Last month, one of my clients got in touch to ask if I could send them some guidance around writing blog posts. They asked me to include the usual things such as:
Structuring a post
Making things clear for the reader
How to grammar/spell check
They asked me to put together something, which effectively is a couple of sides of A4 paper, for the start of the school term for a team they’ll be working with this academic year.
One of the reasons for my delay in getting started (other than the busiest summer, work-wise that I’ve ever had!) is that, rattling around at the back of my mind, is a series on how to write blog posts. While it’s important to cover the bullet points above, I think there’s things to say about in situating blog posts within a wider discourse.
Add a ‘Work In Progress’ (WIP) limit to the ‘Doing’ list
Define and use labels effectively
Add attachments and due dates to cards
Collaborate with others
Here’s how to achieve these criteria.
Add WIP limit
Simple. Just edit the title of your list to indicate the maximum number of cards that is allowed in it at any given time. The default is three, but you might experiment to see if this is the right number.
It’s up to you how you use labels. The benefit of using them is that they give an at-a-glance indication on the kind of work you’re doing. The above list is what I’ve settled on for individual projects. These are different when I’m working with others; it’s a negotiation and they may change over time.
Add attachments / due dates
Within each card there’s an option to add an attachment. You can upload direct from your computer, paste a link, or transfer from cloud services. If you upload an image it will by default become the ‘cover’ of your card. You can disable/change this if necessary.
Due dates are important to ensure cards keep moving from left to right on your Kanban board. If you can no longer assign a date you might want a list entitled ‘Stalled’. Assign a due date by going into the card.
Unless you’ve set up an organisation, you need to manually add collaborators to a board via the ‘Menu’. Once they’ve been given access you can add them to cards by clicking on ‘Members’. Their icon will then show up in the bottom-right of the card.
This is a fun exercise that leads to a badge. It also, hopefully, nudges you to use Kanban more effectively. If there’s enough interest I may even create a Kanban Ninja badge!
A couple of months ago, Dai Barnes and I decided to start podcasting again. We’d previously been regular hosts of EdTechRoundUp and wanted to get back into the routine. We decided to meet each weekend with a loose agenda, talk for between 45 minutes and an hour, edit the recording, and put it out each Tuesday. We’re calling this Today In Digital Education (TIDE).
Quick note: technology
A podcast is an audio file plus an RSS feed. Just sticking an MP3 on a web server doesn’t make it a podcast – there has to be an enclosure generated that allows users to have each episode delivered to them.
Recording the audio
Perhaps the easiest way to record a conversation is to use Skype and a plugin that records both sides of the audio. I’ve actually detailed this process before, and haven’t deviated much from it, so check out this post.
Quick note: naming
You should double-check that there’s no-one else using the name you came up with. We had to change the title of our podcast slightly as there was already a student-run podcast out of the University of Alabama! It’s also a good idea to grab as many URLs for the podcast as possible. This means you can switch platforms but keep the URL consistent.
Publishing your audio
In the first instance we decided to try Tumblr to make the podcast available to listeners. I wanted something that was super-straightforward, and Dai was keen to show to his colleagues that it isn’t just filled with dodgy stuff. As it happens, although this made it easy to listen to recordings via Tumblr itself, it wasn’t such a great idea for creating a compatible RSS feed.
Thankfully, the wonderful SoundCloud has a beta program called SoundCloud for Podcasters which we were quickly accepted into. This gives you an RSS feed people can use to subscribe to. It’s worth pointing out that people can also subscribe to you via the SoundCloud app itself.
We’ve retained the Tumblr blog as SoundCloud doesn’t seem to allow hyperlinks in the show description.
Quick note: costs
It’s pretty inevitable you’re going to spend some money creating your podcast. It can be done for free, but it’s more difficult than using awesome tools that make the job easier. Other than both owning Macs (which are great for multimedia!), here’s the things we’ve paid for:
It’s a good idea to take the RSS feed generated by whatever platform you use and pipe it through FeedBurner. There’s lots of options here, but ensure you pay attention to the Optimize tab and the BrowserFriendly, SmartCast, and SmartFeed settings. Note that you’ll need an image for your logo that’s larger than 1400px x 1400px to be compatible with iTunes.
Piping the RSS feed through FeedBurner means that if you change to a different platform (with a different RSS feed) this won’t affect your listeners. In the same way that you can have a URL that redirects to Tumblr, WordPress, or whatever, so your FeedBurner-powered feed is a front end for whatever RSS feed you point it towards.
Quick note: learning from others
One of the best ways to know what works with podcasts – in terms of content, structure, and how to describe yours, is to listen to some good ones. Here are three of my favourites (not including BBC Radio 4 radio shows released as podcasts):
If you’ve got an iPhone or iPod Touch then you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone uses iTunes to subscribe to podcasts. But, of course, they don’t. Currently, the best places to submit your podcast are:
iTunes(looks complex, but FeedBurner should have you covered)
You only have to do this once for each service. There’s also a list here.
Setting up a podcast can seem quite technical but, follow the above advice and that which you search for, and you’ll be OK. Be comforted in the knowledge that once the flow is all set up correctly, all you’ll have to do is record your podcast, edit it, upload it, and write something about it each time. Everything else will happen automatically!
Have you got any remaining questions? I’ll try my best to answer them if doing so is of benefit to other readers, too! Ask away in the comments below. 🙂
The great thing about being shown how to do something via video is that, if you get stuck, you can pause, rewind and watch parts again. In this one, I go through the process of downloading a responsive website theme and hosting it for free using GitHub Pages.
Remember, the way to increase your digital and web literacies is to tinker about and try new things. You can’t break anything here and all you have to lose is your GitHub virginity. 😉
PS If you’re interested in using GitHub to ‘fork’ (i.e. remix) someone else’s repository, you may find this video playlist helpful.
3. Follow the instructions at the plugin’s Installation page, specifically:
Configure the plugin by navigating to Settings -> WPBadger Config in the WordPress admin. On this form, fill out some basic information including Agent Name, organization, and contact email address. The award email text is optional.
Note the following:
After you install the WPBadger plugin you get two new menu items – Badges and Awards
Badges is to do with the creation of badges and Awards is to do with the awarding of badges (either individually or en masse)
4. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to create your badge.
Things that may help:
Click on Badges in the left-hand menu then Add New
Fill in the Enter title here box (this is the name of the badge as it will show up in Badge Backpacks)
Enter some text in the main field about the badge itself and what it’s awarded for (this is what will show up at the badge’s Criteria URL)
Under Badge version on the right-hand side enter a number such as 1.0
Under Badge image on the right-hand side click on Set featured image
Once you’ve uploaded the badge image (a PNG file) you need to scroll down in the pop-up box to click the option to Use as featured image and then close the pop-up (you don’t need to insert it into the post)
5. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to award your badge.
Things that may help:
Click on Awards then Add New to award a badge to a single individual
Use the drop-down menu under Choose Badge on the right-hand side to select the badge to award
Enter the individual’s Email Address in the box on the right-hand side (try your own email address first if testing!)
In the main box fill out the reason why the individual has been awarded the badge (this is what will show up at the badge’s Evidence URL)
The individual you entered in Step 5 should now receive an email telling them they’ve received a badge. When they click on the URL they can accept or reject that badge. If they accept it then it will be pushed to their Badge Backpack.
*How to do this is outside of the scope of this tutorial, I’m afraid.
Having sold individual things sporadically via Twitter (usually after mentioning I was about to put them on eBay) and finding myself needing to raise funds for a rather magnificent Sony Vaio P series, I thought it was about time I developed a system. Enter #twebay.
(I hate the elision of ‘Twitter’ and ‘eBay’ as much as you, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy…)
Here’s what I did:
1. Set up and published a Google Doc and passed it through Bit.ly Pro to get http://dajb.eu/twebay. This includes my details (including avatar and photo), a rationale for selling, and details of the items.
2. Configured and tested a Google Form (via Google Docs) to collect information from those interested. I figured the important information was the person’s name, email address, bid amount and a box for any other details they wanted to give me.
3. Publicised it and asked for retweets.
4. Checked the spreadsheet attached to the Google Form at regular intervals and replied to those making bids.
I managed to sell 3 items within an hour with an additional one that I’d forgotten later in the week. These were all to people who I’ve known a while on Twitter but I’ve never met in person.
The advantages of this method?
No eBay/Paypal fees
Buyer knows it’s going to a good home, seller knows where it’s come from
Time spent listing items for sale is massively reduced
You need a fair number of followers to gain traction/interest
There’s no formal feedback system
There’s potential to damage existing relationships when money becomes involved
Something I’ve started doing recently has revolutionised my ability to synthesise my reading of stuff in paper books. Here’s what I currently do – although there’s probably ways I can improve it (and no doubt something similar is possible using other devices):
What we’re going to do is to take a picture of a section of text, tag it and add contextual (bibliographic) information, and then send it off to be synced by Evernote.
0. Set up a notebook for your quotations/notes. I use ‘Ed.D. thesis’.
1. Take picture of text
Click on the ‘Snapshot’ option in Evernote. Take your photo of the text you want to capture – make sure you focus correctly!
2. Fill in note details
The title should be something that summarises what you’ve taken a picture of. Tag it appropriately. Click on ‘Append note’ and fill in citation details. Make sure you ‘Select All’ and then ‘Copy’ so that the next time you do this you can use ‘Paste’ and just change the page number!
Once you’ve synced it will appear in Evernote on your desktop/laptop.
With all the notes in front of you, it’s easy to synthesise your thinking. It’s fully possible to just to this on the iPhone, but it’s easier given the features and screen real-estate on desktop or laptop.
I use a Moleskine notebook and a good old-fashioned pen for synthesising (or XMind depending on how I’m feeling). It works wonderfully! 🙂
This post has been a long time coming, but there’s three specific short-term causes to it appearing now:
I’ve seen some fantastic content and ideas be let down by woeful presentations recently.
Before next week’s JISC infoNet planning meeting, I’ve been asked to give some advice to my colleagues about presenting effectively.
My Dad had an interview for a promotion last week and I helped him with his presentation.
Every awesome presentation has the following. Yes, every single one.
A call to action
One or more ‘hooks’
Little on-screen text
How to plan the ultimate presentation
Start with your ‘call to action’. What do you want people to go away and do/think/say? Put that in the middle of a large piece of paper, or – better yet – a large whiteboard.
Around it, write down everything that you want to say on the topic. Spatial location indicates relatedness (i.e. the close it is to another point the more related it is to it). Draw a circle around every point. You’ve just created a Rico Cluster!
Next, identify your key points. They’re the points within circles that give your presentation its structure, those that would be noticeable if absent.
Finally, think about the order of your presentation. It goes something like this:
Hook –> Challenge –> Story –> Call to action
Designing the visual element of your presentation
You should by now know what the start and the end of your presentation is going to entail. You should have an idea of how you’re going to ‘hook’ the audience’s interest and then provide a ‘call to action’ at the conclusion.
Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about the length of your presentation yet. That’s because it doesn’t really matter whether you presentation is 5 minutes or over an hour, the principles are the same! All that changes with the length of your presentation is the amount of content you need to prepare, and strategies for dealing with the wandering concentration of your audience. More of the latter in a moment.
I’m going to outsource the rest of this section to two wonderful resources I’ve come across recently. The first is mis-titled in my opinion: The Top 7 PowerPoint Slide Designs is actually about the structure and design of your presentation as a whole, rather than PowerPoint. It’s always good to have examples up your sleeve to broaden your repetoire.
The second is embeddable. I just love the focus on passion and significance coupled with practical advice!
Of course, you don’t have to use slides! For my Director of E-Learning interview, I made up a hashtag on Twitter and put that on the screen whilst I blu-tacked A4 sheets of paper to several walls… :-p
Kicking-ass when delivering the presentation
We’ve dealt now with the hook, the call to action, and having little on-screen text. This final section, then, deals with pace and imagery. A grasp of the appropriate use of pace is one reason why very good teachers are almost always very good presenters: they know when to speed things up and when to slow them down.
For example, if you’re letting people know about this amazing, exciting new thing then you’ll talk really quickly with lots of enthusiasm in your voice. If you’re emphasising a key point, on the other hand, you may want to take your time. Either way, it’s very important to practice. Use a video camera. Failing that, talk into the mirror. As a last resort, talk to a chair in the corner of the room. Seriously.
It’s obvious, but seemingly not understood by many. Your presentation is not the slides! Your presentation is the sum total of the experience people get when watching and listening to you present. That’s why imagery is extremely important. It’s more than appropriate and good-looking pictures on a screen. It’s about being evocative. It’s about using metaphors. It’s about conjuring up a world where people can’t help but respond to your call for action.
I’d love to help people present better. I’m not perfect myself – no-one is – but having a commitment to getting better at something means you’re half-way there to being better at it. And yes, these things can take huge amounts of time to do properly. One recent presentation of mine took, altogether, one hour for every minute I spent presenting! But, as Yoda famously says in Star Wars: