Reflections on a month …

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson).

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly at the end now, and days 29-31 have been about wrapping up the 31 Day Comment Challenge. The final 3 days focus on the learnings: to prepare a commenting guide for students, to consider how learnings from this commenting project could change one’s teaching practices, and finally … to reflect on what we’ve learned from the challenge.

I have to say that the task of preparing a commenting guide for students is more difficult than I’d imagined. I know that students do know how to comment, can comment if they want to, or if the encouragement to do so … the incentive is sufficiently meaningful, and if the atmosphere is conducive to discussion. The challenge is to make the horses drink once you’ve brought them to the water.

Now I teach in the world of the performing arts where expressive, imaginative commenting out loud is almost a given; most of these students have the confidence to contribute their opinions in a lively and engaging way. I also teach non-performance majors in arts history courses. Encouraging these students to contribute in live tutorial sessions often proves difficult … especially if the class is shared with a group of voluble actors or musicians. The challenge with a live class is to generate a good discussion, to enable commenting from everyone who wishes to contribute … not all do of course … and not let one or two dominate the session. Useful to remember though that it’s OK to lurk … you can learn this way too.

Now when it comes to interacting online, I remain convinced that for most students, their insecurity about technology, lack of access or poor net connection, along with anxiety about the concreteness of words really do prevent the kind of free-flowing discussion that we like to encourage. Further inhibitions could come from the fact that you can’t read body-language in words on a screen, and can’t see a face or hear vocal tone … think how the simple upward inflection at the end of a statement actually encourages further comment. And that’s not the same as a question mark on the screen.

Yesterday I had a scheduled tutorial session which followed on the previous day’s lecture. It was a cold day and the class was sluggish as they entered the room. I wondered whether creating a playful but purposeful environment mightn’t warm them up. So I applied the kind of approach more often found in a rehearsal room. I asked a student (an acting major) whether she could run the discussion as tutor for the day … to be provocative, outspoken if necessary, and to encourage comment. She went immediately into role as ‘lecturer’ and it worked far better than I’d hoped. Students relaxed … I felt the fear factor diminished … I wasn’t out front for a start … and the discussion rolled along even amongst the quieter contributors. This strategy worked ‘live’ but I wondered whether throwing responsibility to one of the group mightn’t work in the same way in stimulating online discussion. Variety as the spice and all.

What else have I learned from the challenge to change or value-add to my teaching practices? The tension between the ideal and reality in the use of online digital media has surfaced on an almost-daily basis in comments. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise the potential of e-learning, but like many I am frustrated by the slow uptake and even resistance to it … from colleagues as well as students. I realise the necessity to tread softly but persistently and judiciously as I model and mentor learning in this 21st century medium. And to be patient.

5 Learnings

  1. I’ve learned more about what I’ve been calling the commenting fear factor. It appears that we are still sufficiently anxious to be wary of putting our opinions out there. As a result, we’re perhaps less likely to comment than we should; a bad experience via a comment has the potential to do a lot of damage. And … people are less secure about commenting via video (technology, personal vulnerability) than they are about commenting per se. Will video and audio commenting develop? Yes.
  2. I’ve been reminded of the power of one comment to revive a flagging spirit. Someone out there is reading or watching, or listening, and thought enough of what was said to take the time to engage.
  3. What I’ve experienced has been the reinforcement of one of the greatest strengths we have as teacher-learners, and that is our capacity to generate and nurture a community of practice … whether online as in this project, or live and face to face. This lessons of this challenge have reinforced for me the necessity of collegial support amongst educators … by encouraging and supporting a colleague next door or down the hall; by engaging in a discussion in the lunch room, or by posting a video or written comment in a blog from a colleague half a world away. What matters is that we keep talking, sharing, and valuing contributions.
  4. I’ve been reminded of the power a well-designed tool has to encourage or turn off a learner. I don’t like design that’s flaky or loud with ads … sorry CoComment, it just didn’t do it for me! And I’m not convinced yet by Snapvine (audio). Seesmic is here to stay.
  5. I work better in my busy life in short, focussed or intensive bursts of work. For this reason, I would like shorter challenges … say a 5 or 10 day rather than a whole 31 days of tasks.

What will stay with me from this experience? Posts from a few new blog discoveries will continue to arrive in my feed reader. I’ve met up with and traded ideas with some wonderful thinkers, writers, and creative souls during the past month, and I’d like to continue this engagement.  I’ve received so much valuable, direct and indirect feedback, support and advice on my writing and on the tone and substance of my comments. My thanks to all of you. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Hello June … and welcome winter to the southern hemisphere.

Branding and Theme

This is piggy-backing a little on branding, one of the ancillary threads running through the 31 Day Comment Challenge.

I’m wondering what role you think your blog’s theme plays in the matter of branding you and your blog? Why did you choose the theme you are using right now? Was it because it fits your brand or the tone of your niche?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Day 27: Personal Branding in Comments

Cowboys branding a calf in fenced area. South Dakota, 1888.

Image via Wikipedia

This word branding is one that keeps appearing over and over in biz-speak. It’s a bit of a weasel-word in some ways, calling as it does on notions of corporate matters including money-making. But of course, it’s also about image and individuality. I’ve been through enough seminars on this branding business to be wary when I see a branding iron coming in my direction. Having said this, I know that when creating and developing a blog, you need to pay attention not only to content but also to the public face and tone of your blog. And of course, this extends to comments. As to how you sign off … is this part of the branding process?

I read Dawud Miracle and his take on branding using your own name in comments. This makes sense if you want your own name associated with the content … and why wouldn’t you? After all you sign your emails, letters, and so on as a sign of ‘good faith.’ On the other hand, a signature screen name, as long as it’s sufficiently individualised could be another choice. It’s the difference between being known as a real person or as a persona.

Like Dawud, I prefer getting known around the blogosphere as a person in my own name, and so the former ‘Dramagirl’ and ‘Groundling’ (both adaptations from a former and my current ‘other’ blog) have become me … Kate Foy, which is how I now sign all of my comments.

But I think the branding process extends to the content of the comments themselves, where tone and writing style also play a part.

The voice of the blog expresses the style and personality of the blogger, and this should extend to the commenting

In this Challenge I’ve noticed a variety of approaches to comment signature … there are screen names and full names, and I’ve been able to associate them pretty well. Diversity rules.

Day 26: Bring on the Media

Back to the daily Comment Challenge tasks and I’m hunting down some A-V apps to diversify commenting and make it more dynamic. I’ve had a few words to say over the past week or so on my commenting using Seesmic, so I won’t bang the drum again. If you haven’t read them, just type ‘Seesmic’ into the search pane and you’ll find them and samples of video comments and posts. Let me say up front that I have nothing against words; love ’em, but this is the 21st century, this is Web 2.0 people, so let’s get a little more adventurous. That’s my rallying cry as I feel the claws hanging on hard to the tried and true. I feel it every day as many, many of the much-touted web-savvy Gen-Y in my patch resist the new e-learning ways like crazy!

This morning I checked out and installed Snapvine. This is audio-blogging and commenting which can be done online or via your mobile. If you decide to give mobile blogging a go, you will need to choose your dial-in country from a drop-down list, and validate your phone number with a code. This makes blogging on the go quick and easy; for once, it’s going to be a faster experience than typing words into your keypad. Snapvine, like Seesmic logs all of the posts and comments at your own central Snapvine blog. This is a newcomer to my blog tools, and I’m trialling it for the rest of the month of this Challenge, so you might like to help me out and have a go; it’s over there in the left sidebar under ‘Sounding Stuff.’ And remember, with an audio comment no one can see your bad hair!

Facebook? Yes. It qualifies because it encourages comment through your Facebook social network.  I’ve installed the Wordbook plug-in on my other blog Groundling; this posts a notification with image into my Facebook pane so friends can drop by and comment. It’s my other blog because my Facebook network is overwhelmingly comprised of people in that niche area.

Flickr is perhaps the visual blog par excellence also with comment capability. What more can I say about this free (or pro for $) application that hasn’t already been said. I use it in various ways which boil down to storing and sorting my photos (and short videos … I have a pro account) so they are quickly accessible from anywhere on the web. This year I am taking part in the 366 Photos group (groan … why am I a sucker for these challenges?) A smallish group of us capture an image a day during this Leap Year of 366 days, and post to the group. It’s a sweet way to stay in touch with everyone, share our worlds, and to leave comments … which we do.

Catching up fast

Coffee Break

Well I’ve had a bit of a break from the comment challenge but it was really all about taking a breath and organising my life. This challenge had got me busier than I had thought it would. It felt a bit like party time … dashing from one to the other and really not spending enough quality time elsewhere. So here I am, renewed, ready to go. Now, let’s see … where am I?

OK. On Day 21: Make a Recommendation in a comment. I have done this already, and tend to do it quite a lot. I think value adding often includes the sort of ‘Oh and by the way have you seen this blogsite?’ comment. Hotlinking tips or ideas form part of the richness of the whole blogging conversational experience.

Day 22: Highlight a Favorite Comment. For sheer cameraderie and knowing-what-it’s like I rate Christine Martell‘s comment about coping with the consequences of one’s image and voice and knowing what to say in a video comment. Christine’s and then Bonnie K‘s later comment about ‘bad-hair posts’ were light-hearted, but also actually quite profound, and they touched on the fear-factor which has been receiving some chat-play in discussions on blogger’s reactions to video posts and comments. There will be much more to say about this as the blog days roll around. As a side issue, any prizes for guessing what will be ‘hot’ issues in the coming months?

Day 23: What Makes a Great Comment? Well I don’t know about great, but for me a good comment is one genuine in its desire to communicate… in other words one that’s open, and not overly dogmatic or assertive. It reveals something about the individuality of the writer, and leaves the door open for further conversation … and that can lead to a great experience. Some days, any comment is a good one!

Day 24: Comment on a Blog Written in a Foreign Language. ‘Mon Dieu! Mais c’est impossible,’ I thought. Given my very tenuous grasp of French, I imagined the hilarity and Gallic thigh-slapping that would follow on my feeble attempts. So did I have a go? Nope, but I did subscribe to the Coffee Break French podcast to help my upcoming shopping cultural visit to Paris. I can thoroughly recommend this series which offers coffee break language instruction in several languages and all for free!

Day 25: Take a Break. OK.

3 Weeks of Commenting: time for a break

Illustration of a scribe writing

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve decided to take a break for a day or so and hit the challenge again in a flurry at the top of next week. Why?  Well with all this commenting on other peoples’ blogs, I’ve actually neglected my own writing. I want to get back in the groove again.

So my recommendation to myself on Day 21 is to take a break, smell the roses, check back over the ideas in the notebook and my del.icio.us stash and map out some tasks for June.