So how do we “create a visual presence in our own little places on the web”?
I have to admit I really had no idea what to say about this! Ask me to comment on assessment practices in Mongolia or pedagogical beliefs of 18th century mathematicians or even create a lesson plan integrating all known knowledge on Earth and I can do it without even thinking (well maybe not without thinking, but at least I’d have an idea how to start: Google!). But for some reason this small task of thinking about my visual presence online stumped me completely. So I did what any good teacher should do, I asked for help. A late night email sent frantically to Joanne asking for “clarification” resulted in a prompt response and set me on my way in search of a related inquiry topic that would entice my psyche to reflect. I decided to start by looking at all those professional blogs I have decided to follow. After much careful reading I found this quote from Stephen Downes in the article Seven Habits of Highly Connected People:
“The idea behind "being yourself" is not that you have some sort of offline life (though you may). Rather, it's a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life, and that it is important that these facets are all represented and work together.”
How do I “be myself” online and make my blog represent all the facets of me?
Again, I decided to see how the “pro’s” do it, so I took a closer look at their blogs. First I went to David Warlick’s 2¢ Blog. He has an About This Blog link where he talks about “pimping out his blog” (his word, not mine!) but he does mention that even though he believes “blogs are for communicating, and that the message should be the primary focus of its operation”, he does admit to including some little goodies to personalize his space. One thing he has included is a Tag Cloud, which is quite interesting, and I will be searching for this tool in the future. He also includes a Blogging From link that shows his travels. He has many Flickr photos of his travels as well. One last thing he included was a side bar “add on” that shows the books he’s been reading. As for colour and layout, David Warlick did stay true to his quote above with a very simple layout with lots of white space, and small splashes of colour. This simple layout seems to be what most of the professionals are doing including Darren Kuropatwa, Tim Wilson, Anne Davis and Stephen Downes. Some of the “pro’s” use a Visitor Map to show where people are viewing from, and Tim Wilson has a “What I’m doing Now” feed, much like Facebook’s. Last but not least I looked at Will Richardson’s blog. He has a “My Stuff” tab at the top of his blog, which includes links to You Tube and other videos by him, Flickr photos posted by him, Twitter posts, posts he has made to other blogs, del.icio.us items of his, a calendar, and many other interesting online items by or about him.
So how does my blog reflect me? I did choose a template that is understated, not because its what the “pro’s” are doing, but because I just liked the way it looked. I changed some of the colours to suit me better, and of course I added some “gadgets” to the side bar. I found the sheer number of gadgets to add a tad bit overwhelming and I suspect I will revisit some of my existing elements and either remove or add as time goes on. Currently I have a “This Day in History” gadget that I chose because I love History and believe it is a very important thing to know and learn about. I also added a “Picture of the Day” gadget from National Geographic because I love looking at the beauty of nature, especially in well-done photography that uses unusual perspectives. As soon as I set up my Flickr account, I will include some pictures of my own that I think fit this category. I may also change my Picture of the Day gadget periodically to include other types of art I’m interested in (like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Escher, Jackson Pollock, sculpture and others). I also have included a “Useless Knowledge” gadget, mostly because I wanted to see what it would come up with and if any of it would be applicable and/or appropriate in the classroom because I do interesting facts with my students. At the beginning of every class (Science, Social, Math or LA) I try to give them an interesting fact about the topic for the day, just to hook them a bit. In the future I hope to include a Book List of books I want to read, I want to figure out how to do the tags so I can add a Tag Cloud, and I also want to try out the Wordle thing that all of you have been talking about and Heather used to make the header for her blog.
I think the visual appearance of your blog is important, but I believe what you write and how you write it speaks more about who you are. I named my Blog Crobi-blog because it’s a nickname some of my teacher friends gave me after I got married. They couldn’t stop calling me by my maiden name and so started calling me Crobi to remember I was Robinson not Bunce! I thought it would make a great on-line alter ego! I sign each of my posts with a smile, because I want people to feel welcomed and invited to comment. Plus I am a very happy outgoing person. I write in a way that invites laughter, encourages thought, opens dialogue and questions everything. Or at least that is what I strive to do. I’ve never been afraid to “put myself out there” so to speak and so I decided early on that when I wrote on my blog I would put my personality into my writing and so far I’m pretty happy with the result.
I do wonder about the purpose of the blog and how much of yourself you “put out there”. Above Downes says that it’s important that ALL facets are represented. I disagree with that slightly. I think you have to think carefully about the purpose of your blog and then edit your ”facets” accordingly. If I’m writing a professional blog where the intent is to share learning and reflections on teaching, then I don’t feel I need to include information on my kids or my dog or what I wore to the mall this morning. I do need to make sure that I represent all facets of me as an educator however.
I think one of the most important things we do as educators is model what we want our students to do. I know that I will be able to refer to my classmates’ posts as well as my own posts, to show my students what I mean when I say, “put your personality into your writing”. I also think its important for us to experience what our students will experience. Reflecting on how I make my blog represent all the facets of myself has helped me think about how I will encourage my students to do the same when I finally start blogging with them. Do I limit their customization? How can I know that everything they are putting on their blogs is age appropriate and has suitable content? Do I discourage flashy colours and blinking icons or do I let them make the space their own? How do I impress upon them the importance of being careful with their personal photos and information? How do I broach the subject of how much of themselves they should “put out there”? So much more still to learn and reflect on . . .