Monday, April 30, 2012

Five days to the Virtual International Day of the Midwife 2012

Only five days until the start of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife 5th May 2012. For those who do not know, this is a free online conference for midwives and anyone interested in birth. All are welcome.

Information can be found on our website:

or follow us on Facebook:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Research and Maori consultation

Part of the process of applying for ethics approval at the institution where I work, Otago Polytechnic, is Maori consultation. At the very minimum, this is a discussion with Dr Khyla Russell, the Kaitohutohu, and her team. I welcome this and can see the sense of this consultation, especially if I am doing research that involves, or impacts on Maori.  But I must admit, I have seen this as a 'tick box' exercise when it comes to my online research....including the evaluation of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife (VIDM). This research does not target Maori, not does it ask for information about ethnicity. So, with my latest ethics application for this year's evaluation, I wasn't sure what I would gain from the Kaitohutohu team.

What actually ended up happening was a very good discussion about thinking outside the square. I had thought about how I would disseminate the research results to Maori midwives via the New Zealand College of Midwives. But what I hadn't thought about was how Maori who would be interested in the research....not because of its midwifery focus, but because they would be interested in hearing about the VIDM as a model for online professional development.

The other thing we talked about was how the VIDM itself could be more inclusive of indigenous cultures. This year we are privileged to have a Maori student open the VIDM with a waiata and karakia. The suggestion was to have an indigenous welcome from a different country each year.

The lesson I have learned? It's invaluable having the conversation because you will be given another perspective on your research. And it is well worth having the conversation before you finalise your research proposal. If you treat it as a tick box exercise, you won't get anything out of the consultation process.

For those of you who do not have a supportive and formal cultural consultation process, how and who you can consult with to get a different cultural perspective on your research?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Developing a model of online professional development for midwives

One of the things that I want to come out of my EdD is a model of online professional development for midwives. Here is the start of a mind map that tries to encapsulate some of the features of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife, which is the framework on which I'll base my model.

Those of you who know this project, any comments?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Planning my academic visit to the UK and Denmark in September, 2012

I am very excited to be going to Europe in September. I have funding from my employer (thank you so much, Otago Polytechnic!) to attend and present at two midwifery and health education conferences in England - the Nottingham International Conference for Education and Research in Midwifery and NET2012 in Cambridge. Then I am off to Denmark to visit Annette Dalsgaard at the University College Lillebael, where I am going to be facilitating some e-learning and social media workshops, and planning some collaborative research.

I have a couple of spare days free at the beginning of September, so if you fancy a visit or meeting up, especially if you're in the south of England, let me know.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Only 13 more sleeps to the Virtual International Day of the Midwife 2012

The latest committee meeting for the Virtual International Day of the Midwife was relatively short and sweet because we're pretty much ready to go. Every year is getting easier and quicker to organise because we're more experienced at what we're doing, we're able to re-use online materials and resources, and the team is growing to include wonderfully enthusiastic and skilled people. The latest member of the team is Jacob Theilgaard Mannaz, who will be joining us as a master facilitator. He is especially welcome because of his experience and expertise with Adobe Connect.

1. Speakers
  • All speakers have been hooked up with their facilitators. One speaker has dropped out, but another has stepped in – Pauline Dawson, who will be talking about implementing EBM in practice. Update: Laureen Hudson is also unable to attend. She lives on a yacht and is unable to access internet. Gloria LeMay has said she'll take her place and talk about male circumcision.
  • A waiata has been developed by Jay and Candice to welcome participants to the conference, and approved by committee.
  • Frances Day-Stark is unable to close the conference, so we will have to think about who else can ask. Any ideas?
2. Technology
  • Master facilitators will meet early in the week 23rd April to configure the room for the final time, making chat and participant lists bigger and agree on how we'll manage the microphones. Update: Also want to come to a final agreement on how we manage the room if we get more participants than seats.
  • Decision made to clear the chat after every session and save transcript. The only snag with this is, other than sending by email, there does not appear to be any other way of saving it. But I am the only one who has a valid email address to send the chat to. This needs to be discussed further.
  • Practised in the room with larger chat and participant windows which worked well, and will allow the facilitator to better see what's going on. This will be set up in VIDM room when master facilitators meet next week.
  • Master facilitators will need to be more involved this year, to help facilitators with technology during the sessions.
  • Practice sessions have been arranged so participants can check their audio etc before the conference.
3. Advertising
Social media campaign working very well. Reach on Facebook averages 5,000 people each week. Major international email groups have been informed. International coverage has increased significantly this year.

4. Feedback survey
Ethics application has been lodged.
  • Maori consultation has taken place. One idea came back that each year the indigenous welcome is rotated around the world.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Using Scribd to publish my research

I have been following a conversation on Twitter, #phdchat, about the value of blogging about one's research, and came across a very interesting blog post by Melissa Terras called "Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict"

I'll leave you to read the whole article to get the nitty gritty, but long story short...Melissa has shown that by blogging and tweeting her published articles, she is attracting far more downloads, than if they were just left in the university repository. I highly recommend that you read her article if you are an academic or researcher.

This has spurred me on to being a little more proactive about disseminating my publications, especially as I have one or two coming out this year.

Up to now I have used Internet Archive for storing my work. But it isn't the sexiest looking website, or easiest to use, although is it extremely stable. So for a change, I have started experimenting with Scribd as a repository to store my documents. It is extremely easy to use, and integrates well with other social media. To get an idea of what it looks like, go to the page that presents my latest publication about the midwives and social networking:

Do you use Scribd? How have you got on with it?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My top 6 tips for how to blog about your research

I attended a #phdchat discussion on Twitter the other day, about blogging and research. After reviewing the comments I made and reflecting on my own experience, here are my top tips for how to blog about your research.

1. Decide if blogging is the right medium for you
Before you spend time setting up a blog, decide if it is the right medium for what you want to do. If all you want to do is capture and share resources, you may be better off using other social media like Facebook or Twitter. But if you want to keep a more detailed, reflective research journal, then blogging is definitely the right medium for that.

2. Just go for it
A lot of researchers lack confidence and feel they have nothing to say. Research students in particular feel they cannot blog because they haven't completed their research, and do not have an international reputation as an expert in their field. My answer to that is that your confidence and competence will grow, the more blogging you do. And as for being an "expert"...even the most junior researcher is an expert on their own journey, so blog about that.

3. Decide whether you are going to have a separate research blog, or if you're going to combine everything you're interested into one blog
I have only one blog which I use to write about everything...research, midwifery, gardening, rugby, and anything else that takes my fancy. The reason for this is because I cannot be bothered to maintain more than one blog. I like to write personal posts because I feel they give a context to my professional work, and I know the personal stuff interests readers. However, if you decide you only want to blog about your research, that's also a very valid thing to do.If you do write about a lot of topics, make sure you label your research posts so you, and your readers, can find them easily.

3. Recognise it takes time to attract a readership
Some people say that they do not want anyone to read their blog posts...that they blog purely for themselves. If that is the case, then you do not need to worry about what you you write it or when. However, the huge advantage of having readers is that they interact with you and share comments, advice, resources etc. This, for me, is the main reason for blogging.

If you are blogging as a means of connecting with people, you do have to realise it takes time. I have comments on most of my blog posts these days, but it has taken five years of solid work to get to this stage. I would recommend you commit to writing two or three posts per week, to capture people's interest and maintain it. If you do not have the time to write that frequently, keep people informed with your progress via Twitter and Facebook. It takes a lot less time to put a message on Facebook, but it does help to keep you connected to people while you come up with your next blog post.

Another time management strategy I use is to write several posts at a time when I am free, usually Sunday morning, and then schedule them to be published during the week.This works really well for me...I successfully manage my time, and my readers are regularly updated with posts.

4. Be mindful what you write about and how you write it
This is particularly important when you work in a research must make sure that what you write about does not impinge on the intellectual property or copyright of others. You may also need to think about the possibility of your blog posts being counted as official publication. This is problematic when you come to write articles for publication, because you may be accused of self-plaigarism. This has never been a problem for me. But then again, I write a lot less formally here than I do for an academic publication, so I never usually have this problem. The other thing to check is that you are not breaking any university or organisational rules....I cannot think of any off hand...but some research supervisors can be funny about their students using blogs and social media.

Having said I write differently in my blog than I do for academic papers, I am always thinking about how I can incorporate my blog posts (and the feedback from my readers) into my EdD kill two birds with one stone.

5. Generate conversation
As I have said before, one of the values of blogging about your research is you get feedback from readers. One of the ways I generate comments and discussion is by ending my posts with open questions that hopefully encourage readers to respond. Sometimes, I get a little disappointed because no one has responded, so I always remember the 90-9-1 rule which basically means that the majority of people on the Internet are don't take your lack of comments personally.

6. Drive readers to your blog using Facebook and Twitter
By posting the links to your posts on Facebook and Twitter you will increase your readership and comments. You'll also increase your opportunities to disseminate your research. The only problem I am finding with this, is that people continue the conversation on Facebook and Twitter which I find is more difficult to track, especially weeks and months afterwards. So, to keep record of the comments where I can find them easily, I copy and paste them into the blog comments.

I am sure there are heaps more tips that can be passed on to researchers about blogging. What would you say was an important tip for blogging in an academic environment?

More reading
Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict:

Blogging about your research. First steps:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Latest news about the Virtual International Day of the Midwife

We had our latest Virtual International Day of the Midwife committee at the end of March. The VIDM 2012 has progressed extremely well this year and we are well ahead of ourselves in terms of planning and preparation. This is driven, partly, because I am on holiday at the end of April so I want everything up and ready before I go away. But I also think we're becoming more experienced with what we need to do, plus using the wiki allows us to re-use resources that we developed the year before.

1. Welcome to AnnetteWe're delighted to welcome Annette Dalsgaard Vilain to the team. Annette is a Danish midwife and e-learning consultant who has joined the committee as a master facilitator, with a considerable knowledge and expertise with using Adobe Connect.

2. Adobe Connect
We had an extensive play with Adobe Connect, which is the web conference program we'll be using. I have to admit I was apprehensive about using it because I had a less than stellar experience with it last year. But this room is working really well so I am confident it will manage the VIDM effectively.

3. Speakers
The program is now fully confirmed. Speakers have been hooked up with facilitators. Now the focus is on making sure speakers can access the technology and get their presentations ready to upload into the Adobe Connect room.

4. Master facilitators
We're just short of one master facilitator who will help keep an eye on things with a global perspective, and support the facilitators and speakers. Update: Very happy to welcome Jacob Theilgaard Mannaz to the team who is our last master facilitator. Jacob is supporting us from Denmark because of his interest in networked learning.

5. Facilitators
Have three more slots to find facilitators for. Update: All the sessions now have facilitators. All speakers and facilitators have been introduced, and are starting to work through the technology issues. 

6. Advertising
I would like to have everything set up so we can start advertising the VIDM 2012 on Thursday 5th April, so that people can look at everything over Easter if they wish. Update: This was achieved on time.
  • An Animoto video has been made and is ready to go.
  • The poster is in the throes of being developed. This will be attached to the wiki for people to download, and in a form that can also be emailed. Update: poster is now avaiable on the VIDm wiki: 
  • Lorraine and Sarah B reported a drop in the Facebook reach, but we decided that was because we hadn't posted much over the last week. This illustrates the importance of continual engagement on Facebook. Update: Reach has increased significantly over Easter, from just over 2,000 people to about 8,000 - this is due to daily posting and networking.
7. Practice sessionsNeed to be arranged, with separate practice sessions for master facilitators. Update: Some practice sessions have been arranged, with more to come in the week of the 5th May.

8. Feedback survey

Just about to go Otago Polytechnic ethics committee - we need ethics consent so we can write up our evaluation as a research paper. Update: sent to Otago Polytechnic ethics committee on the 4th April. Went through a rigorous discussion first with the Kaitohutohu team who came up with a few great ideas in relation to Maori involvement and consultation.

Five top reasons why I blog about my research

I attended the #phdchat weekly meeting on Twitter last week, and the topic of discussion was why you should, or shouldn't blog about your research. This made me reflect on the reasons why I am blog about my research.

1. To record and process my thoughts, actions and outcomes
I don't know how many times I have started research journals, but if the number of very beautiful, flowery but empty notepads that are lying around the place are to go by, quite a few times. For some reason I have been a lot more successful using a blog. I don't lose it. I can go back to it and review my posts. And it is very easy to disseminate a blog url if I want to share my ideas with others.

2. To seek feedback, advice and critique
The readers of the blog have actively contributed to all stages of my research over the years, including helping me to develop ideas for proposals and methodology. All sorts of people read my blog so I get so many different perspectives in the comments, which makes the feedback so rich. You do have to be quite brave to be open in this way, but once you make a start, it does get easier.

3. To model open research processes
My aim is for people to be able to learn from the processes I use and thus learn from my mistakes as well as my the same way I hope to learn from others. I believe the transparency of the research process makes as valuable a contribution to knowledge production as the final research outcome.

4. To disseminate my research
It can take years to get your research into formal publications, so blogging about your research attains instant publication, and may have more readers than if you have it published in academic journals. There are reasons why research published in academic journals is valued more highly than blog posts, but I do not see why two cannot go along side-by-side.

5. To increase my research and academic profile
Lets face it, part of the academic game that researchers play is building an international reputation so they get invited to speak at conferences, consult with other researchers, and be able to access more research funding....and keep their jobs! Having an online profile that can be easily accessed and tracked (as long as it is a positive profile!) contributes to that international reputation....and having a informative and interactive blog will help you build that profile. My blog has been invaluable for all sorts of international consultancy offers, networking opportunities and research collaborations which would never have come about if I just relied on traditional communication modes.
Do you blog about your research? What has been your experience? What has blogging contributed to your research?

More reading
Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict

Writing research for different audiences: Key points to consider:

10 reasons why your research group should have a blog:

Using social media to communicate research outputs:

Monday, April 16, 2012

How I expect to be able to use technology when planning a holiday

A friend of mine, James Hacon, has been asked to give a presentation, at a travel and tourism Summit in Greece, about what a modern traveller expects and how they will use technology in their packaged holiday. My initial thought was...lucky can I get a gig like that!!?! But once I got over my acute case of envy and teeth-gnashing, I got to thinking about what technology I have expected and have used as I have been planning my two trips to Europe and the USA this year.

I was going to make a list of all the things I expect, but it pretty much boiled down to the same thing....I expect to be able to interact with the am interested in. I expect to be able to find full information about a product, and almost instant (or at least, within 24 hours) replies and responses from a tourist company or hotel.

A static website is so-so, as long is there is information about how I can make contact.

Email is just fine. 

Telephone contact only is not acceptable - I don't want to incur international toll fees. Having said that, it is reassuring to be able to speak to a real person, if you need to.

Facebook and/or Twitter is excellent but only if they are monitored, and I get an answer within 24 hours.  An unattended Facebook or Twitter account is more annoying than no online presence at all.

No website or online communication is unforgivable!

I'll give you an example.

I am going to Salisbury, England this year. I used the official tourist information website to get an idea of the accommodation available, but ended up making a phone call to clarify particular information. This was especially annoying because it cost me money, and the woman on the end sounded like she was a zombie and was no use at me a very poor impression of the service that the Salisbury Tourist Information provides.

I booked our hotel through the hotel's website and email. But I am getting a sense that the hotel is a tad old fashioned because the photos show lots of 1980s Laura Ashley lookalike wall paper...and they do not have a Facebook page! But I am not complaining...the response to my emails was very quick and polite. Before I booked the hotel, I checked out the ratings and feedback on Expedia and Trip Adviser, which I took very seriously - they made a definite impact on my choice.

I thought about transport around Salisbury and looked to see how I could hire a bike. There is a bike hire shop, but absolutely not web site or Facebook page....which is an instant "fail" in my book.

Another thought I had was going on a ghost tour (this has become a bit of a family tradition). I managed to find a very amateur looking website which gave me enough information to know there is a such an event, and there is an email address. But apart from that, I am no wiser. This is in contrast to the Dunedin (New Zealand) Hell Raiser Ghost Tours, who make excellent use of their Facebook page to engage people, give out information about their product and make books.

I only have so much time and money to spend when I am on holiday. If you are a hotel, service or product, you will have first dibs to my credit card if you make it as easy as possible for me to find you, inform me fully about your product/service, and engage me on a personal level...before I even get to my destination.

How do you use technology these days, when you go to plan and book a holiday?

Image: 'Circle of stone'

Friday, April 13, 2012

Looking for a community of practice to support my EdD research

 One of the requirements of my EdD is to join a community of practice in the field of my professional practice and/or research. I have to keep a record of my contributions to the COP, and reflect on the learning that I gain from belonging to that COP. So I have been having a think about about what constitutes a COP, and where I can find one that meets my learning needs and the requirements of my EdD. It goes without saying that the COP has to be a virtual one, considering my research is about online professional development.

My blog
My first thought was that my blog could be my COP. I have a lot of comments and feedback on my blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter when I post blog posts there. But I cannot rely on people to interact with my blog, as and when I want them to. Responses are ad hoc and serendipitous, so I would really call the communication related to my blog a network of practice, as opposed to a community of practice. In reality, it is probably a case of semantics, but I have decided to keep my blog as a place where I do my reflecting, and any comments or feedback will be a bonus.

Midwifery research email group 
I have belonged to the JISCMail Midwifery and Reproductive Health Research Email Group for quite a few years. There are not a huge number of posts but it is populated by the great and good in midwifery research. But to be perfectly honest, I always feel a tad intimidated when I post there. I am always afraid a Professor So-and-So is going to tell me to stop wasting everyone's time. So if I'm feeling that uncomfortable, this group is probably not a good place to share my inner most research thoughts with.

Twitter: #phdchat
My final thought was actively joining a weekly discussion that is held on Twitter called #phdchat. This is a COP consisting of research students who get together on Twitter using the hashtag "#phdchat" to support each other, share resources and discuss issues that relate to their research. On the few occasions that I have attended the discussions, I have found people to be very friendly and helpful.

I have decided to make this my COP because it is utilising social media and "tests" the principle of online professional development, which is what I am also researching. My aim is to attend at least once a month. I'll let you know how I get on.

Do you use Twitter for professional development? How do you use it? What weekly discussions do you attend and recommend?

Image: '1934 ... Albert holds court!'

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My big social media tip for businesses

There's only one thing worse than having no social media presence, and that is a poorly managed social media presence.

I was reminded about this last week via a couple of very different experiences.
My gym has a Facebook page. I "liked" it the other day and left a message asking about its opening hours over Easter. I didn't hear a word back. My confusion and frustration was increased when the gym's answer phone said to look at their website, but the website said nothing. You may ask me what I am getting my knickers in a twist about. The reality is this experience has led to me being a dissatisfied customer, which is dangerous for my gym considering the large amount of competition in Dunedin.

This experience is in contrast with two very positive social media experiences.

I was having trouble with my cell phone, and yet again, was having terrible trouble getting hold of a "live" person to talk to. The Telecom website and my cell phone directory was sending me round and round in circles and I got to the point that I was ready to throw my phone out the window! As a last resort I sent a desperate tweet to the Telecom Twitter account - @TelecomNZ.  Within 10 minutes I had a phone call from a very nice lady at Telecom and she sorted me out. That left me a very happy customer.

My second positive experience was with a travel agent who uses Facebook.

Magellan Vacations
I have been looking at hotels to stay in LA, when we go there in May. I found the Magellan website but couldn't see a way to contact them other than phone. I didn't want to ring an American number so I asked them to contact me, via their Facebook page. Again, within 10-15 minutes I had a lovely chap ring me from the USA and sorted out my booking in no time at all. To say I was impressed was an under statement.

Time and resources
Social media can be used to connect with customers, which results in satisfied customers and increases loyalty to your brand, and product or service. But if you decide to use social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, you have to be prepared to reply and converse with customers. This means you have to invest in time and resources to monitor your site, and be prepared to respond to customers in a very timely manner.

As a customer, I want to hear back from a business within 24 hours. If you do not engage with me, especially after I have made the effort to talk to you, then you will lose me as a customer. This is because I will see your lack of effort as a indication of your general behaviour and service.

So if you cannot do social media well, then don't do it at all.

Image: 'Customer service'

Monday, April 9, 2012

A midwife's perspective of birth rape

I try not to get riled up here but I have just read a post written by Sarrah Le Marquand (a journalist for the Daily Telegraph in Australia)  at the end of last week, about homebirth that has quite distressed me.

Sarrah's views on homebirth
In her post "Cancel those dolphins and consider your baby’s health" Sarrah critiques the reasons that women choose homebirth. In particular, she pours scorn on the women who choose homebirth because they feel safer there than they do in hospital. Sarrah does not believe there is any such thing as "birth rape" and clearly feels that women should open their legs and be grateful for whatever is done to them. She says women choose home birth because of "self-indulgence arising out of narcissism." She also says that people who talk about birth rape display "a disturbing lack of empathy for victims of genuine rape in the true sense of the word."

Homebirth and informed choice
I don't want to go into the pros and cons of homebirth here. I do believe it should be an option for women, when they have all the information to make an informed choice. I also believe that planned homebirth is a safe option for women who have no risk factors and are attended by skilled midwives.

Is there such a thing as birth rape?
What has upset me so much about Sarrah's article is her lack of knowledge, and insensitivity with regard to birth rape. Whilst the term "birth rape" is a controversial one, obstetric violence has been recognised in some countries as a legal offence. Sarrah says "the chief objective of the birth itself isn't to have a good time - it's to maximise the health and safety of a mother and her newborn child", yet she clearly has not talked to women who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder following birth.....these women are not healthy, and certainly have not, nor do they feel safe.

Scared to death
I have been a midwife for nearly 30 years. I am afraid to admit that I have seen women who have been subjected to very personal and intimate procedures without full information - indeed, in some cases, no information at all. I remember like it were yesterday, a young woman held down by a group of midwives as a doctor carried out a vaginal examination against her will. If that isn't rape, then I don't know what is!

I have seen women having procedures despite clearly saying that they did not want them. I have heard women beg midwives and doctors to stop doing something, yet they didn't. I shall never forget being nearly hit by a very elderly woman who was still living with very distressing memories of the midwife who delivered her baby 40 odd years ago. I have talked to women who have been so traumatised by birth that they have dreaded having another baby. You may say...that doesn't happen now....but you'd be wrong. I spent all last year listening to student midwives who told me similar stories.

Yes...some of these women choose home birth. They don't make that choice because they are selfish or egotistical...they make that choice because they are scared to death of what will happen to them if they go into hospital!

My feeling is that rather than writing in-sensitive rants that are uninformed and inaccurate, Sarrah would be better off focusing on ensuring that all women are treated with respect and decency by medical and midwifery staff. Maybe then she would find that women are quicker to choose to give birth in hospital.

For a balanced response to Sarrah's article, have a read of "Some home truths on a woman's right to choose" by Michelle Meares.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I am "fabulously 50"!

Today is my 50th birthday.

I cannot believe I am 50. Where the goodness has the last 50 years gone!?

I am happy to be 50, unlike when I turned 30. I remember sitting on a park bench and sobbing my eyes out at the thought of being 30. I was given a wonderful surprise birthday party by my husband and hated every minute of it. But looking back, I think I might have been suffering a small degree of post natal depression.

Now I am turning 50 I feel very differently. I feel fit and healthy (which is probably due to having just lost 25 kg). I am enjoying my life (probably because the kids have left home at long last!). And I really feel I am facing the peak of my life and achievements. The only thing that is a little scary is knowing I am nearer death than I was 20 years ago. But then again, I am just as likely to be run over by a bus tomorrow, as die of old age when I am 80.

One of my colleagues, Lorna Davies, listed 50 things she wanted to achieve when she turned 50 years old, but I am not that ambitious. So here's my top 5 things I want to achieve now I am 50.
  1. Become a doctor. I have been working on a doctorate in one form or another for the last 8 years. It's time I became "Dr Stewart"!
  2. Visit China. One of the things I am mindful of are the opportunities to connect with and learn from Chinese midwives that I am currently missing. This is something I want to remedy.
  3. Get a tattoo. I have been talking about this for years but still do not know what to get, or where to put it....ideas gratefully received!
  4. Reach my goal weight. I have another 5 kg to go, so hopefully will achieve this soon.
  5. Write a book. I have been thinking for quite some time about putting book together from my blog posts. What I need to decide is what my focus will be, so I know what posts to put into this book. 
What top things would you like to achieve over the next few years?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How to use blogs for learning and teaching

I have just facilitated a workshop discussion about blogging for learning and teaching at Otago Polytechnic. I was pleased to get a reasonable turn out considering we're heading into the Easter holiday.

My main thought about using blogs as a teacher is you have to tailor the technology to the students' needs and the aim of the activities you are designing. In other words, there will be times when Facebook is best for facilitating conversation, but blogs may be better suited for more in-depth reflection and analysis. Another example blogs are great to facilitating the growth of networks of learning, but closed blogs may be better for reflecting on sensitive issues such as clinical practice as a student nurse.

How do you use blogs in your teaching? If you use a personal blog, what have been your learning outcomes?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What underpins digital communication competence and confidence?

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day about one of the elements I want to look at in my EdD research.

I was in an online committee meeting of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife (VIDM 2012) on Thursday in Adobe Connect and was watching people's behaviour and reactions. This got me reflecting on how our skills and confidence in this environment have developed over the last four years.

Where we used to be
We are a small group of midwives and educators from all over the world. Four years ago when we started working on this project we were relatively new to online technology, especially synchronous web conference. Working our way around Elluminate (a web conference software) was particularly scary - I don't know about the others, but it felt similar to how I imagine I would feel if I was about to take a bungy jump, up in Queenstown .....palpitations...sweaty palms... We could just about work out how to get into the room, let alone anything else. But we took our lives in our hands and facilitated (and presented at) this global conference...flying by the seats of our pants and praying for the best.

Moving from Elluminate to Adobe Connect
After three years of working in Elluminate we started to feel reasonably confident but then got told we would have to use a different software this year, Adobe Connect (which is hosted by Otago Polytechnic who has very kindly given us access for VIDM 2012). I have to admit, that brought back that awful feeling of panic, and I personally felt I was back at step one with my ability to manage technology and online facilitation. I know the principles of online facilitation are the same whatever software you use, but at the beginning of this year I was very nervous about using Adobe Connect. This was especially in light of some less than stellar experiences of it in 2011, and hearing how badly it was preforming for us at Otago Polytechnic early in 2012.

I was also very nervous about the reactions of the rest of the VIDM 2012 committee. They were just getting used to Elluminate, and I didn't know how they would cope with being told they had to start all over again with another software. But I found their reaction was far different to what I expected.

The results of confidence and competence
Instead of having to take ages to help them set up and listening to heaps of complaints, the committee members got into the room with minimal support. In fact, they all turned on their web cameras and got talking, which was against my advice because I thought we wouldn't be able to deal with that level of performance. They "played" ...they explored...they moved all my stuff around (which was really annoying)....they wrote all over my agenda (which was even more annoying)...they changed the display screen (right...that's it...I am taking away your "rights!!!!").

It was then that I had my epiphany.

I was truly struck with how their behaviour has changed over the last four years. They had the confidence to play. They were not worried about "breaking" anything. They were happy to experiment. They needed minimal (or no) support to get the technology working. Actually, to be truthful, they took us to an advanced level that I had not been prepared to go, which has made me a little peeved because I felt they were leaving me behind (which is a whole other discussion).

So...thinking about my EdD...what is it I want to explore and capture in my research?

Thinking about questions
It is how the Virtual International Day of the Midwife has supported some people to not only learn about midwifery research and practice (ie the VIDM has provided content), but it has also supported people to develop digital communication skills. This is an element that needs to go into my model of professional development that I am creating...and has always been my not very hidden agenda for this event. This also begs the questions:
  • Do midwives need to have digital communication skills?
  • Why? What are the benefits to midwives?
  • How has the Virtual International Day of the Midwife supported them to develop digital communication skills? This includes participants, facilitators and speakers, as well as the committee.
  • What impedes the development of digital communication skills?
  • Who are the people who engage with this mode of communication compared to the people who do not?
  • How does digital communication skills fit into a model of professional development?
What is digital literacy?
The other thing I need to do very quickly is decide on my use of terminology. Do I use "digital literacy" or "digital communication"? I need to clarify exactly what digital literacy is, and if it encompasses the skills I am talking about here.

I'd love to hear any comments you may have on either your own experience of developing digital literacy/communication competence and confidence, or how you have worked in or with similar environments and events.