A Comprehensive Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches


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The term blog derives from ‘web log’ and was initially coined to describe “discrete entries (posts) typically displayed in reverse chronological order.” This though has evolved over time. Now it incorporates a range of different tools for creating and communicating. Having said this, they often come back to a core set of features.

In a presentation written during the heyday of weblogs, Dave Winer unpacks these core features. At a basic level, Winer says that it all comes back to:

  • A single voice
  • Publishing descriptions and content
  • Identifying each post with a permalink
  • Allowing for comments
  • Archived and organised chronologically

Beyond this list, Winer touches on a range of what he describes as core elements. This includes how descriptions and posts are rendered, the infrastructure used to connect, the type of content allowed and the way content is outlined, including the use of blogrolls.

Although written over ten years ago, these  features have not really changed. Some may have been removed or others given precedence, but the structure remains the same. What I think is significant is that in some respect everything is optional. It is this fluidity that make each tool unique. So here is a summary of some of the different tools available, what they enable and where their biases lie.

WordPress

The most common blogging platform, WordPress is said to be responsible for a quarter of the webpages online. One of the reasons for the popularity of WordPress is the versatility provided through the plugin architecture and theme templates. Whether it be adapting posts or pages, tags or categories, it offers many possibilities. Another reason for the success is that it is open source, therefore anyone can fork it and develop it further. Subsequently, because of this adaptability there are a few different iterations that have developed over time.


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WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the open version that anyone can self-host. As a platforms, it allows you to not only deploy a wide range of themes and plugins, but also make your own modifications to the code. In turn, you can turn the site into whatever you like. You only need to look at the work of Alan Levine to get a feel for what is possible, including the DS106 Assignment Bank, SPLOT Project and Photo Gallery and Presentation Blog. This freedom comes at a cost as it means that you need to be more mindful of backing up, system updates and site security.

Further Resources

  • Beginner’s Guide to WordPress – An extensive collection of tutorials to everything associated to WordPress. There are many modifications amd workarounds that are not usually found on more generalised sites.
  • WordPress.org – The place to go when looking for general support material, as well as reviews of themes and plugins.
  • Cog Dog Blog – Although not solely focused on blogging, Alan Levine often includes detailed posts outlining things that he has done with WordPress. I find this useful in making sense of what is possible.
  • Getting Started on WordPress (IndieWeb) – The IndieWeb is a space that has been set up to support users in taking more ownership of their presence online through the use of various plugins.
  • (Re)Claiming My Space on the Web – A reflection on my experience in transferring from Blogger to WordPress.org via Reclaim Domain.
  • Why WordPress? The 2016 Version – Still a Fan – Tom Woodward reflects on why WordPress is still his platform of choice.


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WP.Com

Unlike a self-hosted instance, WordPress.com provides a more secure, hassle-free service. This means that there are limited themes, no direct change to the code within the template and only select plugins available through the premium plan. The benefit is that system updates and backing up are taken care of in the background, however unless you upgrade this means advertisements on your page.

Further Resources

  • Self Hosted WordPress vs. Free WordPress ­ Explanation of the differences between free WordPress and self­hosted (which the school website is).
  • WordPress.com Support – A collection of support material associated with WP.com. It touches on topics such as publishing, customising and connecting.
  • Easy WP Guide – An extensive step-by-step guide to WordPress, unpacking each element.


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Edublogs

An educational blogging network, Edublogs is a version of WordPress somewhere between .org and .com. It provides a safe and secure platform with a range of benefits, such as secure plugins, the ability to moderate posts and comments, as well as excellent support. The downside is that you are sometimes limited as to what you can do based on the plan you are on.

Further Resources

  • The Edublogger – A community blog sharing everything associated with Edublogs, whether it be blogging with students or simply the latest updates and changes.
  • The Edublogs User Guide – As Global2 is a part of the Edublogs community, this user guide can be useful when trying to figure out some of the different intricacies.
  • 10 Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach – A video unpack some more possibilities to consider when it comes to blogs.
  • Global2 – A collection of resources associated with Global2.
  • Your Global2 Blog by John Pearce – A presentation unpacking everything from tags to widgets. A good run through of all the different things to consider.


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Kidblog

Another student blogging platform, Kidblog provides a safe and simple environment for students to communicate. One of the selling points is that the teacher as administrator is able to seemingly control everything. This includes passwords, post moderation, levels of access, categories and custom widgets. In addition to this, classes are able to connect with other classes without even leaving Kidblog. The benefit of all of this is that is that it allows students to focus on sharing. The problem though is that in making the process so seamless, students are deprived of the hard fun involved in actually creating your own space or keeping up-to-date with other blogs. Of concern, there are no plugins available to support exporting content for the purpose of backing up.

Further Resources


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Blogger

Blogger is a relatively straightforward platform. It provides a range of options, such as HTML and tags, but tries not to overly complicate things (a complaint often made about WordPress.)  In regards to infrastructure, it has a simple back-end. Although it is easy to use, this in part comes at the cost of versatility and individuality. You can adjust themes by adding in widgets and how they sit on the page, while you can add CSS code to make some changes. However, you do not have the ability to make the wholesale changes like with WordPress.Org, therefore there is a certain repetition when it comes to overall templates.

Owned by Google, there are benefits of direct connection to services such as Adsense and Google+. Subsequently, comments can be connected with Google+, while you are also able to easily link to other Google+ users. This can though be problematic if you decide to move services. Beyond these connections there are no plugins.

In the end, Blogger is a great place to start if you already use other Google products. However, there is always the fear that Google may decide to moth ball the service as they did with Google Reader. There is also the chance at any time that Google may close your site down if you have breached any of the terms and conditions.

Further Resources


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Tumblr

On face value, Tumblr seems no different to any other blogging service. It allows users to publish various types of content, as well as continue the conversation through comments. In regards to the infrastructure, the dashboard is fairly simple, while when it comes to themes you can either choose from those provided or customise your own using the HTML editor. For many, the draw card is the visual archive which is somewhat unique to Tumblr.

Where Tumblr differs from other services is the sense of community created around the culture of follows, likes and reblogs baked into the code. Although platforms like Blogger and WordPress have a space dedicated to following other blogs, the visual nature entices engagement. Associated with this, you are able to drag in media from elsewhere. Tumblr is very much a curated space. A creative repository of the web. As a site it exists somewhere between Twitter in regards to its open feed, Pinterest with its visual layout and Known in its celebration of the short form.

Further Resources


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Known

A lightweight publishing service, Known provides the means to share a range of content. It is fully responsive and is easily accessible via the browser. As a platform, it offers a range of possibilities, such as a digital locker that you syndicate elsewhere, a community space for people to connect or as a more personal short blog. Compared to other offerings, Known’s strength is not necessarily in its appearance, but rather what it allows you to do. With the ideal being to help people to take more control of their online presence it integrates with a range of other services. Due to this intended flexibility, you very much create your own iteration. Want comments, enable them. Want multiple users, enable them. Want to customise things using CSS, enable it. Through the plugins you are able to truly personalise the space to your particular needs. In addition to this, as it is open sourced it has been designed to be forked allowing for many other nuances.

Further Resources


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Medium

For some, Medium represents a blogging ideal. A one stop shop where you can post, comment, highlight, bookmark, collaboratively drafts and connect with different users. There are two glaring problems with this. Firstly, if you want to exist outside of Medium it is not made easy. Alan Levine has documented his efforts to make sense of the RSS feed, while you are unable to download your content in a form that is usable. The second matter is the feel of the space. There is little room for personalisation, while you are limited to the basics of text formatting. (I should.recognise that some like Mike Caulfield explain that there are benefits in bare basics formatting.) In addition to this, the profile pages are somewhat limiting.

With all this said and done, I think that Dave Winer sums up the problem with Medium best when he warns about it becoming the consensus platform. Like with Kidblog, the move away from the open web for the sack of convenience risks putting control in somebody else’s hands. It is for this reason that I always recommend posting elsewhere first before sharing Medium.

Further Resources


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Weebly

Similar in some respects to Storify, Weebly involves dragging and dropping various elements in order to create your content. Whether it be a title, a video, contact form and custom HTML you simply place the parts together like a jigsaw. This means creating a blog requires little expertise. In regards to the overall layout, there are a range of customizable pages, for some the simplicity within these can be frustrating.

Like WordPress.com the basic plan is free. However, this comes with advertisement. The different plans come with greater benefits. While like Kidblog, Weebly Education also lets you create 40 student accounts for free with no student emails required or advertisements.

Further Resources


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Seesaw

A content management system that works across all platforms, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in a range of forms. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. Recently, they added a new blogging feature. This allows you to curate student content in a central group space and post it out as a blog. As with most educational platforms, there is the facility to moderate posts. In regards to overall contents, parents have the power to download their child’s content, while schools that have subscribed to Seesaw for Schools have the ability to do a bulk download of.the student data. It is unclear where blog posts fit within all of this. Interestingly, there are many similarities with Kidblog, from the connections to the lack of RSS.

Further Resources


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Google+

Another alternative to the usual short informal forms, such as Known and Tumblr, is Google+. A social media platform, Google+ is designed to connect together different products, such as YouTube, Google Photos and Blogger. It is divided into three parts: collections, communities and the main stream. Whichever section you post in, you are able to incorporate different content type, including images, videos and links. It also allows for the use of hashtags within the writing. There is no avenue to embed content within a post.

What is unique about using Google+ as a platform is the ability to specifically control who sees what is posted. Basically, you can post for specific people, a circle, a community or simply for the public. In regards to reading, you are able to see a summary of someone’s viewable posts in the profile feed, while you can also use third party application to generate an RSS feed. Like Medium, there is little means for changing the look and feel of the site.

Further Resources


The reality is that there are many other blogging options available. Some educators use secure spaces like Scootle Community, others utilise different social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some utilise different services. like Storify, to suit their purpose, while others take a more nuanced approach, installing services like 1999.io or Pelican  and going from there.

In the end, it comes back to purpose. If I were starting out with blogging, either personally or as a class, I would sign up to Edublogs. They provide fabulous support, either through the Edublogger blog or via the likes of Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters. The next step personally would be to purchase your own space online and install your own instance of WordPress. This not only provides control over data, but also more options in regards to what is possible. Although this requires a little more effort, there are enough educators out there ready to help that it makes it achievable if you are willing to dive in. Another option when self-hosting a site is to use Known. Like WordPress, Known is open source. Although a seemingly simple site, it offers to possibility to build the web, but also own your presence there. It all depends on context.

So what about you? What service do you use? Why? Have you used any other platforms in the past? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment?


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What Type of Relationship Do You Have with Learners?


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In his attempt to develop a more sophisticated understanding of pedagogy, Richard Olsen developed the Modern Learning Canvas. Olsen separates the different factors that impact learning and teaching into nine parts. See my attempt to represent my school’s instructional model for more elaboration:


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Although there are differences throughout, whether it be in regards to outcomes or beliefs, it could be argued that the area with the greatest variable is that of the educator. As Olsen explains,

In highly didactic instructional classrooms Educators have total control and make all of the decisions. At the opposite end of the education spectrum with counter-culture student driven education where Educators have little control and make few decisions about student learning. The reality is that for most learning models the Educator Role sits somewhere between these two poles.

What stands out about these variables is change in relationship that exists between learner and educator. I was reminded of this connection yesterday while I was watching a new television series Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.

The particular episode I saw investigated the recording artists and the producers behind them. What was most interesting was the relationship each producer had with the artists they were working with. The show touched on four particular producers: Phil Spector, Sir George Martin, Dr, Dre and Rick Rubin.

The Wall of Sound: A pioneer in the recording industry, Phil Spector had the ability to push the technology to its limits. He had the ability to hear things and imagine different possibilities. Innovative, he turned the traditional orchestral outfit into a rock band. This organised chaos came at a cost as he was very demanding on the artists he worked with. What kept many there though was that you always knew he would produce something amazing.

The Fifth Beatle: Unlike Spector who led the show, Sir George Martin worked along side The Beatles. It was for this reason he was described as the fifth Beatle. He would listen to what the band would bring and provide a different take on things. Something akin to what Cathy Davidson calls ‘collaboration by difference‘. The example given in the show was his suggestion to include strings in Yesterday or to create the Psycho-inspired Elenor Rigby where strings and vocals were the only instruments at play in.

Artist as Producer: Whereas Martin was a guide on the side, Dr. Dre represents the move to the producer as a meddler in the middle. Building on heritage of those like Sly Stone, Dr. Dre worked both sides of the desk. What is most significant is that Dre’s success was built around capturing things that nobody else heard, whether this be in the records he sampled or the music he recorded. This change was in part enabled by improvements in technology, making production more accessible.

Conditions to Flourish: The producer behind artists from Metallica to the Dixie Chicks, Rick Rubin’s interest was not about creating a particular sound, but rather fostering the conditions in which the artists could bring out their potential. The example given was his work with Johnny Cash in regards to the American Recordings. After being dumped by several labels, Rubin worked with Cash to reimagine the legend. For more on Rubin’s unique approach, I recommend listening to the lengthy interview with Tim Ferriss.

Coming back to Olsen, it is interesting to compare different relationships between the artist and producer with the relationships between the educator and the learner. It is not hard to think of an educator who continually celebrated about the results they get, even if the strategies that they use seem questionable. Or of the educator who works alongside learners helping connect their work to what Seymour Papert describes as ‘powerful ideas‘. Then there are learners/educators who take control of their own learning and publish it to the world for validation. Or those educators whose success is hard to measure or make sense of, rather it is about connecting with the passions of each learner and starting there. In the end, maybe it takes all types of relationships to support all types of learners.


In part this post was inspired by the continual work of Deborah Netolicky on educator identify. I highly recommend listening to her interview on the Teacher’s Educator Review.


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Data, Education and Parents


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In a recent post, Will Richardson made the point that most parents have no idea what happens in school. This assertion was based on the seemingly meaningless numbers and grades that parents are feed through the rise of learning portals. Although I can understand where Richardson is coming from, I do not think that every school is the same. I know of some schools that share key learning tasks with annotations using various applications, some provide feedback to students and with that parents via the portals, some set in place digital learning portfolios curated by students and others provide monthly updates about attitudes and applications. What interests me in all of this is not necessarily what constitutes learning and achievement or what is exactly shared, but the impact of the move into the digital realm on parents.

As I have written before, there is a growing trend to use different commercial applications to connect and collaborate with the wider community. Whether it be Facebook Pages, Google Sites, Edmodo, Seesaw or Evernote, these spaces are chosen for a number of reasons, including their cost, the ease of use and it is where people are. I am reminded though of the edict that is often bandied around that if something is free then you are the product. Now I know that it is not always that simple, but I am left wondering about what data is collected by such platforms, either obvious in the forms of names, emails and phone numbers, as well as the incidental in the form of IP addresses and devices used.

Often the discussion around data and online privacy is focused on students and their safety. Whether it be posting images online or providing personal information which can be used as a point of identification. The reason claimed for this caution is protection from online predators, adults posing as children in spaces like Club Penguin. (Interestingly, danah boyd points out in It’s Complicated that more often than not, cases of online predators often involve those who already have a connection offline and shown susceptibility to such problems.) The problem though is not necessarily these extreme examples, but rather big data and the endless collection of data. In part, this is the intent behind the COPPA laws, which a designed to protect children from being marketed to. A few random data points may not mean much to you and I, but when they are fodder for algorithms they can mean so much more. As Audrey Watters explains,

Algorithms are not neutral, although they are frequently invoked as such. They reflect the values and interests of their engineers, although it’s hard to scrutinize what exactly these values and interests entail as the inputs and calculations that feed algorithms are almost always “black boxed.”

Therefore when we have investment from various venture capital funds, this is why we need to be mindful. It is for this reasons that there is so much conjecture around Google Apps in school.

The problem though is that this conjecture about data and algorithms goes far beyond students, it encapsulates the parents as well. Although sites may be private, this does not make them exempt from data collection. Even the fact that you might be a parent is another point of information. In addition to this, they influence habits. Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad:

  • What does the medium enhance or amplify?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been made obsolescent earlier?
  • What does the medium “flip into” when pushed to the extreme?

For example, the use of Facebook Pages enhances documentation, can make communication via school diary obsolete, it retrieves a notion of learning through observation as opposed to tests and at its extremes normalises the use of digital spaces as a record and reflection of learning.

Another question that has been playing on my mind associated with the matter of data and the impact of openly sharing spaces has on teacher and student agency and identity. Maybe it is sharing information on a platform such as Twitter or Instagram. What restrictions and limitations are at play through seemingly being open. Does the feeling that we are publishing to the world both bring out our best, while also limiting what we share? While coming back to Richardson’s argument, I wonder if teachers are always clear about the expectations of such spaces, especially when they are continually changing. Also on the flip side, what are the expectations in regards to voices outside of the classroom and interaction within such spaces?

I am not saying that we should ban the use of such platforms, but with the introduction of digital technologies curriculum, it only seems logical that we should start where we are and unpack the biases at play. So what about you? What spaces do you use to communicate with parents and what expectations do such spaces bring.


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TeachMeet10


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My first TeachMeet was in Melbourne in 2014. Organised by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria, it was held at a small pub in the back of Carlton. Although there were some interesting presentations on the use of Verso to provoke deeper thinking and another discussing the use of Genius Hour, these were not necessarily what I took out of the event. Rather, what I remember was the time spent putting a face to the name of those who I had connected with online and engaging in debate about topics such as cloud computing, traditional essays and maker education.

What I love most about TeachMeets is the potential to test out ideas with others. From exploring digital literacy, questioning giving back, changing education and challenging the digital native myth, I have found presenting in a new context forces you to rethink your ideas, as well as opens them up to criticism. Through the feedback gained though, it has helped me grow both personally and professionally.

Although we can have Twitter chats, organise a Hangouts or connect verbally via Voxer, none of these modes or mediums quite emulate the experience of connecting face-to-face. This is the strength of TeachMeets. Although the presentations are great to hear and it is always good in regards to perspective, the value gained is often found in the breaks where you have are able to connect with colleagues and collaborate.

In today’s day and age, it seems odd when teachers restrict their thinking to the four walls of their own classroom. TeachMeets provide a great opportunity to reach out and go beyond this.


If you too have had an experience associated with TeachMeets, Ewan McIntosh is currently collecting reflections for a book celebrating the ten year anniversary on the 16th of May.


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What Makes a Comment?


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There are many out there who claim that blogging as it once was is dead. One of the biggest reasons given is the death of the comment. The question that does not seem to get asked very often is what it actually means to comment and what might it mean to bring the comment back?

The reality is that there is not one clear reason why to comment, instead it is something that is specific to each and every instance. The conundrum though is not necessarily with the why, but rather with how we go about it and what actually constitutes a comment. Like with so much of digital technology, there are so many ways to seemingly achieve the same outcome. Below are some of the problems and platforms as I see it associated with supporting the act of responding:

  • In-App Commenting: When people talk about comments, this is more often than not what they mean, the section at the end of every post that allows the reader to provide their point of view. Depending on the platform, this can either require signing in or simply providing your name and email. Depending on the platform, comment via mobile devices can be frustrating.
  • Post as comment: In a reflection on the inequalities of gender in educational technology, Audrey Watters questions whether we should be obliged to house comments in our own spaces. She instead suggests that maybe comments are better served as posts on our own blogs. An alternative to this is the idea of the post as a remix. Maybe this might be the creation of a new idea or some sort of homage to the original.
  • Syndication: Whether it be a collaborative blog like Inquire Within and the Echo Chamber or different platforms, such as Medium and Linkedin Pulse, the approach of publishing on your own site and syndicating elsewhere can create the problem of which space to carry out the conversation in.
  • Sharing Spaces: As Mike Caulfield recently shared, “to make content more findable, put it everywhere.” This means posting links to Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Reddit, Diigo etc. Each of these platforms provides the means to comment and keep the conversation going in their own way. The problem with this model is that there is nothing which brings the discussion together.
  • Curation: Whether it be Feedly, Pocket or any other curated application, these places often provide a streamlined experience. Although this makes it easier to read, it can limit the ability to respond. This is resolved by opening the post in the browser, while some bloggers in fact force this. 
  • Short Response: Many writer’s rue the move of comments to short form epitomised by Twitter. Although such constraints can make for their own creative solutions, such as visual quotes and sharing excerpts, they have the tendency to limit the potential of deeper conversation and engagement. Instead, lending themselves to extremes and absurdities. Some platforms, such as WordPress and Known, allow you use a plugin to drag tweets in as comments.
  • Sound and Vision: There is a growing trend of late to allow different means of commenting and communicating. For example, Speak Pipe allows readers to leave a voice message, rather than write a response. While Voxer provides the means to connect with authors either directly or as a part of a wider community. There are also some like George Couros who have explored the potential of video working within the 30 second constraints offered by Twitter. A couple of hurdles with these platforms is that they require you to go through the rigmarole of setting up an account, while it is not always clear how to store and archive such responses.
  • Disqus: A cross-platform application, Disqus is a platform designed to connect different comments in the one space.  As a community, it provides recommendations and channels to help organise comments (and posts) into different themes.
  • Livefyre: Designed for businesses with a focus on marketing and engagement, Livefyre is considered as a one stop platform for digital asset management. It provides real-time social curation, allowing you to drag in interactions from a number of platforms, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Livefyre is the same company behind Storify and was recently acquired by Adobe.
  • Sumo Me: A plugin designed to help users grow their audience, Sumo Me works by adding a pop-up layer on top of the website. Along with the ability to grow subscriber lists and share content, Sumo Me allows users to highlight text as a form of response.
  • Hypothes.is: A free platform, Hypothesis allows users to annotate the web through an add-on or WordPress plugin. Although not directly connected to the site, Hypothesis allows users to collect and collaborate similar to Diigo. It is a site for users, rather than creators, and reminds me of Steve Johnson’s discussion about the connection between open source and ideas.
  • Medium: When it comes commenting, Medium optimises many of the functionalities associated with commenting in one place. Whether it be highlighting text, commenting on a particular section or directly linking to other bloggers.
  • IndieWeb / Bridgy: A community of practice with the intent to own our presence on the web. This is done through the use of various plugins, with a focus on posting on your own site and then syndicating elsewhere. Similar to apps like Livefyre, this allows you to bring in comments for a blog from others spaces.

After unpacking all of the options, it makes me wonder if maybe the comments never left, but rather have become dispersed across various spaces. Maybe the answer is that everyone moves their content and conversations to Medium, but what happens when that space changes and folds under the pressure of investors. Maybe as Martin Weller recently suggested, “Blogging is both like it used to be, and a completely different thing”. Rather than a call to go back to basics, to a time when commenting seemed to be simple, what I think is needed is a broader appreciation of what constitutes a ‘comment’. As with the discussion of digital literacies, maybe we should focus on the act of defining, rather than restrict ourselves with concrete definitions.

So what about you? What do you think? As always, comments welcome.


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The Positives of Being Positive: ‘Flourishing’ in the Classroom by @SN00kEe


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This is a guest post from colleague Catherine Gatt reflecting on her experiences with Positive Psychology.


Late last year a series of life events led me to enrol in an online learning environment with the goal of achieving a Diploma of Counselling. After more than ten years in the classroom I would have readily listed ‘interpersonal skills’ on any questionnaire that asked for my strength traits. Dealing with students on a daily basis, parents, colleagues and the occasional talk in front of a room full of people led me to believe that I had ‘people’ skills.

I was also a little curious to experience ‘online’ learning, but that’s a reflection for another post.

The first unit of the course was an examination of what ‘interpersonal’ really means. I was astonished at the level of intricacy our day to day interactions with others have. Everything from the slightest gesture, pause, intonation, words said, words not said speaks volumes more than I had ever appreciated. What struck me as most interesting among these insights, was that the relationship between a counsellor and a client was the single most important factor in impacting the outcome of the whole process.

Basically, if a client ‘liked’ their counsellor they had a significant chance at working through their problems and coming out on the other side.

The second I read this I immediately made connections to the classroom. Do my students ‘like’ me? What is the impact of my relationship with them, on them? What is the impact of their relationship with me, on me? What ‘unsaid’ messages am I communicating through the day? How important is ‘mindset’ in my classroom?

As part of my course readings I crossed paths with a branch of psychology known as ‘Positive Psychology’; within the first few encounters I had answers to many of my questions. Positive Psychology is ‘the scientific study of strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communications and organisations to thrive’. It focuses intently on achieving a sense of balance, also referred to as ‘flourishing’, that promotes a sense of connectedness and fulfilment.

One of the first names that will pop up on any Google Search on Positive Psychology is Martin Seligman. Seligman has pioneered much of the groundwork in this field as well as actively promoting its viability and importance across the world. Within a few minutes I was hooked into his TED talk entitled The New Era of Psychology where he discusses the ‘nuts and bolts’ of ‘flourish’. This inevitably led to a late night purchase of his renowned book, ‘Flourish’ on Kindle.

From this the connections started to strengthen. Seligman advocates strongly for the use of statistical data to determine the effectiveness of a particular approach (in any field). A visit to his website ‘Authentic Happiness’ are hours well spent. By participating in a myriad of activities and questionnaires not only are you given valuable insights into yourself, you contribute to a clever system of data collection which informs practise in this field worldwide.
Seligman dedicates a significant portion of ‘Flourish’ to his work here in Melbourne with Geelong Grammar. In 2008 Seligman with an impressive support cast in tow, was invited to consult on the viability of a ‘Positive Education’. It was adopted (at great cost and some resistance) by the school and with a comprehensive professional development plan and volunteered time by teachers and staff, significantly impacted on the school community in ways that I thought at first were fictional!

None of the practises that Seligman presented to the Grammar were ‘rocket science’ per say but perhaps they were. The sheer simplicity of the program along with irrefutable statistical data to back its impact, led me wondering, ‘Why aren’t we all doing this?’ It seemed as though ‘Positive Education’ was ‘infectious’. By teaching students to focus on positives, to become actively aware of their strengths, to build solid resilience, it was inevitable that teachers themselves started to change their mindsets. In fact, Seligman insisted that teachers trial every method presented on themselves and track the impact this had on them. This approach could only deepen the relationship between a teacher and a student. Celebrating your strengths with another person is quite personal and a positive building block for building a healthy relationship.

I bought into this immediately. I was aching to get back into my classroom and trial out some of the simple tenants of ‘Positive Education’ on my students. The first one I trialled was WWW (What Went Well). At the time I had a student who obsessively focussed on the negatives in her day. It had almost reached a point where her parent was presenting me with long lists of trivial complaints (the loss of a grey lead pencil among them).

I asked the parent in question if they would be open to the idea of trialling out WWW with their child. I explained that the idea was that every day their child was to record three things that went well and write about why they went well. The underlying principle is that by engaging with gratitude and focusing on the positives you can actively reverse negativity and bias. After a couple of days, I noticed positive changes in my student. She smiled more, seemed more relaxed and the long list of grievances shortened dramatically. While I can’t statistically prove that these changes were the direct impact of WWW, I knew that there was really something quite powerful about this approach.

I also noticed changes in myself. I took Seligman’s challenge on board and trialled out the WWW method before bringing it back to my classroom. I walked through the door at the start of the day excited about the positives, at first because I was hoping I’d have three to write about at the end of the day and then because of the intrinsic happiness they brought me. I started to experience the infectiousness of ‘flourishing’; a happy teacher meant happier students, happier students meant a happier learning environment. I started to share my WWW with my students and our relationships deepened as a result.

One day in the near future I’d love to measure the impact of the small things in my classroom. But right now the positive vibe is evidence enough!


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5 Ways to Change the World Yesterday


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I am continually questioned about why I blog. Often this leads to discussion about who has the right to speak? How do I know if what I am saying is of value? Asking such questions can get us caught in thinking that sharing has some specific consequence or outcome. Thinking like this misses the growth and opportunity that such reflection provides.

First and foremost, this blog is about me. This is a point that Royan Lee touches on. Dean Shareski though sums the personal up best in his celebration of ten years of blogging. As he states:

What I will tell you is that I need to blog more. Not for you, but for me. I need to get back to sharing more frequently, my thinking. Not for you, but for me. Unfinished thoughts, marginal insights and conversations that have sparked my interest need to be shared and explored here. Not for you, but for me. This is the space for me to mull over ideas and thoughts (see what I did there) which is what I intended this to be 10 years ago.

The other side of all this is what happens when ideas are shared. Clive Thompson suggests that, “once thinking is public, connections take over.” What is important about these connections is that as much as we try and manage them, they often have a journey that is somewhat beyond me. Whether it be the different experiences and interpretations. What is important isn’t always what we gain, rather it is the potential to start new lines of thought and inquiry. Such seeds have the potential to blossom into untold possibilities.

An example of such serendipity is the story associated with Adrian Camm’s ‘Permission to Innovate‘ card:

I was given this card at Digicon15, but this is the really the end of the story. My part in it all came about when I reached out to my PLN for thoughts on the topic of feedback. I was in a team at school in charge of investigating different practises in order to identify areas for improvement. One of the great resources I was referred to was a presentation by Cameron Paterson investigating formative assessment and documentation. One of the slides was a coupon to be free of criticism:

I shared this out on Twitter, where it was then picked up by Camm who took the idea and created a loyalty style card, which he gave out to his staff and me.

To come back to the title, what are the five ways to change the world yesterday? I could list five, but you don’t really need that many. Instead, I am going to give you just one, because at the end of the day that is all you need. Be the change you want in the world. Like Cory Doctorow’s dandelion, share freely, with the knowledge that you never know who may benefit and what change it may bring. For as Steve Wheeler suggests,

Giving away ideas and knowledge is a bit like love, as told in the story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5000. You can share it around as much as you like, but you still get to keep it, and there is always plenty left over.


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