May 15, 2007

eduBuzz, blogging and engagement

I wasn't able to attend last night's eduBuzz Open Meeting, since I was giving some training down the road in Tranent. Reading the many posts of those present makes me wish I had been there, too - ashame that we haven't worked out how to be in two places at once. These are the bullet points I would have made had I been able to attend: [Disclosure: I'll have a certain bias ;-) since I've been working on the design and growth of the site and WPMU system since August]

  • The eduBuzz homepage:
    Most of the suggested improvements on Stuart's ace post are, in fact, on the task list for the site, and many have been since last November. The reasons for these tasks not being carried out is almost certainly down to the prioritising of work with teachers themselves in the classroom, instead of development of the site. This is something which, I feel, we need to work on more, even if, in the short term, we have to say 'no' to a few teachers to get it done something, on reflection, which can hang on seven weeks until the summer hols. Things that I believe are vital to get done asap:
    • accurate statistic gathering - we still don't have an accurate measure of use of the 'portal' page or our blogs;
    • a dynamic element on the homepage to show the most recently updated headlines from a selection of eduBuzz blogs;
    • a short strapper to explain what and where eduBuzz is (although talksharebuzz gets it over to most people I've met);
    • clearer links to the help wiki (large Help button) and consistent underlining of hyperlinks
    • changing of wording (thanks Stuart) from tools to raison d'ĂȘtres in the Explore page (something we have done quite well in the Share page)
    • the PageFlakes team are currently skinning up the PageFlakes pages to have more continuity between the main eduBuzz home and the page.
    • the development of A-Z pages of themes and contributors, which have been on hold since November, are essential to give an overview, and the data exists already in the eduBuzz blog, just waiting to be alphabetised, ordered and skinned up. We could also use MyMaps along with MyMapsPlus to create a geographical layout of at least the teachers' blogs.
    • the cluster PageFlakes pages need populated asap from our blogs database.

    and Don blog that we will be making a change from the current page to the eduBuzz blog: a bad idea, for my tuppence worth. Give some time for the current page to be brought up the standard it could (easily) be and continue to improve. The blog format, for most newbies I work with, is more confusing than the simple invitation to Share or Explore, or to get some help.

    The eduBuzz blog would also need some work to make it usable for newbies - it currently takes at least three clicks to find a blog from a list, with no indication of whether it's active or not and a relative difficulty to browse without having to constantly click back. The current eduBuzz pages demand only two clicks (through Explore) and then present the user with a selection of current posts and current blogs, arranged by cluster or by some themes (such as Glow). These pages are also constantly changing as new posts are added by our bloggers, providing more reason for people to come back often to the page.

    I have to say that my experiences with people around the country and above all in East Lothian, who have never heard of eduBuzz or participated in a blog, 'get' the site quickly and find it unthreatening enough to get as far as creating a blog. It's hard for a User Group which, as Dave points out, is made up of those who are already there or willing to give it a go to also be representative of all those who don't want to give it a go.

  • eduBuzz Conference:
    Large conferences have their advantages, generally of the networking nature, but generally they have low impact - it's a small group who take ideas forward into the schools.

    That's why the team behind eduBuzz have also been working on TeachMeet training sessions. The clue's in the name if you've ever been to a TeachMeet bloggers' meetup. The training sessions are done with a group of people who are already a community face-to-face: a whole school, several school departments, a cluster. They learn together, get to the same benchmark together and then have an opportunity to plan in a new skill to their work for the next term.

    These are incredibly cost effective as they capture relatively high numbers of people yet with a low tutor-trainee ratio. The training takes place in their school, with their equipment. There is follow up from the ICT Team, since it's inhouse and not an outside expert who knows what the school is likely to need in terms of support over the next few months. Everything we cover - including blogging - has a huge potential to impact on students' (and teachers') lives.

    These sessions are gaining great popularity and a steady stream of bookings is coming in from around the Authority. Again, I think this needs to be given a chance to have its effect.
  • Critical mass:
    There is always a desire to have the 'masses', those who are not innovators and first adopters, adopting the tools on offer in eduBuzz, particularly the blogs which, I guess, still have a cool factor. The fact is, since September, since the introduction of the right tool for the job, the right kind of portals to capture life in East Lothian schools, the suitable training and priceless online support through things like the eduBuzz wikis, we've attracted about a quarter of our teachers to blogging alone - that's beyond critical mass (you'd normally consider a respectable 20% critical mass). We've gone from a modest 20,000 visits a month to nearly ten times that.

    Ultimately it would take one task to move things on yet again: put the current page as the homepage on every computer in East Lothian schools. Curiosity would get the better of most students (and teachers, I'm sure). Once we've got more people sharing we might even lower the profile of the Share page and put the aggregator or personalised homepage forward as the next solution. Then we're onto no clicks to find interesting content you want to read or view.

For me, the priorities and opportunities for eduBuzz lie more and more with the outcomes of the Teaching and Learning Group of the Authority, who, every time they meet, seem to make the link between sharing online and pedagogical change easier and easier. When the messages start coming from the line of pedagogy instead of technology I think we'll see the next burst of growth in eduBuzz. After all, that's what it's all about...


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Having a dynamic element showing recent posts sounds like an excellent part to add, and I think rather than a decision being made yesterday to revert to the edubuzz blog it was more of a desire to add in an element like this - so that people could see that there is activity going on and have an overview of it.

I was aware when I was writing up last night that what I was suggesting were things that don't take much time but that there are always loads of other things that also don't take much time. When you add them all together and you get the sort of list you've outlined and obviously there needs to be some prioritisation.

The idea of the conference is still a good one I think, and it wouldn't replace the teachmeet sessions, rather give an opportunity to reach another group of people who otherwise might not take the step. That said, it's still an open idea and could be changed to suit what people want.

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