Featured Blog: Daisy Pignetti

Daisy Pignetti writes a blog I feel a special connection to because she and I blogged our way through Katrina together from different places and different perspectives.  A New Orleans native, she continues to write about Katrina and recovery issues.  She’s also very interested in social media and provides some great ideas for using Twitter and other social sites in the classroom.  She uses WordPress and has a gorgeous and aptly chosen WordPress theme.

Featured Blog: ProfHacker

ProfHacker is a new blog and one with a whole lot of energy.  A group academic blog that features articles on everything from pedagogy to tech tools to academic life, this is one of the most seamless and beautiful configurations of a group WordPress site I’ve ever seen.  It’s updated daily, and at a time when I so often catch people on Twitter or Facebook instead of visiting their blogs as much as I might like, I’ve found myself checking ProfHacker daily.  The articles seem to be uniformly upbeat and motivating.  It’s just the blog I’ve been looking for all these years.

My Life in Blogs: Part I, This Blog

I love blogs, and I can’t think of an easier way to explain to others what they might get out of blogging than to talk about my own experiences. I’ll start with where we are: Teacherly Tech. I set up this blog last spring while I was in the middle of an arts integration project on my campus. I took a few months off for summer vacation and other indulgences. Now I’m back and just really getting warmed up.

I started this blog on a whim, which is the way all of my blogs have been born, but I think I’m going to really like it because it gives me a dedicated place to think about, write about, explore, and share with others one of my favorite topics. Teaching with technology is something of a necessary interest considering all of my classes are online at the moment. It’s more than that, though. I love tinkering with new technologies. This is a perfect place to do that and explain the technologies to myself and others along the way.

The blog is run by WordPress and hosted at Siteground, where I have a paid account. It isn’t a beginner blog, but it isn’t really an expert blog either. I’m using the blog to learn more about blogging, even though I have been blogging for several years, and I’ve used multiple platforms. There’s still much to learn.

That’s one of the beautiful things about blogging. You can start out knowing nothing at all and still produce a great looking blog with great content. You can also work at blogging for years and still find plenty of challenges in it. Like the varying levels of yoga, from beginner to advanced, you can operate a blog at many levels.

It’s taken me some time to get to this one, and I want to talk about what I’ve done that I had to teach myself as I went along.

(1) This is an installed blog on a hosted site, not one generated by a free online service. Admittedly, I installed WordPress using Fantastico, which makes it all fairly simple, but still I installed it myself.
(2) The theme (or the basic design) on Teacherly Tech is called Panorama. I found it by going to Appearance and Themes and Add New to search WordPress.org for new themes. WordPress makes this all very simple with search and click options for installing new themes. You just have to know where to look for them. That took me some time. On the first blogs where I installed new themes, I had to do it from the host site’s control panel rather than from the administrative dashboard in WordPress. This was much more complicated. People new to hosted WordPress sites can set up really slick custom sites without ever having to understand what’s happening on the server, though.
(3) After I installed the theme, I customized it by adding my own banner image and logo image. This was easy to do in this particular theme because it allows custom changes without having to edit any css. In fact, when I looked for a theme, I searched “customizable banner.”
(4) The banner image, by the way, is just a cropped version of the logo image. I purchased this photo at istockphoto.com.
(5) I copied a script from Google Analytics into the footer of my theme so that Google would track my site visitors, and I could find out whether anyone was reading what I wrote.
(6) I added plugins to provide features like the links to share on social media sites and the link of the top of the blog to go to my Twitter account.
(7) I set up an Akismet spam filter by activating a plugin that came packaged with my WordPress installation.

That’s basically it. I may have tweaked a little more here and there, but but by going through these steps I satisfied my own desire to have a blog with what I considered to be a custom, professional appearance.

There are more steps yet to take. I want to add gravatars, and I want to add something like Feedburner for podcasting. That’s just a matter of finding the plugins that work for me (and the time to tinker with them).

I share this information to say that you don’t have to have coding-level skills to create your own custom site. I’m just clicking around and copying and pasting a little script here and there to make this site do what I want it to do. I’ve gone this route, not because I was an expert, but because I had an insatiable curiosity to find out how it is done. That’s all you need.

If all you want to do is type in your thoughts, there’s no reason to go to a custom hosted site. You can just use a free blogging service like Blogger or WordPress.com. I wanted more creative control, and I wanted a place that gave me more chances to learn new skills. That’s why I chose a WordPress installation on a paid site. This version of WordPress does offer much more customization than the version at WordPress.com. That customization requires more steps in the setup process, but none of them are difficult steps. Thus, you don’t have to be a techie expert to have a blog site like this one, but it helps if you are a techie enthusiast.

What’s the Point of an E-Portfolio?

If we are now living in a world in which “the MFA is the New MBA” as Daniel Pink has claimed, it’s inevitable that portfolios would come as part of the package.  Writers and artists have long been familiar with the concept of portfolio-based job searches.  Now that many, many employers from all areas are looking for people who can produce in a digital environment, the portfolio is a natural expectation.

An artist’s portfolio is a collection of that artist’s best work.  An e-portfolio is a collection of a person’s best work in electronic form.  E-portfolios come in many shapes and sizes.  They might be compiled for a class or a project, but the kind we are talking about is the professional portfolio, one that has been put together to show off the career accomplishments of an individual.

The professional e-portfolio is most often presented in the form of a website.  People have made them in PowerPoints and pdfs and all sorts of electronic formats, but the website is what most expect when the term e-portfolio comes into play.  Thus, we can start there in defining the e-portfolio.  It’s a website that showcases a person’s best work.

As with most definitions, this hardly tells the whole story.  Let’s look at some characteristics and goals:

1. The e-portfolio is comprised of a series of artifacts or items that serve to demonstrate a person’s skills, professional interests, and accomplishments.  Those artifacts might include writing, art or design work, presentations, and any number of other tangible products that can be loaded and linked digitally in order to serve as evidence of accomplishment.

2. The e-portfolio also includes facts about a person’s education and experience in the manner of a CV.  The business model and the artists’ model have merged in the new professional portfolio.  No matter how impressive your collection of presentations might be, you still need to provide the kind of factual information a company needs to know before hiring.

3. The e-portfolio often includes biographical information that goes beyond what would have ever been included in the traditional CV.  Your portfolio site is an introduction to you, to the whole you, not just pieces of you.  Of course the biographical information should remain professional enough so as not to be an embarrassment, but it should also be personable.  It should make people think they might want to have you around.

4. The design of the e-portfolio is nearly as important as the content.  It should be easy to navigate and aesthetically appealing.  It should show some personality without being overly funky, flashy, or distracting.  It needs to be interesting yet professional in both style and content.

The e-portfolio is the new CV.  Everyone hoping to establish a professional career needs one.  But what if you already have a job and aren’t looking for another?  Why would a well-established teacher need an e-portfolio?

As it turns out, there are several good reasons:

1. Networking.  The e-portfolio is not only the new CV; it’s also the new business card.  If you want people you meet at workshops, conferences, and random Barnes & Noble encounters to remember who you are and what you do, point them to your portfolio.

2. PR.  Faculty portfolios make schools look good.  They provide a way to showcase what the faculty do best.  They give people a reason to support the school.  They also help keep administrators and other powers that be informed on what the faculty really do.

3. Modeling.  No, not that kind of modeling.  Put photos of yourself on you portfolio site if you want, but glamor shots probably won’t help your professional image.  Portfolios from teachers as models of what students should accomplish in portfolios are extremely important, however.  Maybe you aren’t ever going to look for a job, but presumably your students will.  Help them create the professional image they need to project by showing them how it’s done.

4. Professional development.  Portfolios are in themselves acts of professional development, but they are also places to catalog PD.  Keeping your e-portfolio current is the best way to have evidence on the spot of how current your scholarship, specialized training, community involvement, and other instances of professional development are.  If someone wants to nominate you for a teaching award, for example, it can be done without much trouble when all of your professional information is readily available through your portfolio site.   You never know how the portfolio might pay off.

About ten years ago we were told at work that all instructors needed a “web presence.”  Somewhere along the way that buzzword morphed into “web-centered classroom,” and still we struggled to go about this.  In the first phase, we all made static html pages from a template.  This was awkward, not terribly attractive, and only a few people ever updated the pages.

In the next phase, we moved everything into Blackboard.  Day classes and online classes alike had their own course shells.  This somewhat responded to the call for “web-centered classrooms,” depending of course on what was done with those course shells.  At the same time, however, it took away some of the great things about individual faculty pages–like having a way for prospective students to look up prospective teachers.

Available technologies have come a long way since those first html templates, and we’d be fools not to take advantage of that fact.  Attractive, effective e-portfolios can now be created and updated much easier than those simple static pages.  You don’t have to purchase software or set up ftp accounts.  WordPress, Google Sites, VisualCV, and many other platforms can be used for free.

I’ll write about how to make e-portfolios with some of those particular tools in another article.  For now, think about creating an e-portfolio if you don’t already have one.  You need one, whether you know it or not.  And take a look at my portfolio for just one idea of what they can do.