Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Future of my blogging

georgia - 4.jpg
Originally uploaded by jerobins

This is my last post, in reflecting on my first year of blogging. I not only need to evaluate my first year of blogging, but I also need to consider the future of my blogging.

Where do I want to go with my blogging? What do I want to learn and write about? For this next year, I want to post more. In those posts, I want to include:

1. instructional posts

I want to write more on helping beginner bloggers. Specifically, I hope to cover these blogging topics:

  • web analytics.
  • linking.
  • embedding graphics, videos, and presentations from other sites.
  • writing for search engines.
  • comparing writing in short posts and longer explanations.

2. people stories.

Anything we do, we do for and with people. People are fascinating and inspiring. Telling stories about people helps connect concepts with readers. After all, it is about people, not the technologies. I want to write how people have used technologies for improve processes or improve lives.

Additionally, I want to write about people who make a difference.

3. conceptual and idea kinds of posts, possibly, some "what if" posts.

Trying to convey concepts in a way that invokes ideas is something that I struggle with. Gosh darn it, I wish I was better at that. I will keep trying.

4. posts on what I am learning.

I am not sure what I am going to learn. I do know I want to investigate these specific topics more deeply:

5. posts on using social media.

The more I used social media the more I know that I cannot rely on only 1 or 2 tools to communicate. Each tool has a purpose. Some of the newer social media tools open opportunities to communities, learning, and people, but are not full replacement for traditional electronic tools. For instance, email is a good tool for some asynchronous messages. It is, however, often used for the wrong purpose. Instant messaging, blogging, collaboration tools, such as Google docs and wikis, serve us better for some communications and activities.

I want to write more about the importance of using social media technologies, particularly social bookmarking, wikis, Twitter, and any other useful tool I happen to try.

What do you want me to investigate? What topics do you want me to cover in my blog?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Have I had an impact?

weight 2.0
Originally uploaded by Esthr
What was the impact, if any from my first year of blogging?

My web metrics show that my blog is being read. Sure, I would like to see an increase in the number of people reaching my blog. Though, it is more important to me that the articles help educators understand the potential of integrating technology into our educational programs.

In the first year, I have helped a few people become more aware of reading feeds, blogging, and sharing resources, such as photos, videos, and slide presentations. Several Extension educators have started blogging in a trial stage. Although the idea of social media is spreading in our organization, we still have more work to do. I will keep blogging.

I have not advertised the fact that I blog. Except in the last few months, while meeting with Extension professionals in my own state, I have used my blog as an example in showing them feeds and showing how they can subscribe to feeds. Thus, this is one reason my Feedburner subscriptions have jumped in the last month or so. :)

Several of us in Extension are talking about the importance of integrating social media into educational programs. No one individual can be effecive in bringing awareness and adoption of social media. We each say the message a little differently and we each have opportunities to chip into the influence factor.

Blogging is not the only application I started in the last year. I have also adopted:
The use of each of these applications have helped me learn, understand, adopt and use social media. Through these tools, I am also building an understanding how these tools fit in our organization.

My blog has become a centralized place for instructions and linking to interesting technologies and concepts. My blog isn't only a set of instructions, but rather my thoughts and professional opinion on how we can make our organization better. It is from some of these posts that conversations have been started. In the conversations, ideas are forming.

Blogging is not a one way communication tool. Blogging means participating. Knowing what others are finding and saying is as important as blogging itself. These others tools helped me grow my relationships with colleagues across the country and helped me learn from them.

The influence is not only about how much I have impacted the adoption of these tools, but it is also about the understanding and knowledge that I have gained.

The impact of my blog is not measured by the numbers. Impact is also about how scattered influence is being picked up, discussed, and diffused. Two examples are given in posts about never knowing when and how you are influential. One particular influential dinner conversation with Kevin Gamble sent me to the adoption phase. Another conversation on Sandia Peak sent a Brian Webster to the blogging adoption phase. It is hard to separate whether my blog is influential, because the other conversations that happen are just or more influential.

Blogging is one piece of the strategy. Other social media used and other conversations--those in-person or virtual --all play a part in influence and impact. Maybe the influence of my blog is not measurable, it is important, nevertheless.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My blog analysis

Originally uploaded by aafromaa

In reflecting on my blogging efforts over the last year, I want to consider and report a few web metrics. The history of my blog is as follows:

January 24, 2007 I began blogging.

April 24, I claimed my blog in Technorati.

Mid-may, I created my own domain and the Technorati rating started over.

Currently, Technorati rank is 587, 893 and Authority is 14. Until last week I had an authority rating of 16.

Originally uploaded by aafromaa

May 22, I started using Google Analytics. In an 8 month time period, the number of visits is to my blog is shown in the graphic.

The most frequently read pages are:

1. My entry page. Time spent on page 2:55 minutes.
2. Extension in Web 2.0. Time spent on page 3:31 minutes. Most of these views came from direct sources. In fact the spike in my visits occurred when Iowa State Extension professionals were directed to this article through an email.
3. A Summary of Advantages of Facebook. Time spent on page 4:57 minutes. Most of these views came from Google searches.

Early Fall, I started using Feedburner. Feedburner reports 92 feeds being subscribed. According to Google Reader, there are 42 subscribers through Google Reader.

Though in terms of number of visits and feeds, these numbers to some may not seem like much. However, the target audience for my blog has been quite narrow. Many of these professionals are just now becoming aware of that social media tools are applicable to their work. I expect the number of subscribers and visits to increase in the next year.

Looking at it differently, I have never in my career have I had the ability to communicate and discuss technologies in a way that reaches this many people this easily, not through email or any other method.

What does this mean for the larger organization? Consider the effect we would have as an organization if a conservative 1/5 of our educators were to start blogging (and linking to each other's materials). Our educational knowledge becomes spread in ways we have never been able to do before now.

If we blogged what we are already doing--the newsletter articles, the everyday questions, and the success stories--the effective and range reach levels we have never experienced. We can do this with fairly little effort . Blogging expands our ability to build communities and improve lives. That is really exciting!

eLearning example

I am always looking elearning examples that I think are effective and interactive.

One such example is
Visible body.
  • It's in beta.
  • You have to register.
  • Registration is free.
  • It requires an Active X install.
  • It requires a lot of memory.
  • It's cool.

Thanks to Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day for the link.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Recapping a year of blogging

It is time to reflect on my first year of blogging (January 24, 2007). My second post laid out specific reasons for my blogging. Have I accomplished my goals? Has my blog made a difference? What do my blog statistics look like? What have I missed? And, what's next?

The most important questions are: Have I, through blogging, made an impact and a difference? Have I influenced someone, even in a small way?

The next several posts will evaluate my blog progress. In this post, I am going to evaluate each of the reasons for which I began blogging:

1. express myself.

Some of my favorite posts do not have a direct relationship with technology. Most of my favorite posts have to do with people who do what is right and having influence. My favorite posts are not the most popular posts. Nevertheless, these are my favorites (in no particular order).

2. maybe teach someone something.
My favorite instructional posts are:

3. teach myself something new.
By blogging, I have learned about writing in templates (Blogger templates) and what works and what does not. I have learned to not focus on the format so much--let the software work.

I have also learned (and still learning) to write for a broader audience. Although my target audience is Extension professionals, and lately, I have broaden that all land-grant educators, I am learning to write for the broader audience. Keeping the target audience in mind helps, but choosing more general words and sometimes general techniques expand the reach to others.

Blogging means that I have to learn and dig deeper than what I actually write. It is like when I am teaching; I have to know more than what I present or teach. I have to know concepts, theory, and facts that don't necessarily get reflected in my writing.

Blogging, in part, has expanded and developed my professional relationships. Other social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook, have also contributed to developing relationships.

Though blogging itself did not teach me other applications, it has helped lead me to applications like Twitter and social bookmarking, specifically

4. determine if blogging is something I should encourage as a viable technology for some of my friends and colleagues.

When I first started blogging, I was not sure how blogging would prove to be a good tool for Extension professionals. I conceptually knew that blogging made sense. I did not understand the process of blogging--finding content to discuss, writing for the web, staying current, and consistently updating the blog. I wanted to understand how difficult this would be for typical Extension professionals.

I had to try it to understand it. I am convinced more now that blogging makes sense for enhancing our existing land-grant educational programs and building trust in online communities. These posts describe the fit:
5. learn to blog so I can help others in my organization is using and writing for blogs.

I've written several posts directed at helping Extension professionals learn the processes of blogging.

From the perspective of meeting my personal goals of blogging, I have met those goals. I want to do more, though.

Watch for the next few posts for more evaluation and future goals.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Authentic blogging

After discussions with some educators this past week, reading about authentic marketing, and reading Beth Kanter's stories about the effect of the the Sharing Foundation on Cambodia children, I realized I have not been telling enough stories.

In presentations and workshops, I often integrate stories. I used other people's successes with technology as examples. Why don't I do that more in blogging? After all, my blog's name is Anne's Spot for Stories, Perceptions, Observations, and Thoughts.

In particular, Mack Collier's post on how Mahindra tractors uses of a company evangelist in a Life of a Farm blog for authentic marketing made me realized that telling our story and using our clientele to tell stories would be an extremely effective.

Stories and authentic blogging help make educational presentations more believable. Using clients' problems as the basis for blog posts makes for easy explanations. An example the way Tony Glover, a regional horticulture agent, answers everyday questions about gardening in his blog. Using his knowledge which is based on research, he answers questions like he would answer them to clients, in person.

Incorporating our clients' successes into our blogs serves two purposes:
1. creating situations our clients identify with.
2. marketing our educational programs.

Because Cooperative Extension educators are part of the local communities, passionate about helping people, and experts in their knowledge areas, blogging is a perfect fit for them. The example of Life of a Farm extends the concept of Rick Short's 4 P's (passion, personality, getting to the point, and perseverance).

As Mack Collier points out, clients telling stories is an excellent way to blog. In doing so, the specifics of situations are described, solutions and decisions are explained, and successes are told.

Company Blog Checkup: Mahindra Tractors explains authentic blogging. Beyond the marketing perspective, using authentic blogging to explain educational and information makes a lot of sense.

So now you know: One of my goals for this year is to incorporate more stories into my own blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Google search process

In preparing for a presentation George Simeons of elearnspace has written a wiki article on the history of Google and growing concerns of the privacy and security issues.

The majority of the article is an easy to follow, interesting, and informative explanation of the history of Google. The article is written for non-geeks.

If you want learn, just for the sake of learning, start with George's wiki page and follow the links.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Banning Google, Why?

Why would you ban Google and Wikipedia as research tools for students? How does making the information hard to find help students? I simply cannot think of any reason that would justify holding back information. If you want students to search more, then add more references or develop methods for evaluating their ability to synthesize the material.

Students with lots of information should be able to develop more in-depth understanding. Taking the information away will not help students synthesize better.

Online research
One step should lead to another. When I conducted research for my dissertation (finished in 2006), sometimes I found it difficult to find the information and research resources within journals. Journals are often protected and I could not easily or quickly get the information. When I found myself stuck, I used Google. I did not use Wikipedia, but I could have. Generally, the resources I found helped me understand concepts and terms that I might have missed in my journal searches. Then I would go back to the journals.

Additionally, I used Google to find resources on Structural Equation Modeling. It was easier to work through my statistical problems using this method than finding professors who had students at all levels at the door. Certainly, I knew my research better than they did and I knew what I was looking for in trying to re-learn this statistical method. For final approval on my methodology, I would, of course, check with my professor. Of course, this method of learning led to my learning about situations and handling problems in SEM. It was tough staying focused sometimes on my tasks because I kept wanting to learn more.

Google was often a great jumping off point. If I were conducting my research today, I would definitely use Google and Wikipedia, but I would also use other resources, such as social bookmarking, wikis, open classrooms, and open textbooks. Those tools deserve their own discussions; that will be another post one day.

In case you are interested, my research was a multidisciplinary approach to technology use in agriculture, specifically in precision agriculture. I had over 110 references from agriculture, psychology, behavior change, sociology, economics, information systems, organizational change, and management from books, journals, and a few online links.

Additionally, as I work toward publishing some of this research, I am favoring online journals. At least then, the material would be searchable.

Disabling my use of Google would not have helped me understand and learn all these different concepts that were necessary. More than likely, I would have learned a lot less.

School-age learners
Recently, my middle schooler was working on a science project on volcanoes. She used Wikipedia, Google, her textbook and whatever was provided to her at school. When she asked for advice, I helped her go back to Wikipedia and Google and follow the links to even more information.

On the final night of preparation, I asked her, "How would you have done this science project without Google?" She stared at me, like that would be an unbelievable situation--something she could never imagine--like that would never occur. Then she said: "That would suck".

Okay, I know I need to help with her vocabulary. But, she knows a whole LOT MORE about volcanoes than I ever learned in one text book and a school library.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Open source blogging: Open source content

Leo Babauta, the author of Zen To Done: The Simple Productivity E-Book! is granting full permission to use his content. In his post, Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content, he explains his reasoning with counter arguments. For each of his counter arguments, I offer the positive possibilities of opening educational content for anyone to use without restriction.

LB 1. Google rank will go down. Because Google penalizes pages that have exact duplicates, PageRank may be reduced.

What is the positive? Someone will read our educational material who might not have found it on our web sites.

LB 2. Loss of revenues. ...In this example, thousands of people are reading my work (and learning about Zen Habits) who wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s good for any content creator.

What is the positive? Our reach is extended. Someone who could not afford for the content or someone who was not willing to pay for the content reads the content.

LB 3. Who knows what people will do with your work? Someone could take my work, turn it into a piece of … baloney … and put my name on it. They could translate it with all kinds of errors. They could … well, they could do just about anything. ... that you can’t control it, and even if you can, it’s not a good thing....
What is the positive?

LB... What if someone takes my work and turns it into something brilliant...Or more likely, what if they take the work and extend the concepts and make it even more useful, to even more people? Release control, and see what happens. People are wonderful, creative creatures.
Someone could make our educational content more exciting, interactive, and understandable to audiences that we did not reach with our original content.

LB 4. You’re making other bloggers look bad. Perhaps .. I’m doing it simply to stay in line with my values. And who knows? Maybe others will be inspired by this in some way.
What is the positive? We, as public educators, could be lead the way.

LB 5. What about when you write that print book you’re always talking about? When I get published by a major publisher, I probably won’t be able to release copyright. I accept that as a cost of getting published in print, which is a dream of mine.
What is the positive? We think about all of our content as being open, and the exception is that we copyright only those products that absolutely need copyright (I am not sure what they would be).

LB 6. What if someone publishes a book with all your content and makes a million dollars off it? I hope they at least give me credit. And my deepest desire is that they give some of that money to a good cause.
What is the positive? More people will read our educational content.

LB 7. But … but … they’re stealing from you! You can’t steal what is given freely. I call this sharing, not piracy.
What is the positive? Our educational content gets shared.

Thanks to John Dorner for sharing Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content in his bookmarks.

What are other possibilites?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Teens use of social networking sites

This blog post is the beginning of the conversation that I will have with a group of professionals who work with youth. This month, I will be presenting information on teens' use of Facebook. Specifically, I am speaking to a group of 4-H regional agents. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, and life skills of youth through mostly experiential learning programs.

A few findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project report on Teens and social media are:

  • 93% of teens use the internet.
  • 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace.

...older teens are more likely to visit these sites than younger teens (47% of those age 12-14 say they go to social networking sites compared with 63% of 15-17 year-olds).

Note that both Facebook and Myspace Terms of Agreement "require" one to be 14 years of age to eligible for an account. Obviously, some teens lie about their age when creating an account.

Content creation for teens
Teens use social networking sites and other social media for content creation.

  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.
  • 33% create or work on webpages or blogs for others, including those for groups they belong to, friends, or school assignments, basically unchanged from 2004 (32%).
  • 26% remix content they find online into their own creations, up from 19% in 2004.
  • 70% social networking teens report reading the blogs of others.
Most teens who upload photos online consistently share them with some restrictions. Online adults are more lax in restricting access to their online photos.

Communication trends
Multi-channel teens are super communicators who will use any tool at their disposal. Cell phones, instant messaging applications, and social networking channels rank highest in their communication choices.

  • 14% of all teens report sending emails to their friends every day, making it the least popular form of daily social communication.
  • Face-to-face interaction has shown little change although social networking has increased.

Participation is key to teens

  • 76% have posted comments to a friend’s blog on a social networking site.
  • Online teens as a whole are quite active offline.
  • 50% of the online teens in this survey report being part of a school sports program.
  • 36% report being part of a school club like drama or language.
  • 42% report taking part in some other extracurricular activity like band.
  • 58% report participating in an after-school club or sports program that is not affiliated with school.
Social networking sites for teens is just that--social
The "social" in social network is the operative term for many teens – nearly all teens who use the networks say that they use the sites to keep in touch with friends and make social plans.

  • 91% of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently.
  • 82% use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person.
Teens from lower income families and single parent families
Teens living in households earning less than $50,000 per year and teens from single parent homes are more likely to blog than those living in higher-income households and in married-parents homes.

  • 35% of online teens whose parents fall in the lower income brackets have created an online journal or blog.
  • 24% of those in the higher income brackets have created an online journal or blog.
  • 42% of teens living with single parents keep a blog.
  • 25% of teens living with married parents.
What do I make of the report?
Teens want to socialize (well, duh).
Teens use several tools to socialize.
Teens want to create.
Teens want to contribute.
Teens want to be inclusive.

Facebook, in part, has become a popular social networking site, because it is a one-stop shop for creating, sharing, blogging, playing, and communicating.

The best way to find out about these tools is to use them.

Create a Facebook account and see what the social interaction is all about. Take a lesson from the teens. Use Facebook to keep up with people you see face-to-face on a regular basis.

  • Learn how these sites can be useful to your own professionalism. A Summary of Advantages of Facebook provides a brief list why Facebook is a useful tool for adults. If you want to learn about Facebook, use Facebook.
  • Learn how to use the other communication tools. I personally cannot imagine any parent of a teenager not knowing how to communicate using (SMS) and instant messaging. Teens are active--on the go. These technologies offer a non-intrusive way to communicate throughout the day (and night).
Don't plan on using social networking sites as a way to one-way communication to market your organization or your cause. First, and foremost, if you are new to social networking sites, use these sites to:

  • Learn about your target audience.
  • Learn how your target audience uses these sites.
  • Learn about your target audience's interests.
  • Learn about their opinions.
Is Facebook an end-all product? Absolutely not. Clearly, teenagers are using it, and young adults and professionals are using it, as well. Teens and adults use multiple tools to communicate, Facebook is just another tool.

Source: Teens and social media
Pew Internet and American Life Project
December 19, 2007
Authors: Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, Project Manager

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Public access to education: Open courseware

Recent articles in the news media have brought new attention to opening university courses to the public. Some notable statements from the Washington Post, Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes written by Susan Kinzie are below.

At a time when many top schools are expensive and difficult to get into, some say it's a return to the broader mission of higher education: to offer knowledge to everyone.

"It's part of this movement in higher education to open up," George Mason professor Dan Cohen said, "to share the products of our research, to be here for the public good."

In an AP article (Denver Post) Internet opens elite colleges to all by Justin Pope describes how MIT classes are open to the world.

The world's top universities have come late to the world of online education, but they're arriving at last, creating an all-you-can eat online buffet of information.

And mostly, they are giving it away.

An MIT initiative called "OpenCourseWare" makes virtually all the school's courses available online for free—lecture notes, readings, tests and often video lectures. [Gilbert] Strang's Math 18.06 course is among the most popular, with visitors downloading his lectures more than 1.3 million times since June alone.

Strang's classroom is the world.

The biggest surprise has been that almost half who use the site aren't students or teachers but people just curious to learn.

Funding and intellectual property are two important issues, stated in the Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes article, need to be worked out. However, these issues should not be walls from proceeding with opening up the classrooms, they need to be worked through.

From a personal perspective, while attending PhD classes a couple of years ago, I often wished I could articulate what my instructors were saying about technology and change in organizations. My professors are experts in their field and many times they not only taught us theories, but also taught practical management processes about technology and invoking change. But, somehow, I knew I would lose in the translation the importance of the information and the learning. I certainly would not be able to represent the instructor as well as the instructor could do himself. My instructors were definitely the experts. Even today, often wish I could attend some of the lectures of classes that I had not been enrolled in--not for the credit, but because I want to learn.

Maybe some of those professors might fear that fewer businesses would use their consulting businesses or that fewer people would enroll in the executive MBA program. However, I believe that opening the classes up to the public would generate more consulting business, more research opportunities, and more executive MBA students.

Some benefits of open courseware are stated through the article.

Expanding Reach and Building Reputation
Elite universities can separate their credential from their teaching—and give at least parts of their teaching away as a public service. They aren't diminishing their reputations at all. In fact, they are expanding their reach and reputation.

Providing Access
[Steve] Carson says. "If you're working in a community"—say, in Africa—"you don't need the certification. You just need access to the information."

On the opposite coast of southern Africa, [Noorali] Jiwaji of says most of his Tanzanian students have never heard of MIT. Students use the courses "because it gives them a tool. They feel lost and they don't have good books," Jiwaji says. "They need a guide to help them."

Sharing Expertise Beyond Our physical Boundaries
"My life is in teaching," [Strang] says. "To have a chance do that with a world audience is just wonderful."

"Rather than going through my old, dusty books," [Dustin] Darcy said, "I thought I might as well go through it from the top and see if I learn something new."

Sharing Expertise Among Colleagues
Many "students" are college teachers themselves...

Encourages Creativity
"It really encourages the students to discover and try something new," he said. "Normally the stress here is on how things work, not on creating things of your own."

Karl Fisch, IT Director of in a Colorado school system and the winner of "Most influential blog post" Edublog Awards, comments that this is becoming news in mainstream media. Speaking of his experience with K-12 education, Karl Fisch also says it best and certainly applies to all higher education, particularly public institutions.

we need to figure out how to do it really, really well.

Kevin Gamble offers this comment on open courseware at land grant universities.

It's hard to believe that there are only three Land-Grant universities, with their "democratic mandate for openness, accessibility, and service to people" that have gotten solidly behind this movement. A tremendous opportunity has been squandered, but then again, it's never too late to do the right thing.