Changing the World Through Blogging

September 21, 2018

If you have the mistaken impression that you can’t blog, you might want to check out Hannah Alper’s “Call Me Hannah” blog for inspiration. Starting it when she was nine years old and driven by a desire to be involved in promoting positive change in the environment, this extraordinary Canadian—who is 15 years old at the time of this writing—found her voice, her audience, and an opportunity to grow in ways that continue to have an impact through her work as an “activist, blogger, motivational speaker, and author.”

Alper stands out as a wonderful example of someone whose blogging and other social media endeavors are part of an overall toolkit that helps her reach her audience in world-changing ways. Building upon the success of her blog, she has published a book (Momentus: Small Acts, Big Change) comprised of interviews with other activists. She gains further attention for the causes she promotes by doing interviews for print publications and television stations. She travels as a presenter as well as someone who documents the changes she is promoting. Through all of these efforts, she conducts herself in ways that channel the attention she is receiving into attention and information about the causes she supports.

There are obvious elements to notice in her blog. She consistently displays a simple, effective use of language. She projects a sincere approach to the topics she tackles as her interests continue to evolve. She includes engaging photographs that help establish a persona that flows through all her work. Most importantly, she provides consistent calls to action so readers know they are being invited to do more than consume what she writes, and she responds to the comments they post; they are her partners in trying to create positive change in a world about which they care deeply.

Tracing the ever-evolving arc of her work is easy, given the record of those interests she continues to explore through her blog. One of her earliest pieces, “Be More Eco-Friendly for $10 and 10 Minutes,” documents the efforts she made with her mother to create recycling bins in their home to reduce the amount of garbage they were adding to local landfills, and even this early post—written when she was nine—reached out to readers with the hope that “you might try this too” and an invitation to those readers to share their own ideas about recycling. Within a few years, she was advocating for positive responses to bullying and actively involved in other WE Movement initiatives that are community-based, national, and global in their reach while also continuing to advocate for small actions that contribute to large-scale environmental change through recycling, composting, and even engaging in impromptu efforts to pick up trash from her local schoolyard. That September 20, 2015 post on her blog continued to feature encouragement to her readers—“I always say little things add up to make a big difference”—along with simple, concrete actions her readers could take if they, too, wanted to be part of the effort to make communities cleaner. Her most recent posts have covered themes as varied as the March for Our Lives activities in March 2018, the continuing decline of global bee populations, mental health issues (particularly in terms of how they affect people within her own peer group), and using social media in advocacy.

What remains most striking in her writing and serves as a tremendous reminder to you about an approach you can pursue in your own blogging for social change, however, is her willingness to be inspiringly transparent. A piece published last week, for example, reads as a from-the-heart admission that while she loves what she does and remains in awe of many of the people she continues to meet through her work, it isn’t easy and it does take a toll. In that “It’s Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows” post, she reflects on how she is “often mocked and put down” by classmates; how the negative comments make her question her choices and lower her self-esteem; and how the work she has chosen to pursue causes her to “miss out on everyday things like clubs and student council.” And, as usual, she concludes with the suggestion that her readers—her fellow travelers on the journey she (and you) have obviously chosen to take—remember why they have chosen that particular journey—“and then, keep going.”

This, then, is part of the power of blogging to change the world. It provides you with a chance to compose your thoughts before sharing them with members and prospective members of your community of support. It provides for plenty of opportunities for engagement if you are willing to court and respond to comments from members of your community. It allows you to build a body of work to which you can return as your own interests develop. It can be a key pathway to telling your story. After all, as so many writers have said, there are times when if you want to read something, you have to write it yourself—and then hope that it leads to the small-, medium-, and large-scale changes you are attempting to foster.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. This is the fourteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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Alan Levine, #etmooc, and the cMOOC That Would Not Die

May 29, 2015

We can cut off its head, fill its mouth with garlic, and drive a stake through its body, but we apparently can’t kill a well-designed, engaging, dynamic learning experience and the community of learning it spawns. Nor would we want to.

Graphic by Alan Levine

Graphic by Alan Levine

At least that’s what a cherished colleague, Alan Levine, suggests in “The cMOOC That Would Not Die,” a newly-posted article (with accompanying graphics that puckishly draw upon horror-film imagery) that captures the spirit and reach of #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course he helped shape and facilitate as a course “conspirator” in early 2013.

Inspired by the #etmooc community’s latest learning endeavor—a tweet chat that drew community members together for a lively hour-long discussion about integrating Twitter into learning earlier this week—Levine combines his usual wicked sense of humor and insightful perspective into a set of reflections that should inspire any trainer-teacher-learner.

I’ve been among those writing extensively about the unexpected longevity of #etmooc as a learning experience/community; a model for lifelong learning communities; and an example of how connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) are beginning to serve as a new form of (collaboratively-produced) textbook; in fact, I’ve probably produced enough to kill a small forest of virtual trees, and am far from finished with the topic. But none of that stops me from eagerly reading and learning from Levine’s “cMOOC That Would Not Die” and recognizing it as a manifestation of the very thing it is exploring.

The playfulness with which he tackles his topic reflects the playfulness that was at the heart of the learning process in #etmooc (and, for that matter, almost every significant learning experience I can remember having). That same playfulness is certainly one of the elements that binds members of the #etmooc community together, as anyone reading the slightly-edited transcript of the integrating-Twitter-into-learning session can’t help but notice. The sense of camaraderie is palpable, and when I talk with friends and colleagues about the value of engagement in training-teaching-learning, I often wonder aloud why so many people seem to be reticent about fostering a sense of community in the learning process.

etmooc_blog_hubLevine’s obvious passion for #etmoocers’ continuing levels of engagement—the community had produced tens of thousands of tweets and 4,746 posts from 513 blogs before he wrote his article; his latest contribution pushed it to 4,747 posts—reflects the same passion that continues to draw #etmooc community members together through tweet chats, Google Hangouts, and other online platforms. And, he notes, it’s not about massive numbers of participants; it’s about the quality and openness of the engagement: “I will cherish and take this kind of experience any day over some massive MOOC of tens of thousands of enrollees, 2% or so who stick around, and [whose] corpus remains stockpiled behind a login.”

His reflections further serve as a manifestation how he and other #etmooc community members learn via extended cross-platform asynchronous exchanges that inspire additional collaborations: he blogs; we read; we respond via the sort of linked response I’m producing here; and we extend the conversation via comments on his own blog site as well as via tweets that call attention to his blogged reflections—a process that is continuing to unfold even as I write these words.

As I often note in learning sessions I facilitate, this is a wonderfully messy and engaging approach to learning—one that offers numerous rewards while also inspiring us to learn how to learn through entirely different approaches to learning than we ever expected to encounter. It’s what many of us learned, from Dave Cormier, to refer to and think of as rhizomatic learning—learning that expands as rapidly and expansively as rhizomes do.

etmoocBut when all is said and done, it all comes down to something Levine facetiously asserts at the beginning of his article: “Someone never told the folks who participated in the 2013 Educational Technology and Media MOOC that it was over. They are still at it.” And the perfect riposte comes in a form of a tweet posted by Thomas Okon (@thomasjokon) in March 2013 as the last of the formal #etmooc modules had been completed and people were talking about how sorry they were that the course was “over”: “Over?  Was it over when the Germans… Its not over till we say it is. Im keeping my column in Tweet deck!”

Okon was—and remains—right. We continue to learn together in a variety of settings. To work together (several of us went on to design and facilitate another connectivist MOOC). To write about it individually and as co-writers. And to engage in teaching-training-learning-doing so that the community continues to grow by acquiring new members and inspiring others to produce their own versions of our successes.


#etmooc: Singing Happy Birthday to a Course

January 22, 2014

It’s not often that I’m invited to attend a birthday party for a course—but then again, it’s not often that I find myself immersed in a learning opportunity that produces the sort of sustainable community of learning that #etmooc has.

etmoocThat wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others offered to great acclaim in early 2013—was something that many of us heard about from colleagues or simply stumbled across during our general online explorations of MOOCs last year. The results (as have been so wonderfully documented in numerous blog postings including one written by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, on the course Google+ community that continues to thrive nearly a year after the course formally ended, and in live tweet chats) inspired course colleagues Rhonda Jessen and Susan  Spellman Cann to organize and facilitate a first-anniversary online gathering of #etmooc alums via Twitter last week.

The results were predictably positive. Some of us who were drawn together through #etmooc and have remained in contact online were there, as were others who have not been as active in the post-#etmooc community—but clearly remain transformed, as teacher-trainer-learners, by what we all experienced. The full Storify transcript of the anniversary session compiled by Jesson and capturing more than 400 tweets from approximately 75 participants in that hour-long session is just the latest example of what a well-organized and wonderfully-facilitated MOOC can inspire—the transcript itself is a learning object that others can use and review if they want to bypass the meaningless exchanges about how few people “complete” a MOOC and look, instead, to see the sort of long-term learning that the best of MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—produce.

One of the many keys to the success of #etmooc as a learning experience and a sustainable community of learning is that it started as an opportunity to explore educational technology in a way that encouraged learners to become familiar with the material by using the resources being studied. If we wanted to see how blogging could be integrated into learning, we blogged and saw our work collected and made accessible through a blog hub that continues to thrive to this day as a resource with nearly 4,000 posts that would not otherwise exist for anyone interested in teaching-training-learning. If we wanted to see how Twitter could easily be incorporated into the learning process, we used Twitter as a vehicle to further our learning and, furthermore, saw those exchanges reach into other communities of learning. If we wanted to see how live interactive online sessions could draw us together and become archived learning objects, we participated in live online sessions through Blackboard Collaborate or viewed archived versions so compelling that they felt as if they were live rather than taped learning sessions.

xplrpln_logoAnother key to its success is that the learning has never stopped. In setting up the anniversary celebration—in essence, an #etmooc birthday party—Jessen and Cann encouraged all of us to continue documenting our MOOC successes by blogging about what we had learned and accomplished as a result of our participation. I look at the numerous blog postings I wrote and stand in awe of what Couros, his co-conspirators, and my MOOCmates inspired. I look at how participation in #etmooc led to participation in another connectivist MOOC–#xplrpln, the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that was a direct offshoot (from Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott  at Northwestern University) in fall of 2013. And I continue to hold far more gratitude than I can ever express for the ways these experiences have made me a better trainer-teacher-learner as I continue exploring ways to facilitate learning opportunities that benefit learners and those they serve in a variety of settings not only here in the United States but in other countries.

That’s what draws me to the work I do, and that’s what makes me believe, each time I think about the field of learning and how it connects us to each other, that it’s one of the most rewarding and transformative of endeavors any of us can undertake.

N.B.: This is part of a continuing  series of posts inspired by participation in #etmooc and other MOOCs.


Training to Blog Effectively

January 5, 2010

Because we can often learn by reaching outside of our usual professional and social circles for ideas, those of us interested in more effectively using blogging in our work have a lot to gain by skimming David Risley’s 49-page “Six Figure Blogger Blueprint” (available as a free download on the upper right-hand corner of his blog site).

While Risley writes much of his publication for those interested in making money from blogging, he offers a first-rate blogger’s primer that hits its stride with a “deciding what to blog about (market selection)” section starting on page 13 of the document. His initial question takes us back to basic principles: “Can you help your reader solve real problems that exist in the real world?” We’ve seen this principle at work recently on ALA Learning through postings by Peter Bromberg, Stephanie Zimmerman, Jay Turner, Marianne Lenox, and others; faithful readers of others blogs written by and for staff of libraries and nonprofit organizations can confirm that they are drawn to those that help them solve problems they are facing or are about to face.

“Focus on how your information is going to benefit the lives of your readers,” Risley continues, and his admonition serves as a great reminder to all writers that the difference between a well read, helpful blog and one that collects virtual dust for lack of readers is that critically important attention given to readers rather than to the writer’s ego. If we remember that it’s not all about us—although, in the best of worlds, our own writer’s voice becomes part of the value we provide—we take our blogging to a level which attracts and serves readers well and builds connections between them and the organizations we serve.

Risley does a great job of addressing the mechanics of effective blogging, and he includes suggestions to help inexperienced writers overcome writer’s block. Reminding his audience members that they attract and serve readers by posting on a consistent and predictable basis, he suggests writing in batches—preparing several postings in one sitting so that we are writing ahead of deadline rather than on deadline; maintaining an idea file which keeps the flow of articles going; and avoiding the trap of overthinking—“this is a blog post we’re talking about here, not a novel!”

His “step-by-step blog launch plan and roadmap” (beginning on p. 41) reminds all of us to stay focused on our blog’s target audience; set a cohesive blog theme; create a few very valuable articles at the beginning to lay the foundations for a successful blog; and use social networking tools to effectively extend the reach of all you do. And above all, keep writing.

For those attracted to his voice and helpful hints, he has also posted “50 Rapid Fire Tips for PowerBlogging,” a fine supplement to “Six Figure Blogger Blueprint.”

“The idea is that you use a blog to build up an audience and build relationships with your readers,” he reminds us (p. 33), and that’s a theme that resonates loudly and clearly with all workplace learning and performance professionals as we strive to create effective communities of learning and provide measurable results for the organizations with which we work.


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