text? What interpretations might be drawn? Answers can come from me or from Spark Notes, but if I do my job properly, students will have the skills, understandings, language and cognitive capacity to draw their own interpretations, from their own contexts, and justify these using logic and evidence. The best student responses comprise original thinking, not regurgitated knowledge. The best teachers focus not just on effective learning (our core business, of course!) but developing learners and passion for consuming, curating and creating knowledge.

In my Head of English roles at three schools I have ensured a balance between explicit instruction and those strategies which propel love of reading, power in writing and deep intellectual engagement in ideas and discussion. Interestingly, Charlotte Danielson’s heavily-researched Framework for Teaching has its ‘proficient’ descriptors describing teaching which is expertly directed by the teacher, and its ‘distinguished’ teaching descriptors outlining lessons in which students are taking responsibility for their own learning and behaviour. Creative and explicit. Balance.

I have written about lyrical metaphors for PhD study, and only occasionally about the unsexy logistics of what the graft actually looks like. My conceptual framework draws in part from fictional literature. Does this mean my PhD is devoid of hard, critical, scientific work? No. My PhD is of course the result of the logical, systematic working through of literature, data and research problems. When writing the Limitations section in the conclusion of my thesis I was highly aware that all research has its limitations. Extensive quantitative data can show us patterns and effects, but these may be faceless. Qualitative data can drill down deep into the messy humanness of lived experience which may be unrepresentative of wider groups and therefore not generalizable. Yet each study adds its tiny piece of understanding to the layers of what is known. Research is conversation. Imaginative and systematic. Broad and deep. Balance.

I would love to use the line ‘I’m a lover not a fighter’ but I think I’m both. I believe in sharing and celebrating our stories, but I will advocate fiercely for my students, fight for what I believe is right and argue for my research. Balance.

From a history of my posts, it is probably clear that I am seduced by the lyrical, by storytelling, by creative approaches and by metaphor. Yet I am not one dimensional. Nor is my teaching, my thinking, my researching or my living. Balance.

I came across this excellent recent TED talk from Jon Ronson on the way social media has moved from giving voices to the voiceless, to an angry mob mentality of shaming and abuse, in which people seem to forget compassion and morality.

While I love robust discussions which take us out of the echo chamber of we-all-agree-high-fiving, I also think we need to approach these with compassion, thoughtfulness and a view of each other as human beings. We can disrupt with respect. We can disagree gracefully. We can advocate with civility. (And if you throw in a metaphor, you’ll totally have me!)

by @debsnet

Viva la boredom? A #blimage challenge post.

This blog post is part of the #blimage (blog-from-image) challenge recently set by Steve Wheeler and Amy Burvall. You can learn more about it on this video https://youtu.be/-7K8cA-Iub8. This particular image was set by Steve in this post.

*         *         *

The past is for learning and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~ Adele Parks

photo by Steve Wheeler

photo by Steve Wheeler

At first this image, provided by Steve Wheeler, sparked thoughts of learning environments. Here is a graveyard of old wooden desks. Scratched. Graffitied. All bunched together in some kind of storage space. Left. Forgotten. Abandoned. Past their used by date. The sad scrawled face in the bottom right corner, a symbol of the kind of soul-crushing 50s -industrialist schooling that Sir Ken Robinson champions against.

I thought about how the classroom of today has changed, and was reminded of my thoughts around flexible, comfortable learning spaces.

But when I look at this image what I really get is a rocket back to my own schooling. Wooden desks engraved by compasses and ball point pens, with lift-up tops revealing stationary and lunch boxes and gum and whole pieces of fruit.

I’m reminded of how my fellow students and I would sit, listen, mess around, or tackle boredom. There were no smart phones, no apps, no laptops, no Smart screens, no texting. We passed notes on actual paper. We looked out of the window. We scribbled onto or carved into the rough wooden surfaces of our desks which lay in rows, etching them with our individual markings, evidence of our existence.

Recently my husband and I drove more than 800km in one day to this spectacular place, with Mr 3 and Mr then-4 in the car. We could have taken a dvd player. We could have hooked them up to please-keep-quiet digital devices most of the way. But we chose not to. We made a conscious decision that the very very long car trip (about 9 hours) was to be spent mostly old school. We sang songs. Listened to music. Talked. Played ‘eye spy’ (for the 3 year old we mostly played by colour instead of letter). Snacks, notebooks, a couple of monster trucks. C-o-n-v-e-r-s-a-t-i-o-n. It was a retro road trip.

There were 2 occasions in each car trip (we had to do the return 9-hour journey, too!) when we let them have an iPad. For 20 minutes they were able to have 5-minutely turns, so 10 minutes each; 20 minutes each all up per session. Sharing. Waiting. Practicing patience. Being grateful.

Parents might ask: Why would we do this to ourselves? Teachers might ask: Why aren’t we immersing our children in available technologies?

The answer is that we think it is good to be bored. Or rather, to have the self-capacity to figure out what to do with our selves or our brains when we are bored. Without a screen.

While I am a literature nerd who loves to read and smell books, and use old school tactile technologies, I’m also an educator who uses BYOD, the back channel, OneNote, virtual classrooms, discussion forums, Voxer, Twitter, personal and student blogging, podcasts, vodcasts, student created content, online surveys.

So when I look at Steve’s desk-graveyard image with its tactile wooden shapes and the student-made markings, I’m taken back to a classroom where a student’s main technology is their brain. With maybe some paper, ball point pens, and a compass.

It makes me think about letting the learning, not the tech, guide us. And ensuring that our children and our students see their brains as the best tech at their disposal.

Viva la boredom? Or at least viva la ability to use our brains and our character in ways that allow us to be still, be grateful, be learning, be creative. Like a blog post written around an image chosen by someone else, parameters can push us to creativity.

I love the idea of #blimage, so to end this post I’m throwing out another image, to ‘pay forward’ the challenge. So, bloggers, do your worst with this pic (just attribute the image back to me :)):

Shell Beach, by @debsnet

Tweet, blog or dissertate? On being a writer.

Good evening, ladies and gentleman. My name is Orson Welles. I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a producer. I am a director. I am a magician. I appear onstage and on the radio. Why are there so many of me and so few of you? ~ Orson Welles

book, by @debsnet

Our splintered, kaleidoscopic identities are wonderfully expressed by Orson Welles in the above quotation. Mine include writer, reader, researcher, teacher, leader, learner, mother, partner.

Do you feel like a writer? Does blogging make you a writer? Does micro-blogging? Does being a researcher automatically make you a writer? Professor Pat Thomson has written about ‘being writerly’ and practices which help you to see yourself as a writer. I tried to channel my writerly self in my 2015 – the year of writing dangerously post. I suppose this post is more about Pat’s idea of ‘being writerly‘ rather than ‘being a writer’. If you feel and behave like a writer does that make you one?

From micro to macro, this post focuses on how I use and interact with writing, including writing for purpose and audience. I wonder, are there different keystrokes (or pencil scribblings) that work for different folks? While I’m sure some people prefer tweeting or blogging, or article writing, or putting together a visual or numerical representations of their understanding (interpretative dance, anyone?), I think each platform and tool depends on our purpose for writing and audience to whom and for whom we are writing; each has its usefulness.

Below, I reflect on the platforms and tools I engage with, and what I get out of each.

Tweeting as a writing practice

I find that Tweeting, especially in a Twitter chat, is a kind of speed writing and speed thinking. Graham Wegner recently reflected that a busy Twitter chat can feel like a stampede of groupthinking sheep. Yet it is the torrential speed of Twitter chat tweets that sometimes helps me to clarify my ideas. Being pressured to aphoristically express an idea or viewpoint in a 140-character nutshell often forces me to distil and crystallise my thinking down into its essence, without agonising over it. I have previously called micro-blogging ‘therapy for the verbose’ as it is the antidote to my tendency to say things using too many words. Even my PhD thesis is over its word limit and will need trimming, streamlining and distilling. I have found Tweeting is a writing medium that helps me to most succinctly channel my thinking and keep tangents at bay.

That said, I also like the potentially tangential nature of Twitter chats. Rather than having a fear of missing what’s been said as the tweets roar by, I tend to engage with what I can, and with what peaks my interest. This often means that I spend much of a Twitter chat off to the side in a peripheral discussion, but I tend to prefer this kind of more extended conversation to the one-liner answers to a series of questions. That’s why I like the format of broader chats like #sunchat which work with one question for the hour and allow the conversation to take organic shape depending on the participants. Without the interruptions of regular questions, conversations can be deeper.

Blogging as a writing practice

As I discussed here, blogging has been personally transformative and about global collaboration. I am relatively new to blogging, having started this blog less than a year ago. In that I time I have published 55 posts on my blog, which has been viewed more than 10,000 times in more than 80 countries. Wow! I know that these numbers don’t compare with the superstar bloggers out there, but I am surprised and delighted to have a readership, and more than that, people to whom I’ve connected as a result of my writing, their reading, and our subsequent online, face to face, and voice to voice, conversations.

More than that, blogging has allowed me to take my thinking further than micro-blogging will allow, but more freely and conversationally than academic writing. For instance, I find Twitter a difficult platform to discuss issues of ethics, equity and social justice. Sometimes the subject seems too big for the platform. Some of my blog posts have emerged out of conversations on Twitter in which I have felt too restricted by space to say what I want to say; in these instances a blog can provide the complexity of thought, especially around tricky or contentious issues, which can be lost in the pithy-one-liner nature of tweeting.

PhDing and other academic writing

My PhD is a different writing beast all together, a 300 page monstrosity of a work which I am currently whittling, sculpting and (re)building into a cohesive document. The PhD can feel like a gigantic quilt which threatens to suffocate its maker; it is beautiful, creative, borrowing fabrics and threads from elsewhere while creating something new. The threads of reading and writing overlay and weave together in complex ways which have to come together in a holistic totality, while also working at the level of the small square, each vignette perfectly stitched, formed and embellished.

I recently popped my 110,000 word thesis draft into wordle.net, a website which takes text and distils it down to a visual representation of its most frequently used words. It looked like this:

my thesis wordle

my thesis wordle

I did this to see if my key themes emerged, but was subsequently more interested by words I did not expect to see there: “rather”, “just”, “really” and “something”. This led to an edit of my thesis looking for these words. I discovered that most of them were to be found in my participants’ language, but I did find that many of the “something”s belonged to me, and proceeded to weed them out of the document, replacing them with more precise or concise language. So, even turning words into a visual turned me back into my writing with a new understanding.

Academic writing such as abstracts, journals, conference papers and even the Three Minute Thesis, are others forms again. They require more laser-like focus than the big PhD book, and a clarity of structure and point. While trying to write smaller, more focused texts from the PhD can be a challenge, it is a good exercise in refining and clarifying thinking, while finding different ways to communicate important ideas.

Each of these writing platforms encourages different thinking and writing practices. Writing for different purposes and audiences allows us to layer, appliqué and augment our wordsmithery and our ways of communicating to others and to ourselves.

Every secret to a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works. ~ Virginia Woolf

Writing, by @debsnet

Blogging under a pseudonym: the politics & ethics of anonymity in online communities

“Who are you?”

“No one of consequence.”

“I must know.”

“Get used to disappointment.”

~ William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Pinnacles shadow, by @debsnet

The literary world has a long history of authors who have written under pseudonyms. Charles Dickens, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, the Brontë sisters and Dr Seuss all had alternate author identities. Famous author-names Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll are pseudonyms. Yet while author pen names are an accepted reality of the literary world, blogging under a pseudonym often garners criticism and suspicion. I have read posts and comments in which people claim that blogging pseudonomically is about being secretive and hiding oneself behind a shield of cowardice.

For me blogging and tweeting are about being part of global conversations. Blogging allows me to expand my contribution to and engagement in those conversations in more depth than a micro 140-characters-at-a-time platform will allow. It allows me to reveal more of me, to make visible my thinking, to be transparent about my perspective.

I have written before about the ways that being connected with others online helps me to grow and to feel as though I have found my tribe of like-minded kindred spirits in contexts. This blog post, itself emerging from and at the same time inserting itself into a conversation, has arisen out of a chat today with Greg Thompson.

And yet I write this blog (the édu flâneuse) and tweet (@debsnet) from names which do not reveal my entire identity to the world. How can I make real connections in an online world in which I do not reveal my real name? What’s in a name? Is it the ticket to transparency and a guarantee of fidelity?

Those I have connected with seem to accept my authenticity despite being unable to pop my name into a search engine without first engaging in some interaction. I don’t feel that others respond to my online contributions with distrust, but I can’t be sure that some don’t look at this site or my Twitter profile and discount me as someone who lacks honesty or credibility. There are cautionary tales like this one from Corinne Campbell about the impacts of trusting people’s online identities.

There was recently some Twitter conversation about teachers’ considerations when sharing student work, within the context of the #IWishMyTeacherKnew hashtag. While it went viral, those such as Rafranz Davis questioned the issues of trust, privacy and ownership of the work and voice of others. Whose place is it to publically share details about others? In our world of relentless sharing, do we sometimes under-think the ethical ramifications of what we put online and who we might be exposing?

The pseudonymisation of my online identities is not for me about a rigorous building of a fake persona. I write very much as myself and happily share my posts with bosses, colleagues, professionals, friends and family. I discuss and share my blog with people I know in my personal and professional worlds. I enthusiastically introduce myself in real life to those people with whom I connect with online. I share my email address in direct messages on Twitter, thereby beginning lengthy conversations and sustained relationships. But while I don’t think my online persona is a controversial or argumentative one, I wonder about the ethics of publicising my self in terms of the potential ripples for others: my students, my school, my university, my research participants and even my own children.

My choice to exist online as a pseudonym is a result of grappling with issues of ethics. I have a name that is very easily traceable. One entry into Google and all public information about me is revealed, including where I work and study; who I teach and who I research.

At times I would quite like to publically claim the intellectual property in these posts. I could stamp my name on my blog and link it to my Linked In profile: ‘Look! It’s me!’ But I feel like I am being more respectful of my school, university, supervisors, students and research participants if I give them some cover between my words and their identities. My online identity isn’t only about me; I am the gatekeeper of others’ identities too.

Can we be part of a global conversation without full disclosure of who we are? Should we all be free to publically share ourselves and details of our contexts? Are there finer ethical issues at play in the blogosphere?

Perhaps there will come a time when I figure out a rationale for blogging under my name. Maybe when I submit my PhD thesis and publish papers, I’ll realise there is no such thing as ethical protection in an online world. In the meantime, I’ll endeavour to engage in global conversations in ways which are genuine, considered and with an awareness of how my words might impact on others.

Broome shadow, by @debsnetI hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name. ~ J. K. Rowling

2015: The Year of Writing Boldly, Abundantly & Dangerously

 

Writing Dangerously by @debsnet

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good. ~ William Faulkner

For me, 2014 has been a year of writing thoughtfully, reflectively and introspectively.

As always I have been writing unit plans, assessments and resources for my students. I have been writing 140 character tweets, and participating more and more in education Twitter chats (such as #satchat #sunchat #aussieED #whatisschool and #BFC530). I have started a blog in which I have been experimenting with voice and purpose. I have been writing my PhD, which is currently at almost 80,000 words. As part of my PhD I have written a self-study chapter in which I reflect on myself as learner, educator and leader.

2015 will be my year of writing abundantly, boldly and dangerously.

Writing abundantly

In 2015 I will need to write abundantly. I will need to write words and words of thesis. I will need to pen some papers on my research. I will need to write applications and abstracts for education and research conference presentations. I will write blog posts. I will write tweets.

Each form of writing is a different kind of therapy. I am prone to over-wordiness (I love words!), to verbosity, to an inability to be concise. Thankfully, Twitter is therapy for the verbose. To distil thoughts into 140 character bites is to crystallise thinking down to its essence. I am never more concise than when I tweet. Blogging allows personal exploration of ideas in an informal space. My blog is where I can explore ideas in greater depth than a tweet, but in more informal ways than in academic writing. My thesis is the place where I get to burrow into challenging writing problems and thrash around, working hard until I break through and find a solution. The PhD is writing friend and nemesis, a beast I have to wrestle into its cave, clay I have to mould into its form (or is that stone I have to hack at until it takes shape?).

And the more I write, the more my writerly-self expands and transforms, like a shape shifter, always taking new forms in organic, non-linear ways. I am a hybrid writing being who writes as educator, school leader, researcher and bloggess. 2015 lays the challenge of balancing these overlapping writing selves.

Writing boldly

I will need to be bold in my writing in 2015.

I will need to be boldly honest, self-reflective, self-revealing and authentically-voiced in my blog posts, and in the conversations which bloom from those. I will need to be willing to disagree in Twitter conversations, in order to promote robust discussion instead of an inward-looking echo chamber of the same voices saying the same things.

In my third (and hopefully final) year of my PhD study I will need to be self-assured in discussing the contribution of my work. I will need to be confident in communicating in my own academic voice.

Yet in my boldness I will need to be sensitive to ethical issues such as how to tell others’ stories while protecting their anonymity and the authenticity of their words. Part of the reason I choose to blog and tweet under a pseudonomic identity is to protect my research participants. So boldness needs to be tempered with thoughtfulness.

Writing dangerously

Language is power. Words are tools. As a teacher of English and Literature part of my job is to help students to understand how language works (functionally, socially and globally), and help them to develop the capability to use its power to communicate, share, converse, discuss, disagree and disrupt.

Writing can be dangerous. It can be disruptive. It can be transformational for writer and reader. It can change individuals, groups, organisations and the world.

2015 is the year for all researchers, bloggers, tweeters and writers (or ‘those who write’, but don’t think of themselves as ‘writers’ as Pat Thomson explains in this post) to write fearlessly and compassionately, abundantly and concisely, reflectively and dangerously. I’m going to give it my best shot.

Happy writing!

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing. ~ Eugene Ionesco

write fearlessly by @debsnet

Why blog? Personal evolution & community transformation

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Ernest Hemingway

doorway

doorway

I began this blog a few months ago as a way to explore, record and share my thinking around a particular self-directed professional learning experience: a trip from Australia to New York intended to gain insights around teacher effectiveness, teacher evaluation and teacher growth. The trip was amazing personally and professionally. I met with schools, school leaders, teachers, researchers and global edu-experts who challenged and inspired.

Now that initial blogging purpose is sated and I find myself wondering: should I continue blogging?

My first instinct is: yes. And that mainly emerges out of the enjoyment I have found in reflecting, writing, sharing and engaging with others as a result of my posts. I alluded in post about social media for educators, this post about being a connected educator and this one about finding your professional global tribe, that Twitter has been invaluable in connecting me with other like-minded (and non-like-minded – just as important!) people. Blogging, however, allows for much more developed thinking than tweeting. Twitter can facilitate 140 character conversations, but it doesn’t allow you to burrow deep into ideas and give them a shake. So since blogging, I have been blogging about blogging, and now I’m at it again.

My reservations about continuing a blog are primarily about time. I am a parent of two pre-school age children, an educator at an Australian school, and a PhD candidate who is two years, 150 pages and 300 references into my thesis (more about how I juggle those things here). Right now as I write a blog post about whether I’ll write future blog posts, there is a long list of other things I could be doing.

And yet, here I am.

Partly because this blog has allowed me to explore my own thinking around my work and study. It is a free space to write. I have my PhD to write too, but blogging is a space in which I can write without pressure and with more freedom of style and content. It keeps me thinking and learning and connects me with other thinkers and learners.

I also know what other blogs give me. They can be transformational, inciting change, encouraging action and inspiring thinking through the sharing of stories, expertise and others’ intellectual struggles around big and small ideas. They promote reflection, conversation and growth, in the blogger and the reader. Perhaps my own musings might provide insights for others, open a window to my context, challenge another’s thinking or facilitate connections across geographical and philosophical boundaries?

So I feel propelled to continue blogging, but I wonder how that journey might evolve, if anyone will read my posts, and if that even matters. Certainly I would (will?) be a blogger who blogs when I have something to say, rather than to chase numbers of clicks on a page.

Western Australia by @debsnet

possibilities