Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogging: Stepping into the learning process

When he commented on the article, Individual Adoption of Change, Eli Sagor gave excellent advice on how to encourage Extension professionals to begin blogging. First, he had observed that blogging may be intimidating.

Typical blogging is a kind of writing (not just a technology) that is not familiar to most Extension folks. And people may feel uninterested (or scared) about trying to build an audience. What if nobody cares what they write? This might seem humiliating to some.

Fear of the unknown--trying new technology or writing to a crowd that may not read your work is a real deterrent. Before I began blogging, my fears were that I might offend someone and that I might make grammatical or stylist mistakes in my writing. At this point, no one has openly admitted that I have offended them. I keep reminding myself that everyone has something to say, including those whose views are different from mine; they have not spoken, yet.

I have published posts that contained writing errors. Most people forgive and overlook these mistakes. Another mistake is that I have accidentally selected the "published" button before I was ready to publish. This required me to hurriedly copy the information in the post and then delete post. Those reading my posts via news readers have not commented about getting a feed that they could not access. Once again, readers are forgiving.

Eli also suggests that we help Extension professionals step into blogging by creating blogs on the project activities and committees. Interestingly, we (Computer Technology Unit and eXtension) have used wikis to keep up with projects and committees. Blogging with a committee reduces risks and helps individuals become comfortable in publishing their writing and learning the technology (which is not difficult).

1. We all serve on committees. Why not use blogs for updates between meetings? This is a chance to try blogging to a known, familiar, small group--more palatable to some than sending out prognostications to the whole wide world.

2. Blogging to track project progress, record rationales behind important decisions, etc. This is a chance to get familiar with the technology without pressure to build an audience. (My own example, set up exactly for this reason, is at http://myminnesotawoods.wordpress.com/.

Another tip in blogging is to blog as a group. Solo blogging is very time consuming. Sharing the responsibility and asking someone to quickly read over materials before posting will give new bloggers some confidence. Additionally, more detailed tips for blogging can be found in the article, Tips from a New Blogger.

Eli also points out that blogging is not very valuable without using feed readers. AMEN!
Another big problem is the lack of familiarity with feed readers. Blogs are fine, but without RSS, if the blog isn't updated very frequently, it's dead. So, how to increase adoption of feed readers? I use Pageflakes and have thought about using pagecasts to let others read feeds that I have set up.
Sometimes, people need a few applicable examples. Therefore, I created an Pageflakes account (www.pageflakes.com/aadrian/) and shared news feeds that might be useful to Extension professionals. These shared pagecasts are not complete, but serve as a beginning point to identify applicable blogs for some Extension professionals. I found these feed sources in Extension, industry, and my del.icio.us network. Just for fun--I also added a pagecast for Auburn sports fans.

In addition to these feeds, searching for relevant blogs in Technorati could also be helpful. Beth Kanter showed us how to do this in an eXtension web conference, titled “Ten Steps to Web 2.0″.

Using a news reader is imperative to embracing social networking tools. Kevin Gamble explains it as a way to "exponentially increase the amount of new information".

The smart knowledge worker is thinking, "I can create hundreds of these feeds with intelligence, and triple or quadruple or exponentially increase the amount of new information I'm processing." And that is huge!

"Exponentially increasing the amount of new information" may seem scary to some. However, another way of thinking about reading news and web material through a reader is to see it as an efficiency.

After awhile, reading through a news reader becomes habit forming. While many people start their office day reading emails (and cleaning out the SPAM), I start my office day reading twitter updates, wiki edits, new bookmarks from my del.icio.us network, and my favorite blogs in Google Reader.

Instructions to using Google Reader can be found on How to use a news reader Reader and in the video called RSS in Plain English.

1 comment:

Eli Sagor said...

Right on Anne! Another excellent post. I'm really impressed with the way that you tie together detailed information and quotes from numerous sources into a coherent, concise post. This is great.

By coincidence (or maybe we're just thinking about the same things), just before reading this post I created my own pagecast in pageflakes. It's pretty sparse, there are VERY few forestry blogs out there, but I tricked it up with some Flickr tagged images to fill some space. Nothing special, but it's at http://www.pageflakes.com/esagor/10367577/.

Also, in the process of doing that, I discovered a new Extension blog for your list: http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/forestry/blogs/eb94/.

And, I'm now "watching" your Extension pagecast. Pageflakes really is a nice app, I think.

Enjoy the day, and thanks again for the post.