Blogging & Time by @ben_houlihan

Reasons to start blogging...today!

So why start blogging now? The biggest push has perhaps been a conference that I’ve elected to speak at in February exploring scholarly activity for staff that teach HE within an FE setting. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do more of but as with many others I’ve had reservations about time, whether I have anything worth writing and if people will want to read it.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Ben Houlihan and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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I’m talking to around 100 staff about the extent to which scholarly activity should be a reality in FE or is in fact an aspiration that many never achieve. I want to explore the idea that the quality of time you allocate to scholarly activity is as, if not more important than the amount. In addition, I hope people leave with some easily achievable yet valuable ways that they can engage with scholarly activity that don’t all have to end up with articles in peer reviewed journals.

I’m sure many lecturers, teachers and other busy professionals across the world have gone to conferences and heard great ideas but what they really wanted was to take something away that they can use. To balance this, I’ve also been told (by some professional speakers) that it’s not about leaving with something to use but taking an idea and using it as you see fit, as they don’t profess to be experts in everything. I’ve decided to go with the old saying ‘the customer is always right’ and give the group ideas of clear and time constrained activities that will develop their scholarly behaviours into a part of their working week.

It’s clear that students should be at the centre of all we do in education and therefore enhancing the student experience, principally for our HE students studying within FE is the driving force behind scholarly activity. I’m going to explore 3 ideas;

– Professional Reading Groups
– Hosted Themed Twitter Conversations
– Blogging

The first 2 suggestions are relatively simple in terms of their parameters and can be done with with minimal time, often they are an evolution of what people are already doing. Professional reading groups are not a new concept and many organisations have made them part of their culture to help broaden the knowledge of staff and foster interdisciplinary working. The activity will initially involve an evidence-based article looking at pedagogy which staff can read in their own time across a 2-week period and discuss in groups during a planned meeting slot that they would already be attending.

Alternatively, the challenge will be set for staff to come up with subject specific articles that smaller teams could read and discuss at a time to suit that specific group. Can you remember the last time someone in your office sent everyone a link and said “look at this, it’s a great idea” or left a magazine by the kettle for people to read whilst making their morning coffee? If you can you’re already part of a professional reading group it’s just about making this a conscious process and agreeing what you want to do with the new knowledge or idea.

Hosted Twitter conversations or chats have been some of the most useful CPD that I have undertaken in the past few years. It still surprises me that I can engage with sessions at Harvard as part of #Askwith or contribute to a discussion about digital citizenship with people from across the world (#digcit). Last year I had the opportunity to host a chat for #ukedchat and was given the freedom of setting my own questions around any educational topic. I chose to explore the perception of FE, mainly because I recognised that regular contributors came from the primary and secondary sector.

This one-hour chat gave me real data that I took back and shared with my team and the wider college to question the way we market certain subjects and programmes in schools and perhaps address some of the stereotypes around subject areas and FE in general. Hosting or contributing to a chat is more of an individual activity (despite the fact it potentially engages with many more people) and support could be offered in the form of mentoring from specialist staff with experience of using Twitter. Introducing staff to educational groups and hashtags can build their PLN and allow them to observe or contribute to conversations before hosting their own, either way developing their scholarly work. This activity could take 10 minutes each day and also inform planning for lessons or developing curriculum. Finally, the best thing about hosted chats is that they are time-constrained and people come online for that hour to talk about a specific topic and then it’s done, the management of the session ensures the quality of the time.

So how does this become scholarly activity? (I know there were 3 things listed above but I’ll come to blogging in a bit)

I think the answer could be simple, in that all of this activity is scholarly work and develops practice. One of the major barriers I have encountered both personally and when working with practitioners in FE is that there is a widely held view that the work all needs to be written down in long articles full of references which would pass the scrutiny of a peer-review. What if we accept that scholarly activity is evolving just like everything else in education? What if when anyone comes to call and asks about our scholarly activity we sit them down in front of a group of staff that have been engaged in professional reading groups and share their experiences? What if we use some students to talk about the impact a change in practice has had on them? Or offer the chance to watch videos created of online discussions by sites such as Storify?

Or maybe people do want to write down their thoughts in a more extended way and encouraging and supporting blogging is another outlet for scholarly work. This support could take the form of internal promotion so staff read what other people are doing but also encouraging blogs and posts to be shared and discussed within different PLNs. Setting up a blog has been incredibly easy and writing this first post has taken around 3 hours, but more than that it’s made me think and reflect on the topic throughout my day and come back to add notes before publishing. I’ve not found it a burden (even over the holiday period) and it’s been a brilliant way to start preparing for my presentation. The next step will be promoting and raising awareness (which if you’re reading this has worked) and then to consider the next topic and find out how regularly I can blog.

The term ‘Scholarly Activity’ makes people think of processes and activities and to an extent this will always be true, but what makes it successful is to embed it into the culture. Everyone is busy, every teacher wants what’s best for their students and I believe that devoting small amounts of quality time to scholarly activity can have a huge impact in the classroom and on the culture of an institution. The examples above show that in some cases scholarly activity is already happening and this just needs to become a conscious process.

I hope people find my thoughts useful and this is the start of a change in my scholarly behaviour because what actually inspired me was being sat in a hospital receiving some life changing news and realising that you shouldn’t wait. If you have something to do…don’t think, just do.


Featured Image: Via Sean MacEntee on Flickr under (CC BY 2.0)

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