tempered radicals: the ins and outs of group blogging

By robynjay On February 6th, 2011

Over (inside the gates) at Facebook friend and colleague Michael Coghlan is battling with how to approach an organisational group blog.

He says (and I hope he forgives me for bringing it to the outside audience but its worthy of sharing)…

I write here (ie Facebook) with gay abandon. I do correct spelling and try and make sure it reads clearly but as to the tone and the opinions being expressed I really don’t care. I shoot from the hip.
I just tried to compose a blog post for a new blog we’re starting at work and within seconds found myself struggling with questions like what the correct tone should be, what kind of impression will this create, will I be harming the reputation of my work team or the wider organisation? Is it OK if I express my own opinions, do these opinions represent those of the work team…..and a whole host of other concerns. I had been quite keen on this idea of starting an elearning blog for our organisation but I’m now not so sure. Having to worry about these kinds of questions is a real downer. It gets in the way of almost every phrase – it this too informal? Is it creating an impression that is too casual? Etc etc. One could get quite neurotic about it. I guess it’s a separate skill – being able to understand the wider context and write in accordance with that brief. But right at this minute it feels quite limiting and I’d rather just write this instead!

Having blogged for my last two organisations I understand how you are Michael is feeling.

From 2006-2007 I blogged with Alex Hayes and guest blogger, Marie Jasinski, for NSW LearnScope. Don’t try to Google it – its all there in safe keeping but as yet not moved to a another public domain.WE agreed up front what the scope would be and we knew each other and our styles and interests. When we first set the blog up it caused a bit of a stir and initially we were threatened with big brother moderation of each post before publication. Thankfully I negotiated around that. It was a good blog. Writing as a group (Marie was paid to post monthly on innovation) meant that a range of styles and topics were covered. That is the benefit I think of a group blog and you should not be afraid to write differently; each style appeals to different readers. Our only limitations were policy related. We ensured that our program and organisations and the Government were not explicitly criticised. But apart from that it was pretty much what came along and we felt strongly about. During that time I did little blogging of my own.

During 2009 and 2010 I contributed to the UNSW TELT blog. The blog was set up for the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching project; a partnership between the Learning and Teaching unit and the L&T portfolio in IT where I worked. My aim in setting it up was to provide a forum for the project team to communication about all things TELT related. Being in Higher Ed it was a good place to engage in critical debates, or so I thought. On the whole, the most I could get others to post on was meeting notes & updates. Mike Bogle was working in the L&T unit for year one and to avoid him posting twice we installed a plugin (FeedWordpress?) so that posts to his own blog tagged for TELT automatically appeared in both.

So this was a dilemma for me. I wanted to write critiques and engage in debate but I couldn’t do it alone. So I tempered what I wrote and returned to this blog. If you’re going to run a group blog, while it is OK to have unique voices, there does need to be an agreed upon scope of content that everyone contributes to to a certain degree. Had I been ‘a mouth’ while everyone else was posting minutes and notices it would have looked pretty strange.

So back to Michael’s ponderings and based on my experience with group organisational blogs (OR what I would do next time)….

  • Meet and agree upon the purpose of the blog – construct if necessary a list based on this of the types of posts that might appear. It might be good to find out who is interested in what and if you want to write about issues/critiques either make sure there’s more than one person or designate a person for this role.
  • Agree upon the style – if people cannot write comfortably they won’t write at all – formal writing in a blog just looks weird
  • Agree upon boundaries – align to policy requirements, and discuss things like swearing etc – it’s probably what is acceptable in workplace conversations and meetings assuming senior management can hear
  • Discuss the issue of readability – spelling, grammar and length.
  • Agree to act as joint moderators around readability – if there’s a spelling error or a sentence is unclear duck in and fix it
  • Set some targets on how often people will post if relevant – approx a post a week for example. It doesn’t need to be adhered to but can keep people on track. Will you allow keen posters to write daily? While this keeps the blog active it can also start to appear as though the blog belongs to that one person
  • Agree on process if policy/scope boundaries are crossed – my suggestion would be personal contact with the author where concerns are raised – “do you think the last paragraph in X blog should be changed to …” etc
  • Agree to support each other and the blog by posting responses and comments to encourage interactivity – its OK to use personal blogs to do this of course or the comments function
  • Decide who might ALREADY be posting about relevant issues – don’t ask these people to repost but use a feed to duplicate the posts if the guidelines above are met
  • Ensure everyone is cluey about attributions and the use of images etc – varied styles are ok so long as basic requirements are met
  • Set a timeframe for reviewing how things are going

Despite the considerations that ARE needed group blogging can be a great experience and a good way to get people started down a blogging track with a bit of support.

[CC FlickR image shared by hive]

is handwriting history?

By robynjay On January 6th, 2010

Tom Kuntz (Idea of the day NYT blog) refers to an article by Anne Trubek in Miller-McCune magazine that suggests that handwriting is history.

According to Anne, ‘handwriting slowly became a form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication. When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable. So too today: Conventional wisdom holds that computers are devoid of emotion and personality, and handwriting is the province of intimacy, originality and authenticity.’

Whatever we use to write, there will be a shortfall between conception and execution, between the ideas in our heads and the words we produce. We often insert nostalgia into this gap (Kuntz).

As a kid I treasured letters received from my grandmother – there was something magical about her gorgeous old fashioned script and the touch of the paper she had chosen to communicate her messages on.

I love hand writing. I also love to draw. For me there’s real pleasure in putting [a good] pen to [good] paper; a sensual, creative act. We were taught cursive at school but not until quite late and seemed to be given a certain amount of freedom to develop our own style. My friend Penny and I developed our own unique and quite similar style. I swear to this day she is probably the only person in the world who could easily forge my writing!

I remember my son Geordie on the other hand being frustrated in infants school when his thought processes were far in excess of his limited handriting skills. He rapidly became a touch typer – and a wonderful writer. Anne refers to Geordie’s frustration as a desire for ‘cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts.’ But of course handwriting was usually not just for us, for our records, but to communicate messages to others.

Thank heavens we no longer have to hand write university essays or slog over clunky typewriters. But kids DO still have to hand write in their HSC exams. Why? How fair and reliable is that assessment of a young adults knowledge, where most of those individuals are touch typers and far more adept on a keyboard particularly when there’s a time limit to get a message across? What exactly are they assessing?

So yes,  handwriting for communicating text is becoming obsolete. The mistake is confusing handwriting for message-making communication with handwriting as art form. Beautiful handwriting is an art; the choice of putting a tool (pen or other) onto a surface (paper or other) for expression might vary in media but it will remain.

[CC FlickR image: Tom Bunny]