Do you eat your own dogfood?

We are constantly promoting the use of social networking services to our teaching staff at CQUni as potential learning and teaching tools.  The educational technology landscape is abuzz with talk about reflective blogs, collaborative wikis and so on.  Of the roughly 139 papers presented at ASCILITE 2008 in Melbourne, 22 (~ 16%) were specifically related to Web 2.0 or social networking services.  More if you count papers relating to 3D immersive environment such as second life which too can be considered social networking services.  I’d consider that a buzz.

So my boss is constantly banging on about eating our own dogfood.  A phrase I’m not particularly excited about.  I don’t even like dogs, let alone dogfood. If we are going to promote the use of social networking services, we  need to use them ourselves.  Blogging was a good place to start.  Based on my initial experiences, I could certainly liken it to dogfood. Let’s get off the dogfood for now (hope nobody is eating while reading this).

Having a technological background, at first I thought this would be a cinch. In fact, using the technology for me has been a cinch. However, being able to put words on the screen, and then click that publish button, making my own thoughts publicly available for all to see has been incredibly challenging. In fact, writing this blog post is going to be one of the most difficult ones I have done so far. If you are reading this, then I may have started to overcome my problems.

My problems can be summarised as follows:

  • I’m somewhat of a perfectionist (or anal-retentive in the words of my boss:) ) which means for me:
    • if you are going to do something, do it right (or do it well), otherwise don’t do it at all.
    • I must get it right – the first time.
    • I hate making mistakes.
    • to post to my blog, it can take hours, even days to complete, if I publish it at all.  At times, I can have half a dozen unpublished articles on my blog.  This posting has been in my drafts for more than 4 months.  I have even older ones remaining.
  • I’m innately a private person.
    • Anne Bartlett-Bragg sums it up nicely in her talks around the “Issues and challenges for moving to social e-learning” (http://socialelearning.flexiblelearning.net.au/social_elearning/index.htm) by stating that some students while are happy to share their thoughts in the confines of a classroom, find it very difficult to put their thoughts out there for the whole world to see.

I was speaking with a colleague just last week who expressed almost the same difficulties with blogging as I have experienced.  Their edit page too is full of unpublished posts. They were asking themselves the same questions:  do I really want to make that comment public?  What are the ramifications of that?

These are the points I wish to highlight in this blog post.  Some (staff/students) are going to find this dogfood more difficult to swallow than others (sorry I won’t refer to dogfood again – promise).  This has major implications for those trying to integrate social networking services into their learning designs.

One of the projects we are working on is the implementation of Personal Learning Environments.  The title of the project is PLEs@CQUni.  As part of this project, I will (hopefully) be developing a learning program for staff and perhaps later for students around the use of social networking services.  This is a project that I started earlier in the year, but was put on hold due to other priorities.  The basis of this learning program was The 23 Things of the Learning 2.0 Program by Helene Blowers.

However our program here at CQUni will need to address more than the technical usability aspects of social networking services to be truly effective in preparing our teachers for using them with learning designs. It is important that we don’t just throw the technology at the staff and say away we go.

I hope to summarise some of the strategies I have been employing to assist me with blogging, and using other social networking services.  This is then something we can hopefully include in the learning designs for CQUni’s 23 Things.  The strategies I have employed are summarised below.  I’d like to invite people to contribute their own experiences in this regard and highlight strategies they have used to overcome these problems, or in fact other problems they have experienced as barriers that I have not covered.

Strategies for perfectionism

There are a few different strategies I use to help address my perfectionism when I write.

  • Time limits.  I decide how much time I am going to spend on each post that I write.  I rarely adhere to these limits, but I am trying and getting better.  It is just getting used to the fact that the piece isn’t as complete as I would like it, but I need to move on – post it.  I can always revisit it later.
  • Loosen up.  I’m not writing a research paper or a report, so a narrative style is okay.  I tend to write very factually with little fan-fare and to some, this can be dry and boring.  So I am trying to bring a little human into the mix.  How am I doing? 😉  Furthermore, if I dont quite get the spelling, puntuation or grammer; quite right:  is it really gunna matter!
  • If I get it wrong, just fix it.  It’s not a hard copy publication so it doesn’t need to be set in stone forever.  If I screwed something up, I make my apologies and correct it.
  • Set a limit on the time a post can remain unpublished.  Not to be confused with the limit on the time you spend writing it.  Sometimes you are waiting on information or you need to give something further thought or you are just plain busy.  If your time limit has expired, publish without the missing information or thought.  You can always write a follow-up at a later stage.

Strategies for privacy

How you assess privacy in relation to your blog posts is a personal matter.  Everyone values privacy differently.  Here is my assessment:

  • Nothing too personally identifiable.  I limit any identifiable information to my work associations only.
  • Family is completely off limits.
  • I only name colleagues where they demonstrate considerable openness in their own blogs and other online presences and only in relation to work matters.
  • Will this post breach any confidentiality laws relating to my employer such as student details?  Have to be mindful of this point here.
  • Don’t post when you are in an emotional state such as angry, grieving, or intoxicated. 😉

For those with a far less strict regime for privacy, a few words of thought on where to draw the line.

  • Am I breaking the law?  Is what I am writing/uploading copyrighted, or defamatory?
  • Will posting this comment/photo/video affect an employer’s decision to hire me?
  • Will these words/photos/videos bring any of my associations into disrepute such as my school/university or my employer?
  • How would my mum feel if she saw/read this?

The mum test in particular is a good way to assess the appropriateness of what you are going to say or show.  Your post is potentially open to the world, this includes your mum, even if she is not computer illiterate.  She will have friends that are computer literate and word gets around.  These are social tools afterall.

So if I may open the floor, I’d love to hear from others who have struggled with some of these problems in terms of blogging, and how you may have overcome them. If you too wish to start blogging and are finding these things difficult, I’d love to hear what you are doing to get past it – even if you comment anonymously. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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7 thoughts on “Do you eat your own dogfood?

Add yours

  1. I like your style so I think your doing good. I have the same problem with hitting the publish button although sometimes I cant even get started because I dont even know if what I am going to say is relevent to anyone else.

    Iminterested in the whole web / learning 2.0 thing so I will check in once in a while.

    Some very good strategies in there too.

    Sous

  2. G’day Sous,

    I understand what you mean when you say its difficult to even start at times. You need to think about your audience when you write. That can be difficult to do when you are not sure exactly who that audience is when we are talking about the blogosphere.

    Appreciate your feedback. 🙂

    Damo.

  3. G’day Damo,

    I’m not so sure that you need to think of your audience. Or at least not as much as you would normally in other types of writing.

    I can see some arguments for thinking of the audience, but part of the Web 2.0/Web thing is that you don’t really know who your audience is. There may be whole groups of people you never thought of who might find some value in what you’ve written.

    How do you write for an audience you don’t know about? Do you simply write in an approachable format that all can appreciate and grasp? Do you limit yourself to a particular group of folk? e.g. edu-geeks.

    At least when I’m writing on my blog I’m generally not writing for an audience (apart from the academic publications I’ve placed on my blog). I do it to reflect and share what I’m thinking and doing. I try to do it so it’s accessible but it probably isn’t a lot of the time.

    David.

  4. Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I think you have highlighted an interesting point in the fact that you may attract an unintended audience with your writing, and so making assumptions about who your audience is may be flawed. Hope I have paraphrased that correctly. Herein lies an opportunity to collaborate with those from a different perspective which can be a catalyst for some great ideas and interesting insights.

    Oh, and by the way, its edunerd, not edu-geek. 😉

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