Why (Not?) Consolidate Your Digital Presence

Not long ago my eportfolio was called Laura Gogia: Reigning in the Digital Sprawl (Clarifying point: you are reading a post on my blog right now, not my e-portfolio). My e-portfolio isn’t called that anymore in part because I change the purpose, organization, and appearances of my websites – including this one – fairly regularly.*  However, when the “reigning in the digital sprawl” was present in the title, it referred to the fact that almost all the content exhibited on the site was being pulled in from other digital platforms. There was a bit of dedicated “about me” content on the static front page, but the other pages were custom links to other digital platforms, including slideshare.com (presentations), YouTube (videos); academia.edu (formal papers); Flickr (my photography); other WordPress sites (my blog and other collaborative projects); and Google docs (my CV).  The front page also included (and still does include) my Twitter and Instagram timelines, embedded via widgets in the sidebars.

EDU-BLOGGING
A screenshot of the front page of my e-portfolio,  early 2016. Every “page” is a link to another digital platform. Notice the Twitter timeline in the bottom left side.  The “What is this?” is the only dedicated content found on this website

My digital presence was and still is so decentralized that it requires “reigning in.”  Why? Because it was an organic development emerging from and integrated into the needs of my everyday activities.  I needed a place to publish slides to share with audiences, so…Slideshare.  Then I needed a place to publish papers so that I could share them with colleagues…Academia.edu.  I like to share my photography with friends and family…Flickr.

And so on and so forth.

As unplanned and unscripted as my decentralized digital presence was, there was something safe in keeping everything separate.  It would be the rare person who could/would find all the parts of me strewn across the Internet.  That’s fine of course, particularly if you are trying to share only one part of yourself with an audience. However,  I’m 40.  I’m tired of compartmentalizing.  I’ve done that before, and for my second career I’m trying something different.

Hence the centralization of my digital presence.

Most of the centralization that occurs on my website made sense to most people. Of course the e-portfolio would showcase writing, resumes, and other professional activities. The photography was a bit more “out there,” but it adds the creative touch that is almost expected in the digital pedagogies. Furthermore, my photography grounds and inspires the rest of my work. If you visited my office between 2014 and early 2016, you know that I like to have my pictures around me in physical spaces too.

But what about the Twitter and Instagram timelines?

I’ll be honest, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted those on my website – particularly when I was in the process of looking for a job.  What happens if I have a bad night or a bad Twitter interaction on the very night that a potential boss decides to review CVs and check out my e-portfolio?  Ultimately, I decided to keep my timelines on the portfolio, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am my timelines. These timelines give the most accurate, real time picture of what I’m thinking about, how I interact with people, and who I am in a minute-to-minute kind of way…the kind of way that doesn’t translate itself through journal articles or even blog posts (which take hours, months, or years to complete).  It’s who I am – better that a potential partner or boss know a little of that prior to commitment.
  2. When my timelines are on my website, I try even harder to be my best self.  I’m not perfect. I’m downright annoying sometimes. I’ve drunk tweeted my academic heroes before – a problem I’ve (hopefully) solved through experimentation with various solutions. However, reminding myself that my timelines are also on my websites – it’s added incentive to be my best self.  By thinking about these things and safeguarding against them…yes I’m putting myself in harms way by risking a public presence in the first place, but it’s a relatively minor risk (particularly in the student stages) and it’s taught me a lot about myself, restraint, vulnerability, and forgiveness (of self and others).  These are lessons that have applications above and beyond social media.  You have to risk it to win it.
  3. It makes the website dynamic.  We don’t blog everyday.  We don’t publish papers every day.  We tweet everyday.  It livens things up and provides opportunity to convey snippets of information that don’t necessarily require an entire post.
To Embed Twitter Timelines

If you think embedding a Twitter timeline is right for you, there are plenty of tutorials available on the topic – just google it.  However, not all WordPress sites are created equal. Among my dozen websites, I have RamPage sites (the Virginia Commonwealth University WordPress community), free (less flexibility, “wordpress” in your url)  wordpress.com sites, and hosted (e.g. more flexibily, no “wordpress” in your url, costs you money) wordpress sites.  You can embed Twitter timelines in the widget sections on each one of these types of sites but typically in different ways.  For the record, Tom Woodward is the RamPages guru.  If I don’t know how to do something or I’ve forgotten how to do it, he answers all my questions – including reminding me how to embed Twitter timelines (because it’s been awhile since I’ve done it on a RamPages site). So, thank you Tom.

If you are using RamPages, start by going to your dashboard and clicking on settings.

Step 1: Dashboard –> Jetpack –> Settings

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Step 2: Scroll down to “Extra Sidebar Widgets and click “Activate.”

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Step 3: Go to Appearance, click on Widgets, and then drag the Twitter Timeline (Jetpack) to the widget area of your choice (these will be different depending on your theme…usually there are sidebars and/or footer spaces).

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Step 4: Follow the directions found here.  And if you can’t follow them, that’s ok.  Ping me on Twitter and we’ll walk through it over the phone. 

*I’m not trying to suggest this is best practice or similar.  This is evidence of me trying to figure things out but also being in a constant state of transition. I live in a constant state of transition.

Downloading and Printing: Thoughts on Info Dissemination

Florian Klauer_unsplash.jpg
Photo credit: Florian Klauer, Unsplash.com

We are moving towards the midpoint in Collaborative Curiosity. You should be spending time thinking about how you might best disseminate information to and with your potential community partners.

There are times when we want our readers to be able to download and print our materials from our blog posts: informational handouts, flyers, white papers, other documents…the list is kind of long.

When we think of downloading and printing, most of us tend to think in terms of .pdf files.

Disclaimer: .pdf files have a controversial history on the web. Much has been written regarding their search engine optimization, accessibility, and appearance/appeal in the context of HTML dominant environments.  There are many great articles on the pros and cons of pdfs in web pages, but all of them start with the assumption that .pdfs were designed for downloading and printing.  If you want your readers to download and print something, you need to consider – just consider – .pdfs. There are many ways to incorporate .pdf files into blogs.  I’m going to talk about three of them.

#1. Upload the .pdf to your Media Library.

If you insert the .pdf into the document just as you would an image, it will look like this:

ConnectedCourseWhitePaper_Gogia (1) (1)

You can alter the hyperlinked text however you like. I’ll alter the link so it does not reflect my bad habit of downloading the same thing to my laptop over and over again.

Connected Course White Paper

You can also add an image thumbnail to go along with it, to make it look more interesting. Admittedly not the most exciting thumbnail image, but hopefully you get the point.

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Connected Course White Paper

#2. Hyperlink to a .pdf that you have housed elsewhere.  

This can be effective, particularly if you were planning on posting your document on academia.edu anyway [Example].  The downside of this approach is that all you get is a link – no visuals to go with it.

You could always upload a copy of the cover and put the link in the caption…something like this.  This is a screenshot I took of the first page.  I uploaded the screenshot and then added the link as a caption.  Click on the link and you go to academia.edu, where you can download my document.

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Click to download.

 

#3. Embed the .pdf directly into your post.

Vanilla PDF Embed is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to embed a .pdf reader directly into the post. Those of us who use regular, free wordpress.com sites (such as this one), cannot upload plugins such as Vanilla PDF Embed.  One of the perks of paying for a hosted site on WordPress (e.g. my lauragogia.com site) is that you can upload plugins. Alternatively, VCU has paid for the privilege of offering RamPages users 85+ plugins, including Vanilla PDF Embed.  So if you are a RamPage user, you are good to go with these instructions.

How to use Vanilla PDF Embed on your RamPages site

Go to your dashboard.  Click on PlugIns. Check the alphabetical list.  If the prompt under Vanilla PDF says “Activate” then click the “Activate.”  If it says “Deactivate” then it is activated already – do nothing. I think you will all need to activate the plugin.

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I’ve already activated my Vanilla PDF Embed on my RamPages site. If I wanted to deactivate it, I’d just press “deactivate.”

 

Once Vanilla PDF Embed is activated, upload your pdf file to your media library, copy the attachment url, and then exit the media library without posting.

using vanilla pdf

Paste the copied url into your post (visual or html view – it doesn’t matter) and you’ll get this.  Again, note that I can’t actually demonstrate this on my blog, since my blog is not a rampage.us site. The hyperlink I just gave you – that’s to my RamPage site.  For someone teaching this sort of thing, it’s useful to have webpages set up on several platforms for demonstration and diagnosis purposes if nothing else.

 

 

 

 

Why Hyperlink to Your Own Work?

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Photo by Flickr user Dennis Skley (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Working in digital spaces – particularly open digital spaces – can help you see connections across contexts.  For example, aggregating student blog posts in a course “bloggregate” (see this from Collaborative Curiosity) can make it easier-faster for you to make connections across your colleagues’ emerging ideas. Capturing all of a your assignments in one digital portfolio (or blogsite) makes it easier-faster for you to see your own improvement, growing sophistication, or connections across your work.

When I think of connected learning as an instructional designer, my mind immediately goes to the DML Research Hub connected learning framework, which encourages instructors to incorporate active, social, digital, and experiential learning  into course design.  Instructors create these sorts of environments so that students might have opportunities to make connections. But what does this actually mean?  Among other things, it’s a way to privilege holistic and social ways of learning and being. Connected learning means examining how new ideas fit into the bigger pictures of personal lifelong learning trajectory as well as their positions within the  learning community.

Connected learning is about more than seeing connections; it’s about documenting connections – making them visible for immediate and future examination.  Vannevar Bush wrote about these as associative trails. Similarly, Seymour Papert spoke about making thinking visible so that it can become sharper through concrete representation and social discourse.

Hyperlinking and embedding materials are great ways to create connections through your work.  Making a hyperlink or embedding an image or video are concrete acts – not just fleeting thoughts. They take time and, in doing so, make you work harder and think longer on exactly what you are trying to achieve.  By hyperlinking and embedding, we have opportunities to reveal patterns, to understand how coursework is relevant to us and our lives, to reflect on how far we have come, and to make plans about where we are going.  We document these paths – not only for ourselves but for our audience so that they might understand our perspectives a little better and comment on our paths.

There are a variety of reasons why a connected learner should take a moment to connect across their own work. Here are some great examples that have emerged recently from Collaborative Curiosity.

1. To draw connections within coursework.

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In a recent blog post Serra De Arment hyperlinks to connect several of her creative make metaphors: community as a tree; community as music; power visualized in terms of human senses.

2.  To draw connections across modalities.

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Anita Crowder embeds an old (but very beautiful) sketch in a blog post to help her define the community process in a novel and very powerful way.

 

3.  To draw connections across personal contexts.

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In this blog post, Divya Varier hyperlinks to an online description of her current work, making a connection between her academic and professional contexts.

 

4.  To draw connections across digital platforms.

Finally, here’s an example of Serra hyperlinking in a Twitter chat to her blog post – she used it very effectively to make a point/provide an example; however the act also allowed her to very explicitly make connections between the class conversation on Twitter and her recent work on her blog posts.

Why Personalizing Your Blog Matters

As I’ve written in other posts, courses such as Collaborative Curiosity incorporate openly networked learning spaces into the course design. An openly networked learning space is one in which students maintain their own digital learning spaces (i.e. blog sites), which are networked via RSS feed to create a course website.  More complex course designs might add additional layers of networking; for example, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Summer 2014 Thoughtvectors (UNIV 200) pilot accommodated more students and invited more diversity by feeding student sites into section sites (managed by individual faculty), which, in turn, fed into a general course site (managed by the course director).

openly networked course structure

The purpose of openly networked learning spaces

I suspect that students who are new to openly networked learning spaces – especially those who struggled with linking their blog sites to the course website in the first place – are wondering “What’s the point of all of this?”  

Individual student blog sites allow students to personalize their workspaces, using and accessing them as they please. The e-portfolio literature suggests student blogs (when implemented correctly) offer opportunities for increased student agency, engagement, and connected learning.  By connected learning, I mean that when students take their blogs seriously, they tend to incorporate more diverse aspects of themselves in a holistic, multimodal, complex endeavor of learning and meaning making. I won’t belabor these points here, because I’ve blogged on it before.

Furthermore, by juxtaposing student work in a single course website, we facilitate serendipitous learning.  Think of this like putting together a puzzle. When you put together a puzzle, you dump all the pieces out – or at least spread them out so you can see all of them. It’s almost impossible to do a puzzle by looking at one piece at a time. Laying out student blogs in a single visualized space is like spreading the puzzle pieces out on the table so you can see them all, mix them around, and try different things out.

sample bloggregate
The aggregated student blogs (called a bloggregate) from VCU’s Great Bike Race Course. Note how colorful and inviting the space is.

Why you should spend time fixing up your blog.

Collaborative Curiosity students explore digital spaces as potential areas for professional collaboration, data collection & dissemination, and community building.  They need to personalize their student blog spaces as a means to practice writing for a public audience in digital contexts.

This means every student should take a step back and look at their blog site through the eyes of a stranger. Could a member of the general public:

  • Quickly identify the site as something of interest to them?
  • Judge the trustworthiness of the information based on how you’ve identified yourself and your credentials/position/perspective?
  • Read the information? Is it visually engaging? well-organized? Grammatically correct (and I mean that in the sense that hyperlinks are neither broken nor naked; images are cited; embedded materials function, etc…I am not and never will be the APA or MLA style police.)
The argument can be made that student blogsites – particularly those of students who are early in the learning process – are not (yet) community engagement sites, and should be seen through a slightly more pedagogical lens than the bullets above suggest.  Okay.  Try these.
Could a member of the general public:
  • Quickly identify the site as a student workspace?
  • Judge the trustworthiness of the information based on how you’ve identified yourself and your credentials?
  • Read the information? Is it visually engaging? well-organized? digitally sound?
Note the two lists of bulleted questions are almost exactly the same. One of the purposes of edublogging is to learn how to express yourself, but also to be understood by an audience.

The essentials in fixing up your blog

Full disclosure: I’ve worked on my blog for over 5 years.  I’ve used four different blogging platforms, changed themes more often than I can count, organized and reorganized material on a daily basis sometimes. Heads up, I might even change my theme tomorrow – the button motif is getting a little cutesy for my current mood. Such is the nature of blogging – it is as dynamic and time intensive as you want it to be. I don’t expect the world to work over their blog as often as I do.  However, there are some things everyone should do so that they might effectively answer “Yes!” to the bulleted questions I listed above.
  • Contextualize your blog. Name it so that it makes sense. Is it a student blog? Name it something meaningful to you and then add a tagline to contextualize it. I love Serra De Arment’s blog. It’s simple, and simple is often best, but I know exactly what the blog is about and who is writing it. *A note about anonymity – there are good reasons why some people might not want to put their full identity on their blog site. That’s a personal decision, but things to consider: (1) you probably need to tell your instructor the name of your blog site – they need to know who you are so they can assess your work; (2) It is possible to put together some sort of “about me” information without sharing personal information. Try writing a couple of sentences about what you will be sharing on your blog. Your research interests. Your favorite epistemological frameworks. Don’t want to use an actual picture of yourself? Use an obscured picture, or draw one, or create an avatar. Use a pseudonym. Whatever you do, give people something so they can use to assess your trustworthiness and decide whether or not they want to read your blog.
  • Make it as accessible as possible. Yes, I’m talking in terms of universal design for learning. More specifically (today) I’m talking about font. If you have a choice on what font you use on your blog (and you always have a choice but some templates are more flexible than others…I’m not expecting anyone to use html code to do this), go for sans-sarif fonts.  They tend to look better on all computer displays and are easier for screen readers to interpret. Once you get used to embedding (and sourcing!) your images, we can talk about adding alternative descriptions for pictures (I’m not the best at this – we can work on it together) and subtitles for your videos.  For right now, just think about your font.
  • Finally, get rid of the original template space holders!  I am passionate on this point (note punctuation). There is no excuse for “Sample Page” or “Sample Post” to show up on your blog once you have started publishing.  It’s like wearing a dress with the price tags hanging off the sleeve. Go into your dashboard.  Open up “All Pages” or “All Posts.” Throw the samples into the trash.  For VCU RamPages users: many students leave the “Just Another RamPages Site” in the website tagline.  Go into the dashboard. Click on Appearances. Go to Customize.  Go to Site Identity.  Change your blog site title and tagline.  Please.  If you need help, I will go to the ends of the earth to help you with this.  Whatever it takes.
changing tagline
Steps to changing title and tagline on a fairly standard WordPress – or RamPages – site.

Please take a moment to personalize your blog space.  Consider it like your office desk. Put a plant out or maybe a picture of your dog or your kids.  I think you’ll feel more at home if you do and ultimately it will be a better blog.

 

Why A Course Hashtag

Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, VCU’s openly networked connected course, had its first twitter chat last Thursday with the course hashtag, #curiouscolab.  It was an AMAZING first Twitter chat, particularly since so many people were new to the concept.  However, many of us sometimes forgot to use the hashtag (including me) or used a course mention (@curiouscolab) instead of the course hashtag (#curiouscolab).

What’s the difference between a hashtag and a mention?

In Twitter, a “mention,” is the @ symbol followed by a specific Twitter handle.  For instance, if you wanted to mention me in a tweet you’d type @Googleguacamole.  It’s how you direct a comment towards me.  Imaging you were at a chatty cocktail party and you wanted to make sure I knew you were talking to me.  You’d say my name before you made the comment (e.g.”Laura, how was your day?”). A mention on Twitter has the same function as saying my name at the cocktail party.

When you put @Curiouscolab in a tweet, you’re directing the comment to whichever one of the course instructors or assistants happens to be manning the account at the moment. It’s kind of like calling the phone company and talking to a customer service provider – someone you know is affiliated with the company and is trained to offer some help or information, but is kind of faceless and nameless on a personal level. (Aside: tweeting @CuriousCoLab should be a better experience than calling @Verizon, though cable and phone services are notoriously better with customer service when you do it in public through tweets then in private over the phone.)

When you use a hashtag on Twitter, you are employing a keyword system that facilitates searches, so that people can follow conversations around topics rather than around people. Entire communities (I prefer the term affinity groups, technically) emerge around certain hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter. #ConnectedLearning. #DataViz. #CuriousCoLab.

Therefore, when you include #CuriousCoLab in a tweet you are adding a keyword that allows anyone interested in #CuriousCoLab tweets to see your tweet through a search.

Why is it important to put the course hashtag in the tweet?

  • Course hashtags allow the people in the course to see the entire conversation in a twitter chat. This is particularly important in larger courses where students don’t know each other, or in courses where students might read the conversation after it has occurred, or in courses where some students might be big tweeters who follow many people other than the other students.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier curation.  Collaborative Curiosity, like many online learning experiences, uses Storify to archive the conversation for documentation, later reading, or reflection.  Here’s an example from last year’s course. Storifying a Twitter chat can be a great experience because it allows you to read through all the tweets, reorganize however you like (chronologically? thematically?), add other explanatory pieces (ex. blog posts, images, or videos, or free text to help tell the story), and discover all the things you missed the first time around. However, Storifies are only possible if most of the conversation is hashtagged with the course hashtag.  A Storify creator can’t be expected to poke around all the corners of the Internet looking for stray pieces of the conversation.  That’s not reasonable.
  • Course hashtags are part of the mechanics of academic Twitter. It’s like indenting a paragraph or using an Oxford comma. As Academic Twitter continues to grow (FYI: Bonnie Stewart is my favorite Academic Twitter researcher if you are interested), it behooves us to learn a bit of the mechanics so that we can better engage in professional conferences and digitally mediated professional development.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier documentation. As I wrote last week, Collaborative Curiosity is designed to help you reflect on your connections – connections across ideas, people, and time. Reflection requires documentation, because – Schon aside – reflecting in action is notoriously difficult.  The appropriate use of mentions and hashtags allows us to automatically capture and visualize your conversations through social network analysis.  On the course website, we use TAGS Explorer.  In my research, I use NodeXL.  This crazy map was created with netlytic.org.

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Social network analysis is a way to visualize interactions in space. By pushing a few buttons, I collected all #curiouscolab tweets from last week.  Netlytics.org mapped out who was talking to whom on Twitter via their mentions.  The dots (“nodes”) are people, and the lines (“edges”) are the connections.

For the purpose of participant privacy, I hid all the node labels other than my own (@googleguacamole) and that of the lead instructor (Valerie Holton).  Later we’ll get into what I could have done to make this a much more meaningful piece of data visualization, but my point right now is this…See how big I am?  Yeah, I talk frequently to a lot of people using the #Curiouscolab hashtag, but my prevalence is also related to the fact that I captured many of the other participants’ unhashtagged Twitter chat contributions and retweeted them with the hashtag.  I got credit for their work.

Collaborative Curiosity does not grade based on number of tweets.  However, the lack of adequate documentation matters because later on in the course, we are hoping that participants will start to engage in (hopefully deep) reflection on how they engage others on social media platforms.  Are you good at networking? Do you seek out new voices? Do you only talk to the instructors? Do you spend time mostly talking to a small cluster of people? These social network analyses, when properly created (and not my mess shown above) can help people see who they engage and how often.  It’s a tool for self reflection that only works if course tweets are hashtagged.

How can I remember to use the course hashtag?

“Practice” is the most accurate but least useful piece of advice I can give you.  So here are some strategies for remembering to use the course hashtag:

  • Type it (or copy/paste) at the beginning of a tweet?  That way you know you have enough characters and you don’t forget it in a fit of passionate microblogging.  It’s perfectly fine to leave it at the front of the tweet (because in a sense you are addressing the #curiouscolab community as if it were a collective mention).
  • A sticky note to the computer screen?
  • A ribbon tied around your wrist?
  • Do whatever works for you.  The point is…course hashtags are important because they enable community, documentation, and self reflection.
Sylwia Bartyzel
Remember that course hashtag! Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel (CC BY 2.0)