You probably Googled this

I’ve had this blog since November of 2012, about three and a half years. WordPress.com very kindly offers me a bunch of interesting statistics, and today I noticed a trend in the “Referrer” area.

There are a bunch of referrers, but the top two are always “Twitter” and “Search Engine”, like this result from May 2015:

Referrer

The Trend

Here are the annual statistics since the blog started:

Year Search Engine Referrals Twitter Referrals
2012 12 53
2013 653 637
2014 5893 1281
2015 (to date) 4056 318

There’s about a 90% chance that you arrived here via search engine.

The Why

First, I don’t tweet out links to old stuff very often. If you followed a Twitter link to get here, it was probably new content. Old stuff is always available by search engine. I think think is the most important reason.

Second, I’m not as active this year as I have some other priorities. I’m not as well connected with the rest of the province. The blog is more intermittent.

Last, a lot of people are searching for my blog, not just “assessment in math” or some other topic. So the search engine referrals are both intentional and incidental visitors.

I find this interesting to think about, although I don’t imagine it’ll change how I do anything.

How To Become An EdTech Leader

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

I hosted a session at On The Rise this year. I’ve posted my slides as a PDF, but I knew from the start that a 60-minute session would be too short for the topic. Here is the previously-mentioned, obscenely long, supplementary blog post.

Introduction

Being a leader in educational technology does not mean becoming technically skilled. It doesn’t mean you can write code, recover crashed hard drives, or configure a router. You don’t even have to know what those phrases mean.

Being an EdTech leader means that you have relationships with others, and that you share with them using technology.

Goals

In order to lead effectively, you need some goals. Here are a few generic examples of goal types:

  • Develop skills and knowledge to improve yourself and your work
  • Develop skills and knowledge in your team
  • Foster collaboration in your team
  • Give to the larger community (beyond your team)
  • Develop personal and professional relationships
  • Share resources

For example, you might have a goal of learning how to use audio recordings for assessment as learning in a language class. You might have a goal of connecting your teachers to teachers in other school boards. You might want to develop closer professional relationships within your department. You might want to collect and curate resources to support newer teachers.

All of these are great goals, but make sure you follow one simple rule:

Have goals for yourself and goals for others

One or the other type isn’t enough if you’re trying to consciously lead. If you only have goals for yourself, you have no reason to share and support others. If you only have goals for others, you’re just trying to “improve” them without being honest about your own needs. Have both.

Kinds of Communities

There are a lot of ways to categorize communities, but the “publicness” of a community is fundamental.

Public vs. Private

This is really a continuum.

At one extreme end of the continuum we have completely public communities, which anyone can observe and in which anyone can participate. For example, Twitter is generally* publicly and globally available. What you say there is readable by anyone, even those who don’t have user accounts with the service.

(*I’m not going to put asterisks all through this post, but be aware most of these statements can be modified by user settings. For example, on Twitter you can protect your tweets so that only approved users can read them.)

At the other extremity we have completely private communities, which are only visible to the “invited” few. For example, you may have a Facebook group that only approved participants can join. The rest of the world isn’t allowed inside.

What’s best depends on who wants to participate, what their level of comfort is, and what everyone’s talking about.

You might have a private community when you need to talk about something sensitive or confidential, or when the participants are worried about making very public mistakes (particularly if this sort of community is new to them). You might protect the conversation when you need to prevent self-censorship in order to have honest dialogue.

You might have a public community when your local community (e.g. the people you work with) is a small one, and you want outside voices. It’s good to be public with universal issues, like assessment or writing.

You might partially protect the conversation by making it “read-only” to the uninvited. For example, perhaps you share the work you’re doing with your department members on a departmental blog/wiki/etc. The rest of the world can view your resources, but only your department members can update the work or comment on it.

Constructed vs. Organic

Some communities are organized and constructed. For example, you might set up a discussion group about instructional strategies, or you might create a sharing folder for rubrics. The purposes of those communities or activities are clear, and so they’re constructed.

Instead you might just set up a space for conversation to happen. Twitter is my favourite place for this. The topic isn’t defined in advance, so we can talk about anything we want to. The connectedness of the participants is what matters, not the quality of the prompt. Organic communities tend to be participant-directed and very welcoming of tangential thinking.

Halfway between these is the ConstrOrganic community (yes, I just made that up. I’m sure it’ll catch on). This is a community of people which doesn’t have a tight restriction on the conversation, but does sometimes provide prompts. For example, you might ask an open-ended or reflective question on Twitter: “How does your experience with technology in your personal life affect your use of technology in the classroom?” The question itself is posed in an otherwise organic community, but you can try to mould the conversation for a while. In my experience we don’t stay “on-topic” for very long, but that’s fine: the talk goes where it needs to, not where I aim it.

Required vs. Optional

This is one of the hardest to deal with, and it very much depends on (a) who you are, (b) what your role is in your organization, (c) who you are leading or hoping to lead, and (d) what your goals are for the people you lead.

If you’re a principal of a school and you want all the teachers you work with to reflect on their assessment practices in an online space, you might be considering requiring a writing activity in a private, online space. When you imagine how that will play out, you might be concerned that some folks might not participate, or that the participation might not be as deep and reflective as you want.

Rule of thumb: don’t require participation (at least at the beginning) if it’s not anonymous (and therefore safe). People need to trust you in order to follow you. If you don’t already have the level of trust that makes an optional task work well, then you don’t have the level of trust that makes a required task work well with names attached. By removing the names, you’ll remove a good portion of the (legitimate) fear associated with putting thoughts out there.

For example, you can create a shared online document (like a Google Doc) and make it editable to anyone who has the link. Participants can modify the document without identifying themselves, which makes it a lot more likely to be honest and complete.

Instant? Persistent?

Your interactions within your community can be synchronous (instant), like a tweet, or asynchronous, like a blog post and a comment. This is often a tradeoff between speed (synchronous) and depth (asynchronous).

Online conversations are usually persistent (they stay there forever), but they may not be easy to return to or make quick sense of later. Sometimes conversations are temporary, like a back-and-forth on TodaysMeet.com or a Google Hangout.

I wonder if having persistent, asynchronous conversations creates a thoughtful-but-cautious environment, possibly erecting a barrier or self-censorship. Is it true that instant, casual, organic conversations are more honest and allow for experimental thinking?

Email is not an effective community

It could be, I suppose, but don’t just do this. Mass email isn’t personal, interactive, or persistent (for most people), which can be good things to have. It’s typically one-way communication, and you can’t really opt-in or opt out. Other types of services will work better for you.

Possible Roles

In your participation in any community in which work is being done, you usually take on one of four roles. You’ll move between them freely and frequently once you’re a solid member of a functional community.

Quester

I have a question or problem, and I’m looking for an answer or solution.

For example, I post to Twitter, “Anyone have a good summative task for the quadratics section in MCF3M?” That’s a specific quest, and I’m the Quester. Anyone else in the community can answer, and anyone else can benefit from the answer.

Adventurer

I am trying something new, and I’m going to share my journey.

For example, I decided to try some physical demonstrations in my classroom for quadratic motion. I wrote a blog post explaining what I had come up with, shared some video from class, and reflected on how effective it was. I wasn’t an expert, but I shared what I found out (even if it turned out to be wrong).

Neophyte

I am learning something new from you, and I may ask questions.

This is great when there is a source of wisdom you can tap into. For example, I can read all about how to use Screencast-o-matic to improve an e-Learning course by watching someone’s videos or reading their tutorials. If there is something I don’t understand, I can ask questions. The answers help me, and both the answers and the questions help others (including that expert).

Adept

I have some special skills or knowledge, and I’ll demonstrate or share.

For example, I post instructional videos about how to program a computer using the Java programming language. I’m sharing some niche knowledge that I have, and I invite conversation and questions about it. I’m not looking for anything specific, but that knowledge does very little good bottled up in my own skull.

Choosing a Platform

There are three major considerations:

  1. Does the platform have the level of privacy that I want or need? This is a dealbreaker if it doesn’t. Also consider the granularity of privacy settings, because you might want to “reduce” them later (e.g. become somewhat more public).
  2. Does the platform have the functions I want or need? Think about formats, ease of use, technical support, exportability (if I leave, can I bring my stuff with me?), and cost.
  3. Will/does the community use the platform? If a platform is popular, the community might already exist or be easier to create. No one wants another password to remember.

Some possibilities

Lots of platforms serve multiple purposes. YouTube is for video, but it includes commenting. WordPress is for blogging, but it can serve as a fully functional website. Facebook is a social network, but it has private community pages. Here are a few loose categories and some popular services:

  • Blogging (WordPress, Blogger, Medium)
  • Video or Vlogging (YouTube)
  • Social Networking (Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook)
  • Curating (Pinterest, Scoop.it)

Some Challenges and Cautions

Here are some other considerations when you’re adventuring online.

Be careful what you say

Think about maintaining loyalty to your employer, respecting copyright and other licences, and protecting student identity and information. There are some things that you simply can’t say in public.

Who’s listening?

You might draw unwanted attention, even if what you say is “allowed” and isn’t “wrong”. For example, what will you do if a parent has a concern about the conversation between two teachers revealing a lack of professional understanding? Also consider students, other schools, and community members.

What is privacy, really?

When you post something in a private or protected space, you’re trusting the other people in that space to maintain the privacy of your thoughts. Before you post something, consider what might happen if it were “leaked”.

Will this be personal, professional, both?

Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your decision will depend on your goals. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter from a while ago:

No takers?

What if your team doesn’t follow you? What if they want to do something else? What if your team is already doing something different? What if your team is afraid?

You’ll have to work through the reasons for your particular situation, and talk with your team. There might be nothing you can do, except for continuing to share and model good practice.

What if my preferred platform is filtered by my organization?

Is there a good reason for the filtering? Are the people who make those decisions aware of what you’re trying to accomplish? Are they supportive? Have you talked with them about it (really talked, not just made a request by email)?

Sometimes the decision makers have parameters that you’re unaware of, and sometimes you have insight they are unaware of. Talk to each other. In the best situations, neither party thinks they have all the answers.

Final thoughts

At On The Rise: K-12 in 2014 Catherine Montreuil (then of Bruce-Grey Catholic DSB) said, “Private practice is inconsistent with professional practice.”

Being connected makes someone a leader, and being open and transparent are the best ways to get connected. You don’t need to be expert, articulate, or tech-savvy.

You just need to be willing to share.

 

Neat-o stats from my blog for 2014

I wrote 106 blog posts in 2014, or about two per week. The actual number is higher, but I wrote a bunch of drafts that are either living in the trash folder or shivering in the drafty darkness, and I removed one post from public view.

I like writing on my blog. I write here to think, to share, to socialize, to converse, to have fun, and to avoid getting down to work.

It’s interesting to look back on the last year’s posts and see what I did, and how it was received.

For instance, the blog received about 11,000 views this year, up from about 3000 in 2013.

My Favourites

When I flipped through the list of post titles, these are the ones that I remember liking more than others, or that I thought were important. They’re mostly about education, but not all. Not stats, exactly, but still neat-o.

That’s nine posts; not one of those arbitrary numbers we call “round”, but still a nice number.

All-Time Greatest Hits

I find the most-accessed-posts list interesting. I always wonder whether the readers were “satisfied”: whether they got what they were expecting or wanting.

You can read my entire blog just by scrolling on the homepage, but these are links that were clicked directly:

Because three of these were written in the last 14 months (interesting, eh?), those are also the top three posts of 2014.

Other Neat-o Stats

I wrote the most posts in April (31), mostly because of NaPoWriMo.

I had the most views during November (1476).

Views-per-visitor is fairly consistent, usually around 1.4 posts per day (including the homepage).

Canadian and US visitors accounted for the vast majority of the views, with nearly equal numbers of each. This is an increase in the proportion of US visitors. The next three countries are the UK, India, and Australia.

Apparently Akismet has protected my site from 18,147 spam comments already. Neat-o. This means about 1.9% of comments are legitimate, and 1.3% of comments are legitimate and not written by me.

Search Engine Terms Used

When people use search engines and find my blog, the terms used are sometimes logged. The most frequently-occurring term is brandon grasley (surprise!). Many times it’s spelled incorrectly (grasely is common), and happily there are few capitals used (Grasley is the same as grasley according to Google, after all). Some of the more interesting searches that landed people here were:

  • how to build an igloo out of legos
  • importance of laptop to rural school pupils when teaching
  • “i didn’t publish it because i thought
  • technial skill the least inportant, why
  • tired of being the go-to-guy
  • how long can a 500 g brick of cheese last
  • email id of people who create a cover for novel
  • can i read kindle comics on chunky

and my personal favourite:

  • a lot of brandons who are on facebook or twitter

Neat-o, eh?

Any cool stats from your blog?

My Unresponsive Course

You have me thinking again, Mr. Peterson. Today it’s with your post, “You Need to Be Responsive“.

My own blogs are responsive and so they display well on multiple device types.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

Students tell me they like the theme (The Suits Theme) on my class blog; they say it looks professional.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

However my e-learning course is less responsive. There is a mobile interface which becomes active when you use mobile device, but there are a couple of components on my course homepage which only appear using the desktop interface (custom widgets with links to the Padlet and the YouTube playlist for the course). Some course tools aren’t available in this view (e.g. the Checklist Tool).

My course homepage on a computer browser.

My course homepage on a computer browser.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

What’s more, I have created quite a few PDF files for the programming concepts in the course. These files, because they are paginated, are not responsive.

PDF in a mobile browser

PDF in a mobile browser – portrait

PDF in a mobile browser - landscape

PDF in a mobile browser – landscape

Honestly, I don’t remember considering that issue when finally deciding to use PDFs. Since students are coding on computers anyway perhaps it doesn’t matter that much. And other stuff, like news and discussions, are mobile-friendly.

But I’ve unintentionally made it difficult for them to use small, mobile devices to keep up with the “text” part of the course (i.e. when they’re not actively programming). I do have a lot of video on there, which is (I think) fairly accessible.

I’ll have to think about whether it’s worth fixing the responsiveness of those PDFs.

My students like the class blog (phew!)

I reminded my MDM4U students to visit our class blog today as I had posted a video this morning with solutions to some questions from class. I was pleased to hear that a few students have been heading there regularly. I played a bit of the video on the screen so they would understand what it was like, and then I asked for input about the sorts of resources they would like me to post.

First, most students want to have the videos. They’re nothing magical; they’re just me solving some problems on paper. A couple of students said they like the idea of being able to rewind me (since that’s hard to do live, in class).

Second, a few students also want a text format of some kind (a blog post, a PDF file, or something like that). I understand that; it’s faster if you just need a short bit of explanation. It takes a lot longer to type out a solution, but I could always write one and take a photo, I suppose.

The third response I took away was that posting videos like this is unusual in their experience, and they appreciate the extra effort on my part. Several students seemed to understand how much extra work goes into creating these supplementary resources, so that was nice.

At some point I’m hoping to post more student work for them to learn from instead of creating everything myself. I think they’ll learn a lot from doing it, and then a lot from each other. Videos would be awesome…

I care a lot about their success, and I’m hoping to give my students a better-than-average chance at being great at this stuff. A lot of the responsibility lies with them, but I’ll remove as many barriers to their learning as I can. I’m glad to hear that my work on the blog is being well-received.

LaTeX in WordPress

I assumed I would have to pay fees, get a plugin, or use WordPress.org in order to have math rendered in my blog posts. Not so.

Details are at http://en.support.wordpress.com/latex/, but here’s a sample:

f\left(x\right)=\frac{5}{2}cos(x-\pi)+\frac{1}{2}

Nice, eh? It renders an image and puts the \LaTeX in the ALT tag. I love it.

7 Must-Have Title Elements For Your Blog Post

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among bloggers which seems to have spread from traditional media (i.e. newspapers). It’s the attempt to garner readers by using carefully-crafted titles (formerly headlines). Readership isn’t a bad thing; My ego and I like it when people read my blog. Crafting titles carefully isn’t bad either.

The problem arises when hyperbole and dishonesty win out over the truth when post titles are written. It’s a disease in traditional media, it’s infected online news outlets, and bloggers are succumbing as well.

Look at the title of this post. Did you come here because you often read my blog? Because you’re looking for some tips for better writing? Because I used a number, 7 (I’ve heard this is weirdly effective)? Or, to my horror, because I said these are “must-have” elements?

Well, I lied. I don’t have 7 must-have elements for your blog post title. I do have 4 suggestions for you to consider when writing a title, and I think they’re important to me as a reader of blogs, but I won’t say they’re “must-have”. Nor is nearly anything else you read about on the Interwebs. Unless those “must-have” items include food, water, heat, or WiFi.

Be honest about your post’s topic

Don’t try to trick me into reading your post. I won’t be happy with you if you do that. I might not come back. It particularly bothers me when people use current events to draw readership for tenuously-connected topics.

Don’t be overly cryptic

Titles like “You won’t believe what Jenny told Doug about educational technology today!” might tap curiosity, but you haven’t said much about the actual contents of the post. If it’s about ed tech and assessment, you should say so. The sample title here will be hard to find or interpret later.

Don’t oversell

Saying “must-have”, “essential”, “wicked”, “original”, or “frosted” doesn’t make your content these things. If you apply a descriptor like this, you’d better deliver.

Remember why

If you’re an educator you’re not blogging to sell a product; you’re blogging to share your thinking and spark conversation. Make sure your title is about your post, not about getting hits.

A good reason to NOT embed images in your blog post

Recently Getty Images announced that they were making a bazillion photos available for embedding in your blog posts and other web content. Many people misunderstood this to mean that Getty was opening up their catalogue for any kind of non-commercial use, but that is not the case. There are a lot of great discussions about the limitations of Getty’s free offering, but there is one point that really makes it a deal-killer for me:

You can embed only

Embedding means that the image is still hosted at Getty and your blog post just links to it. Your blog’s site is not storing a copy of the image at all.

Why this is a good idea

Embedding means that your audience can find the source.

It means that you’re not illegally taking a copy of the image and misrepresenting it as your own.

It makes attribution really easy, because it’s like auto-attribution.

Why this is not such a good idea

What if Getty’s site is unavailable?

What if they change the terms down the road?

What if they simply change the structure of the embed code, breaking your links to their images?

It’s fine in the short term, but there is a long-term maintenance problem. That’s okay for content that is “timely” and essentially expires; it’s not okay for content which we want to have persist.

Reliability is a good reason to not embed

If you can download an image, possibly modify it if the license allows, and upload it to your blog’s media library, you have a copy of it to use forever (or thereabouts). I like to search on Flickr by licence type for CC-BY images which give me wonderful freedom. It’s also how I share my own images, so help yourself.

Include attribution and links to the source, and you’ll be okay even if the distributor is later offline or revokes future licenses.

There is a nice-looking plugin called WP Inject if you’re using a self-hosted WordPress solution, or you can do something like this when uploading media to WordPress.com:

A screenshot showing how to attribute a Flickr image to me

Which will then appear like this:

An image showing a series of three laptops in a row. Only the nearest is partly in focus.

“Line of laptops” by Brandon Grasley via Flickr (CC BY)

Notice that the creator is properly attributed, the licence is listed (which is nice if not exactly necessary), and the image itself is a link to the photo on Flickr. That makes it easy to find, and I think that’s better than a gross-looking, unreliable embedded photo which might vanish without warning.

85% of Content Sites Respect Copyright – Very Small Case Study

Facepalm

Facepalm by Brandon Grasley via Flickr

I recently had cause to reuse the image above, and while searching for the original came across a small surprise – the image has been used quite a few times on various blogs, news sites, and more.

Most of these articles are of the “someone did something dumb and we’re calling them on it” variety. I counted 26 uses in total (thank you Google Image Search), and 22 of those had nicely attributed the image to me, thereby honouring the Creative Commons licence I applied to the image when I posted it.

Four sites did not.

85% of the sites did the right thing, but 15% made a boo-boo. I have contacted the offending sites or the article authors where possible. Not because I’m trying to monetize my exceptionally valuable intellectual property here (I’m not), but because some people are, and they deserve to have their rights respected. A little awareness-building, you know?

Three fixed it on the same day.

Actually, one has promised to and apparently hasn’t gotten around to it yet. I’m hopeful. (Update: the author attributed the photo to me later that day)

Another one replied to my email (the CEO replied, in fact), had to contact their marketing department, who contacted their writing contractor, who fixed it by properly attributing the photo and linking the way I asked them to. Beauty.

A third simply removed the article from their site. Not what I asked for, but it was a cross-post anyway, so no harm done, I suppose.

That makes me feel pretty good about where we are.

Admittedly, these are mostly companies, bloggers, or professional journalists who have made use of the image online. There are possibly lots of folks who have used it in local PowerPoint presentations (having a bad quarter, maybe?) without proper attribution; I’ll certainly never see those.

I often find a more willy-nilly approach to IP and attribution among coworkers, but I was surprised to see how well things are going on the web in general.

So, there’s your good news story for today. No need to facepalm over this one. Thanks, Internet.

“Being an independent practitioner is inconsistent with professional practice.”

wall.jpg by frenchbyte on MorgueFile

Don’t go it alone. Image from frenchbyte via MorgueFile

The title quote is from Catherine Montreuil, Director of Education for Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. She said this during her keynote presentation at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 2, 2014.

This has really stayed with me. I’ve thought before about the moral imperative I believe teachers have to use technology in their teaching, and to be a reflective practitioner. I’ve always thought it a basic requirement to keep up-to-date with our best thinking around instructional strategies and assessment approaches.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it quite they way she put it: that it’s actually unprofessional to be disconnected.

I believe you can connect in any way you like. Connecting with others in your school is a good first step, but the insular nature of schools can prevent you from seeing the possibilities for learning. Technology has made it tremendously easy to connect, build relationships, and learn from others who think a little differently because they don’t have the challenges/restrictions/history/blindspots that any group has. My preferred platforms are Twitter and WordPress, but there are many ways to share and to question. Create your Professional Learning Network (PLN).

The opportunity is there for all of us. You can choose how deep you want to go, but I don’t think you can in good conscience choose to ignore it completely. Learn from and with others, because no one has all the answers.