Writing, 400 words at a time

For the last year (and 3 months) I’ve done a lot of writing. I haven’t tallied it all up, but I’ve participated in the Any Good Thing Writing Challenge and I have been successful each month. Success means that I’ve been able to generate at least 400 words at least 5 days per week throughout that time. And that’s a lot of words.

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Best Job on Earth (if you let it be the best job on earth)

Pardon me as I get all sentimental and schmaltzy for a mo …

One of my colleagues frequently says that as professors we have the best job on earth. He usually makes this comment during times when I’m grumbling about something or other, or someone else is grumbling about something or other, or when we’re stressed out and frustrated (as is the case when the semester draws to an end or the to do list gets too long or some new requirement for paperwork done in duplicate-triplicate comes out). I usually reply with a “but … [thing that is annoying right now].” However, I secretly agree with him.

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She said yes … yes, to the review (two sides of the same coin)

A true story from a random Monday in April.

Situation #1

Earlier today I opened an email from a journal editor. No surprises – the email was a request to review a journal articles sometime in the next x weeks. I’m vaguely familiar with the journal. I’ve never published in it, but it’s got a decent reputation. The article is on a topic that I’ve published on previously, more than once. It’s not my greatest interest, but I’m certainly qualified to comment on this topic. How did I come to be identified as a reviewer? Perhaps it was via a scopus keyword search. Perhaps I am cited in the manuscript. Perhaps I am in the publisher’s larger database of eligible reviewers. Does it matter? In the end, it’s all the same: I was asked to review.

I dithered for a moment. Did I mention that I’m not tremendously interested in the topic, even if I’ve written on it before? Did I tell you how busy I am with other things? And how many reviews I’ve already done this year? How about the fact that I have pneumonia right now, and it’s the last week of classes, and I’m just generally sick and overwhelmed?

And then I clicked the button. Accept.

Accept? I accepted the review? Why did I do that? Do I regret doing it? Should I have taken more time to decide?

No. No more time was needed to deliberate. Best save that time to read and review the article. In the end, it won’t really take me that long. It never does.

The most important thing is that I said yes. I said yes to the review.

Situation #2

A few hours later, I drove to a lunch meeting. My first venture back to work since getting really sick. There’s nothing really notable about that, I suppose. I was slowly working through my mental fog at home, shut down the computer, grabbed my phone, and headed a mile or so down the road. When I parked, I stayed in the car for a moment and checked my email on my phone. Three new messages. One particularly lovely one had this subject line:

Rowena Reviewer has accepted your invitation to review manuscript XYZ123

Yes, it was a form letter … but I do love this particular form letter and the actions that trigger it.

I mentally composed a reply that will never be sent: Thank you, dear Rowena Reviewer! (You’re a Ravenclaw, right?). Thank you for accepting this invitation. You may not realize it, but you have made this journal editor so very happy.  So much time and effort goes into finding reviewers, and so many people say no (they’re all too busy, presumably writing their own manuscripts which will then need to be reviewed) that it is an exhausting process. But you? You said yes!!! You said yes to the review!

In that moment, I envisioned the journal editor receiving the form letter that I triggered this morning. Did I bring him a similar moment of joy? I hope so.

And although they are presently unaware, two authors moved one step forward to receiving feedback on their manuscripts. They likely feel impatient about the process. They want to know the verdict as soon as possible. They don’t know what’s going on in the black box of the review process, a process that almost always takes twice as long (or longer) than perhaps it should. (Hint: the cause is usually people who don’t respond to requests to review, and those who decline requests to review and put the editor back at square one). But maybe a little bit of review pixie dust drifted down on their heads today, and perhaps when they receive their next request to review they’ll find it in their hearts to say yes, too.

New Pub: Cross-cultural Dialogues in an Open Online Course

I’m pleased to announce a new publication, with co-author ISLT PhD candidate Jiyae Bong.

Dennen, V.P. & Bong, J. (2018). Cross-cultural dialogues in an open online course: Navigating national and organizational cultural differences.
TechTrends. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0276-7

Springer has offered the following URL for sharing a copy, if you’re interested: http://rdcu.be/KkBy

Abstract:

This study examines the interactions of educators and instructional designers during a four-week open online professional development course about using social media in education. Discourse analysis was used to elucidate points where national and organizational cultural differences arose, noting whether and how learners expressed and bridged differences. Findings suggest that the learners first identified with their national culture, and then, if they did not experience any cultural challenges, began to explore topics related to organizational culture. In this course, Chinese students were most likely to experience national cultural challenges, and Western participants were most likely to raise organizational culture issues. Language and national political climate also played a role in how and what learners expressed in an online learning environment. Flexible course design and facilitation can be used to help make learners from all cultural backgrounds feel more comfortable and engage in cross-cultural sharing.

A day in the life …

I was recently asked to kick off a new feature for my department social media site, documenting a typical day in my life. I went through my day with my phone nearby, taking photos throughout. Here’s the essay that I wrote at the end of the day. It will be cross-posted over to the FSU ISLT blog.

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Social Media as an Educational Innovation: Tips

Two weeks ago I gave a presentation at AECT about social media as an educational innovation. The presentation was part of a session brought together by Bob Reiser, and the other presenters were Clark Quinn (Mobile Learning), David Wiley (OER), and Curt Bonk (MOOCs). We were each tasked with providing our best tips or advice on our topics, with a 10-minute time limit.

It was an interesting task, trying to distill my thoughts on social media use in formal learning settings into a rather brief presentation. In the end I came up with 9 tips (and having passed them in front of my students first I feel confident that I hit on the main points I typically cover in a full semester’s class).

Here are my slides, as well as some thoughts on each tip:

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Blogs, Audience, and Learning

A few weeks ago George Williamson and I presented our study of blogging in the classroom at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Tartu, Estonia.

This study examined the use of blogs to support student learning, with a bit of a twist. Typically we think of student blogging as a public act of publishing. We ask students to blog and we ask others — perhaps just classmates, or perhaps anyone at all — to read and comment. A major benefit of blogging as a learning activity is that it requires students to articulate their thoughts to a public audience.

However, in this case we were not seeking a broad public (or even peer) audience. We were caught in the midst of a public-private tension. The course topic was religious history. During past iterations of the course, when no technology had been used, student tended to interject their personal religious thoughts / beliefs / backgrounds / experiences into the class discussion. These interjections were not wholly a bad thing; it’s not like students were proselytizing, but rather that they were striving to make connections between their prior knowledge and the new concepts being addressed in class. However, religion can be a sensitive topic and these “connections” have to potential to pull away from the day’s class ddiscussion.

We wondered if blogs could be used to provide students with the space to work through both their personal connections as well as their other thoughts related to the course material. More specifically, we thought that blogging as a form of writing, with its informality and implied public audience, might help students freely express themselves. At the same time, we wanted the blogs to be a safe place for this type of writing. This latter point led us to the conclusion that student blogs on this topic should not be fully public. Out of necessity, their instructor should be the audience. However, there need not be other blog readers unless the students choose — not even peers.

In the end, blogs were implemented using a semi-private set-up. The instructor created all of the blogs and distributed usernames (pseudonyms) and passwords to students. Students each had their own blog, and while the blogs were visible to anyone on the Internet, they were not indexed or otherwise linked from anywhere. In other words, random people were unlikely to stumble upon one of these blogs, and if a random person did find one, there was no clear way to identify the author. Students were free to share their blog URL with others if they wished. but not compelled to do so.

The students had a generally positive reaction to the blogs, although some were daunted by the workload. The space was used as envisioned, and facilitated student-instructor dialogues about course material. Student posts addressed both reactions to readings as well as personal connections with the course material.

My most interesting take-away has been the impression that the form of writing, and the imagined (if not real) audience really does make a difference for students. Short essays or even posts to a discussion forum may not have been as vivid had they been submitted quietly within an LMS, awaiting not a comment but a check-off in a rubric. I don’t, of course, have the comparative data to support this impression, but rather base it one my experience in other online classes.

We’re still working with the last bits of blog data, and preparing the full manuscript for publication. Not sure where to send it just yet, but open to ideas. 🙂

Slides: