Every Day I Write the Blog

Every day I write. That much is true. Some days I write pieces of books, and some days I write pieces of blogs, and some days I write letters and instructions and grocery lists, but every day I write.

Part of that writing happens because of my job. I write emails. I write notes to myself to remember what I’m supposed to be doing. I write comments on student work. Every day I write.

A large part of that is because of social media. I am a frequent poster to social media, so much so that I advise you to go ahead and unfriend me before we even meet if you like a nice, quiet, and orderly news feed. Every day I write. Every day I post my thoughts, my opinions, my frustrations, my dreams, and my good wishes for others on social media. Sometimes I post very fervent reflections on my beliefs. Sometimes my Facebook page reads like a “This I Believe” archive site.

I post, and my thoughts float on down the stream, and I lose track of them, and if I forget what I said or even that I said it, there’s no point in looking for it later. No matter how much in love with my own post I might be, I will not take it out to admire it again later because putting it there in the first place is an act of saying goodbye to it. I say what I say and, like any conversation, the moment passes, and the comment floats away.

That’s okay. That’s the way Facebook works, and maybe that accounts for its popularity. Things happen on Facebook in a way that mimics the fleeting nature of face-to-face conversation.

On the other hand, I created a blog post about some genealogy work that I did called “Infamous Cousins” on August 13, 2011. The most recent comment I have received on that post was submitted on December 12, 2014. That comment might read a little like spam, but it really isn’t. It’s just my uncle. After more than three years, family members are still discovering this post and still commenting on it.

Facebook is the conversation, but WordPress is the book.

I often post reflections on Facebook these days that I would have once reserved for the blog, and I do that for a couple of reasons: (1) It’s easier, especially if I am already logged in to Facebook on my phone; (2) I get more response when I post straight to Facebook because lots of people skip links but read status updates.

Sometimes I regret that I didn’t keep up with my status updates. Sometimes I would like to be able to link back to my status updates in order to further develop an idea. Sometimes I would like to be able to search through my status updates just to find out if I’ve already told the same joke, or if I actually told it three times last week. None of that happens easily on Facebook, but it does happen easily on a blog.

Facebook is for passing thoughts. Blogs are for projects.

Facebook is for making a speech at the high school pep rally that no one, including yourself, will ever remember. Blogs are for writing inscriptions in high school year books that someone will pick up and smile over in another 35 years.

Facebook is not the book. The blog is the book.

Every day I write.

Blogging died last year; Welcome to my blog

I started blogging in 2005. Actually, it was probably 2004. I know this because I presented at TYCA-SE in Jackson in February of 2005 on blogging, and since I knew nothing about blogging before I decided I would learn it in order to present on it, I’m sure that I started playing around with blogs some months earlier. I’m sure I at least created one to be certain I could do it before I sent in the proposal for that conference, and proposals are always due months ahead of time. Also, “blog” was word-of-the-year in 2004. I remember that from my presentation. I also remember that I had only just heard about blogging and was excited about it and thought that I was way behind the curve on this little tech fad and that I would never catch up before it faded into oblivion. That’s why I did a presentation on blogging (in partnership with my friend and colleague Tammy Townsend). I wanted a reason to make myself sit down and learn this tool while it was still hot.

Since then, the whole world has changed. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg was in the process of launching Facebook, but it would be a couple of years before I would hear about it, and I would not join until 2008.

When Facebook first came on the scene, it only allowed short posts, and blogs were designed for more involved posts, so for me there was a clear distinction between the two. Facebook dropped the character limits on posts, though, and that–along with a few other factors–blurred the lines between blogging and posting to social sites like Facebook. In fact, those lines became so blurred that people started announcing the death of the blog. Yet still I blog.

As Omar Kabadayi put it, “Blogging is dead, long live the blog.” He concludes,

Blogs haven’t disappeared – they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem. The loss of casual bloggers has shaken things out, with more committed and skilled writers sticking it out. Far from killing the blog dream, this has increased the quality of the blogosphere as a whole.

Kabadayi cites Jason Kottke of NeimanLab:

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

Maybe that’s why I still blog. I fit the demographic. Nevertheless, I also still have students create blogs because I see the blog as serving a different purpose than all of those other social sharing sites, and I see it as teaching students a different set of skills. I’ve also shifted my thinking a little away from putting so much emphasis on meeting students where they are (in terms of social media). It’s a common complaint among teachers that students know how to use Instagram and Twitter, but they don’t know how to copy and paste or send an email attachment or do any of the practical things they need to know for school and for the workforce. I think the blog is a good place to teach some of those practical skills. It’s also a good place to concentrate on more sustained public writing. It’s one thing to tweet an opinion or a joke. It’s another to develop an argument. Blogging has a very real and useful place in helping students learn these skills.

Ultimately, for me, blogging isn’t dead, but my 2005 way of thinking about blogging is, and it is mainly dead because of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Here are some of my thoughts on the 2005 blog vs. the 2015 version of the blog that has to coexist with all of these other social media platforms:

  1. In 2005, the blog was my social media network. In 2015. it is not. Today, the blog is a book that I am writing, but it is not also the coffee shop where I am reading portions of my book to my friends. Back then, it was both the book and the coffee shop. Today it is only the book. Facebook and Twitter are the coffee shop.I once worked hard to make sure that my blog networked with other blogs. I linked to other blogs. I visited other blogs and left comments. I wrote posts in response to things I saw on other blogs. Now, I don’t have a blogroll. If I visit other people’s blogs, it is because I have seen a link to a post that caught my attention on Facebook. If I comment on someone’s blog post, I will more likely make my comment on Facebook, and if I receive comments, they will most likely be shared via Facebook.
  2. Unlike 2005, I rarely use my blog simply for sharing articles now. That’s what Twitter is for. If I want to share a newspaper article, I just share it on social media. If I want to write about a topic that interests me, and I want to refer to several different articles in the course of doing so, I will probably use the blog because blogs allow the space for making connections between items as part of the development of my own ideas, but Facebook and Twitter mostly work better for sharing one main article and one main idea at a time.
  3. When I blogged in 2005, I assumed that my audience would be made up of people with similar personal and professional interests, and that I would have to seek those people out in order to find any audience at all. When I blog in 2015, I know that my social media world is no longer compartmentalized, and I know that even if I am writing on a specialized topic, sharing it with one group means sharing it with all groups because I’m way too lazy to create Facebook filters.I remember feeling uncomfortable with the intersection of various social groups in my news feeds ten years ago, but now those intersections are a way of life. I might write about teaching and get comments from a family member, or I might write about family and get comments from someone I knew from high school, or I might write about high school and get comments from someone I know from a professional organization. I still compartmentalize my writing so that different types of topics are posted on different blogs, but I no longer assume that only one limited group of like-minded people will read what I have to say. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, but it is different.Like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, we all tend to “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet,” but in today’s social media world, we no longer get to switch personas in order to meet a particular audience for a particular purpose because we are talking to all audiences all the time. In that light, the blog challenges us to be more aware of and to put more deliberate effort into developing a public voice.
  4. In 2005, the blog felt like loose and casual writing to me. It was a place for informal introspection even on professional topics. Now, the blog feels like the space for formal writing. Facebook is a casual writing hangout, and the blog is the put-on-your-Sunday-clothes place.I remember that in my own early days of blogging I would refuse to edit blog posts if I saw mistakes in them after publishing. I saw the blog as a journal, and I saw the blog posts as one-off events rather than as products. I thought it was good to show students that everyone is human, and that everyone makes mistakes in casual writing, and that editing was something to mostly reserve for more formal efforts that went through multiple drafts–unlike blog posts. Heaven forbid a blog post would have been put through a process that required much effort in those days. Blogging was just exploratory writing. If there was a process involved in developing that exploration into something more formal, it would happen off the blog.I no longer feel that way. Now I see Facebook as casual sharing and the blog as more formal. I don’t always take the time to thoroughly proofread blog posts. I do still distinguish between the level of formality in blogging and the level of formality in print publications. I do see the blog as more formal than Facebook, though, and I do go back and correct errors and typos if I spot them.

No doubt there have been more shifts in the way I blog and the way I think about blogging since 2005, and I may come back to revise this list later, but for now this covers the basics.

I do think that blogs as casual social media conversations are probably a thing of the past because it is easier to have those conversations on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. That doesn’t mean the blog is dead. It just means that the blog is now a space that more uniquely serves the needs of writers. People communicate on Facebook and Twitter, but people write on WordPress. This, to me, is why we need to keep blogging alive in the writing classroom.

 

 

And the blog lives on

This is my first post on this blog in several years, and I’m here now because I’m supposed to speak about blogging at a conference soon. Oh, irony of ironies. I’m scheduled to do a little blog evangelizing even though I haven’t been a practicing blogger lately myself.

Luckily, that’s only partly true.

This is my first post back here, but it isn’t my only since 2010. I blog other places. It isn’t blogging itself that I took such a long hiatus from, but more specifically blogging about technology in the classroom. I think that happened for two reasons. One, I was going through some personal overwhelm in my life. Two, I was burned out on learning new technologies for the classroom. I was saturated with technology. I felt like technology was taking over all of my attention, and that I needed to get back to concentrating on writing and the teaching of writing. Also, I felt like I was being glutted with new technologies, but none of them really excited me for classroom use. I just couldn’t get into making up Pinterest assignments. Maybe a better person could have, but I was toast, and not the pretty kind of professional toast found on Pinterest either.

I tell this now because I think it is part of the story of why blogging matters. I think this is a kind of burnout that teachers commonly experience. I think the question of when technology is too much is a valid one that ought to be addressed.

I don’t have the answer to that question. I only have my own story. I can only say I’ve been there too, and I am getting back into the game of talking about technology in the classroom now because I think it matters. I think it is important to my students and my colleagues that we all talk about technology and its place in the classroom.

Thus, for the next few weeks (and who knows from there), I will be blogging about blogging and ebooks and other sundry tech topics.

Welcome back to me, and welcome back to anyone who might come along and read what I have to say. Also, there are rumors that my brother might join me soon as a blogger on this site, but we will see if that is going to happen when it happens.

Cheers, colleagues. Happy blogging.

Bb 9.1 + YouTube

This is a video I posted to my online classes just as an introduction of myself. I’m somewhat shocked at myself for doing it. I’m shocked at myself for posting it here. It makes me want to throw up to think of putting myself in front of the camera and then posting it publicly.

I’m doing it anyway just to make a point to myself (and others if they are so inclined). Video is the thing. Video is easy to make and share now in online classes. That’s probably where I and others should be headed with lecture materials.

This video was made using a computer with a built-in web cam (purchased for faculty dev. projects thanks to the generous support of the Mississippi Arts Commission).

I just went to YouTube, logged into my account, hit Upload Video, and when it gave me a prompt to choose a file or record from web cam, I selected record from web cam. That’s all there is to that. YouTube walks you through the rest.

To share in Blackboard 9.1, you can put it in a content area by going to Build Content. From there you choose YouTube video under Mashups. Just copy and paste the url of your video into the search box, and hit go. It will pull up your video. Hit select. If you want the video to embed, change the little menu box that defaults to thumbnail over to embed. Hit submit. That’s it. You are video lecturing to your online classes.

Because this was just an introduction and not a lecture per se, I shared it on the discussion board instead. I just created a thread and clicked on the Mashup icon in the visual editor. The steps from there are the same as in a content area. Search. Select. Embed. Submit.

This is really very easy. The biggest hurdle is the emotional one over putting your face and not just your words on TV.

Academic Video Resources

Blackboard now offers easy ways to integrate YouTube videos into course sites, and that’s a good thing. Lots of valuable academic information is posted to YouTube, and YouTube is a good place for teachers to upload their own class lectures and materials, or for students to upload their class projects.

It’s not the only place to find useful videos for the classroom, though. Try a few of these sites as well.

Academic Earth

iTunes U

TED

Vimeo

Photography and Literacy

Great talk on “how photography connects us” from David Griffin and TED. I watched it for the first time a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about what this all means for the teaching of visual literacy in classes like college writing where the focus isn’t necessarily in the visual arts.

One thing Griffin says that stands out to me is that great photojournalists know how to create a narrative.

That’s true of great communicators in any medium. We want students to synthesize information and make meaning out of it.

I’ve heard a lot of good arguments for having writing students do photo projects, but the idea that photography is narrative is among the best.

We talk about visual rhetoric so often in the negative. We talk about how we’re bombarded with visual stimuli in our digital lives, about how visuals so often are attempting to manipulate us. That they are. But this isn’t always bad. Visuals help us to understand so much of the world around us.

The point I think is that our lives are saturated with images and that those images are shaping meaning as we know it. If we want to be part of that conversation, if we want to contribute our own way of seeing and thinking, we have to respond in kind–with images. We have to know how to make narratives out of images.

And so, while I do appreciate visual analysis assignments in which students find images created by other people and write about how those images convey meaning, how they manipulate emotions and opinions, I’m even more interested right now in visual creations, in the writer as the image maker.

Writers have always been concerned with how to create pictures with words. It’s another kind of communication to create meaning with a combination of words of pictures. This is the kind of communication that influences us in the most profound ways, yet we have to think up ways to justify teaching it in writing classes.

Photography helps us to freeze the moments of our own understand of the world around us for further study. It gives us time to reflect on a scene without losing that scene in our minds. Time spent reflecting is one of the primary ways that we retain information and deepen understanding.

Put a camera in the writer’s hands. Through it and the close observations it affords, powerful narratives are born.

Getting Started With Podcasting

The traditional definition of podcasting, in so much as something that has existed for less than a decade can have traditions, is that is a “broadcast for the iPod.”  As such, it is an audio show with recurring episodes that people can subscribe to in iTunes.

I don’t care about how recurring your episodes are.  If you want to make a handful of class lecture recordings, post them into Blackboard, and not worry about how they are broadcast as long as your students can listen to them, that’s okay.  I won’t be the one to report you to the geek police for calling something a podcast that doesn’t have subscription feeds.

I will, however, tell you easy ways to set up those feeds, but first we have to talk about how to make the recording.

To start, you need one of two things–a recording device or a computer with recording software.

Recording Devices

You could purchase a voice recorder.  They range from cheap to ridiculous in price, and you do get what you pay for.  The cheapest ones yield the poorest sound quality.  If you want something portable that you can carry into the classroom with you or allow students to use for projects, and if you don’t mind spending a little bit, try the Zoom H2.  This is a mid-level device.  Not the best, not the worst.  Not the most expensive, not the least.  You will get recordings from it that are every bit as good as you need to share online, though.

As an alternative, you could use the voice recorder on a gadget already in hand.  The iPhone and the iPod Nano both come with a voice memo feature that can be used to make audio recordings.  Those recordings can be copied into iTunes and from there converted to mp3s and uploaded to the podcasting site of your choice.

Because I’m not familiar with other smart phones and the options for using them as voice recorders, I’m going to refer you from here to Andro Geek’s review of smart phone voice apps.

Recording Software

If portability isn’t a concern, you’ll be better off to record your podcasts on your computer.  Assuming you already own a computer, this is the cheap and easy way.  PC users can download the free program Audacity to use as a voice recorder and editor.

Download and install the software from the Sourceforge site, and then watch this tutorial:

As an alternative, Mac users might prefer GarageBand, a program that comes with the Mac. Refer to the support materials provided for podcasting with GarageBand on the Apple site, and watch this tutorial video:

Microphones

An essential ingredient in the making of a podcast is the microphone.  If you are on a Mac, you very likely have a built in microphone.  Check that first, and use it if you have it.  Some versions of PCs also come with built in mics now, but they aren’t standard in PCs like they are in Macs.  You’ll need an external mic if you don’t have an internal.

The best kind for podcasting (unless you want to spend a lot more money) is a simple headset mic, the kind people use for Internet gaming and chatting.  They start at around $30 or so, and the $30 versions will do just fine.

Exporting to MP3

MP3 is the file format of choice for sharing audio online.  It represents a compromise between the highest quality audio and easiest file size for sharing.  Other file formats might retain more sound quality, but they would take too long to upload and download online.  Thus, whatever format you’ve recorded in, you should always convert to mp3 before uploading.

If you’ve used Audacity or GarageBand, this is a simple matter of finding the export feature and selecting mp3 as your file format (look under Share in GarageBand and under File in Audacity).

If you’ve used a voice recording device, you may need to pull your file into a program to convert it.  Audacity will work for that.  So will iTunes.  iTunes will also help you organize your library of audio files.

If you are in iTunes and logged into your account, you should be able to click on an audio file, go to Advanced and Create MP3 version in order to convert it.  That will give you a file that is ready to publish online.

Storing Files Online

The biggest challenge to setting up a new podcast is probably finding a viable place to store your audio files online.  You can set up a podcast feed on Blogger, but you can’t store your audio files in Blogger.  They have to be hosted somewhere else.  Blogger does not currently accept uploaded audio files.

If you plan to start a regular podcast with lots of episodes, you’re probably going to end up paying for file hosting.  Though there are some free podcasting sites, they tend to come and go.  We just don’t have the audio equivalent of YouTube or Flickr at this time.

If you just want to post a few recordings here and there, however, you do have some free options.

This “Sample Poetry Podcast” is an mp3 recording of one of my poems.  It was recorded in GarageBand and converted to MP3.  From there, it was uploaded to www.dropbox.com.  At DropBox, I moved the file into my public folder, which gave me a link to share with others.  I embedded that link here, and this is the result:

Sample Poetry Podcast

Here’s another sample that I uploaded to a site called DivShare:

Sample Poetry Podcast 2

This is what happens when I use the embed code from DivShare to post the same file:

These are just a couple of options. You may need to do further research on your own to find what works for you.  But this will get you started.

If that sounds too complicated, set up a Posterous blog.  Posterous allows you to email audio files as attachments to be posted on your blog.  It doesn’t require that they are hosted elsewhere.  It will also format them for you into a Flash-based audio player.  You don’t have unlimited space available for free on Posterous, but you have enough to keep you going for some time as long as your recordings are not too lengthy or too frequent.

Broadcasting

The definition of broadcasting in the social media age is loose at best.  If you upload a single file to a site like DivShare and then post the link to that file on Facebook, you have broadcasted it to your friends.  Let’s assume, though, that in this case we mean making your audio files available by subscription in iTunes.

The simple solution to that is to blog your podcasts.  Most blogging platforms are set up with automatic feeds that can be opened and subscribed to in iTunes.

Here’s a video to help you understand how to use a blog to podcast:

On most blogs, if you find your rss feed, and type in “itpc” in place of the “http” that will give you an audio feed that will open in iTunes where you can then subscribe to it.

Again, if any of this sounds complicated in the least, start with Posterous.com. There’s nothing complicated about podcasting with Posterous. You record your mp3s and email them to your blog. To subscribe in iTunes, you use the “itpc” address for the rss feed.

For example, I have a Posterous blog at http://sharongerald.posterous.com. If I wanted to download the audio files from that blog in iTunes and then sync them to my iPod, I’d go to itpc://sharongerald.posterous.com/rss.

That’s all it takes. Really. Anyone can do this. All you need is something to say.