Engaging wider audiences on Twitter

A participant in The Digital Researcher – a course I am running this week raised an excellent point about Twitter engagement and I’ve decided to elaborate on it further here.

When trying to engage with wider audiences, it is really important to use relevant hashtags # and perhaps event @tag in other relevant accounts.

This is essential, particularly when you are trying to engage with wider audiences from an account without many followers – or without followers from the right demographics. A typical example may be that all of your followers are academic peers – and not the public you want to engage. So how do you reach new audiences?

A lot of this comes down to identifying the right hashtags that link posts on similar topics together. Hashtags can be:

  • Based on a subject: #HigherEd #Geography
  • Topical/news-based: #HumberFloods #Brexit
    • Check out Trendsmap to see what is happening where you are
  • Event based: #ALDcon #DigiResHull
  • Tweet-chat based: #LTHEchat #MSFTEdu

While people may not follow you, they may be searching for these hashtags, or using apps to follow them. It’s is therefore important to identify hashtags that your target audiences may be using. Hitting Google for this isn’t a bad idea, for example, a search for: Best hashtags for education provides some excellent results. There are also some useful websites focused on helping you with this:

One prime way to build your audience is with the use of topical hashtags. For example, if you research in politics and you have conducted some research relevant to it, #Brexit is an excellent choice (event if you hate the hashtag). These tags don’t have to be very broad. For example, the last set of flooding in the Humber estuary used #HumberFloods – an excellent tag for hydrologists, geographers and anyone else working in related fields.

Local or specialist media is an excellent way to identify topical discussions here you are based. For us in Hull, the Hull Daily Mail and the Yorkshire Post may be good places for you to start. If you can apply your research to a topic here – you’ll be reaching a new public audience. Directly replying to posts from such media channels, including television is an excellent way to identify yourself as an expert. A lot of big news channels now traul Twitter to recruit experts rather than approaching university departments.

You just need to remember to use them!

My digital workflow: Office 365 processes & tools for doctoral students

I thought I would take some time to share the invaluable Microsoft tools that I use as part of my thesis and research. I think the usefulness of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook is without question. These programs are an essential part of my work, but I will focus on other tools that I use to support my research.

Pixaline / Pixabay

OneNote

OneNote is a note taking application. OneNote is like my second brain. It stores my notes for absolutely every situation. Instead of a mixture of apps and notebooks, I take a great effort to keep everything in one place. The availability of OneNote on iOS, MacOS and Windows means I can access OneNote on all of my devices: iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook Pro and Windows 10 computers. This means I can also access my notes anywhere and pretty much on every device. I’m a big fan of handwritten notes and there is a lot of evidence that demonstrates they’re the most effective way to take notes. The awesomeness of the iPad Pro and Pencil mean I can handwrite on-screen just as well as on paper. For any situation in which I do use paper, I scan documents in or use Office Lens (see below).

Technicalities aside, I use OneNote for:

  • Lecture notes, keynotes, conference notes
  • Supervision meeting records
  • Thoughts, thinking, general notes
  • Notes on reading
  • Field notes
  • Shopping lists, recipes and pretty much everything else!

The reason OneNote works so effectively is the wide range of media it supports. Not only can type or hand written notes be used within OneNote, but it supports drawing, maths, images, audio, video, tables, embedded files and a whole range of other special applications. Notes are easy to find as they are organised into sections and notebooks. Everything is searchable, tagable and easy to find.

FirmBee / Pixabay

OneDrive

OneDrive is a cloud storage platform. This means it stores files on a remote server as opposed to any one device. This means you can access anything you store on it anywhere you have internet. I use OneDrive to store all of my important files, with the exception of anything personally identifiable, like research data. While OneDrive achieves the same as Box, DropBox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive or any of platform, the deep integration with Microsoft Office makes OneDrive the most useful. It is also the cheapest platform as you get 1 TB for free included in Office 365, including the edition most universities provide students with.

Not only does OneDrive let you store your files and make them available, it also lets you connect to any computer you’re synced to and pull any file from it. This is really useful if you ever forget to take a file with you. As you’d expect, everything is searchable – but it is important to carefully consider your organisation system. I take great care to never get lazy when saving files otherwise it quickly ends up an unusable mess.

OneDrive is accessible within Office 365 programs, allowing you access to save directly to your OneDrive from within the software. The very latest versions of some even automatically – and constantly save to your OneDrive, ensuring your work is always safe. OneDrive can also be used for collaboration, allowing multiple people to edit an office file in real-time. This can be done with in-browser and in-program. Most people will recognise this functionality from Google Docs/Sheets – but its a lot more powerful in Office.

 

Office Lens

Office Lens is an amazing app for phones and tablets. It allows you to use the devices camera to take photographs, and save them directly to OneDrive, OneNote, your camera stream, PDF, Word or PowerPoint. What makes Lens so special is it’s ability to work with documents, whiteboards and business cards. When pointing Lens at a document, whiteboard, television, projector screen, book or whatever you want to capture, Lens detects the edges automatically and removes the background. This makes it a pretty impressive scanner! For whiteboards it also filters the photo and enhances the picture.

Most of my Lens shots end up getting stored within OneNote, embedded within whatever notebook I am working on at the time. I use it to capture a lot of projector screens – essential for lectures and conference. I also like using it for documents so I can take a photo/image of it away with me digitally rather than  needing to carry a lot of paper. As I suggested above, it is this feature that also lets me digitise any handwritten notes I may take. While I don’t use it, Lens works with Microsoft Immersive Reader so it is fantastic for accessibility purposes.

helloolly / Pixabay

Other useful tools

While I don’t have space to go into too much detail, there are some other essential apps:

Microsoft Translator

Microsoft Translator is a free, personal translation app for 60+ languages, to translate text, voice, conversations, camera photos and screenshots. You can even download languages for offline translation for free to use when you travel!

 

Microsoft Visio

Microsoft Visio is a diagramming software package. It lets you easily draw a whole range of processes, diagrams and maps. It is a lot easier to use than Microsoft Word for making diagrams, with special tools to help you keep elements in line and linked.

 

Microsoft To Do

Microsoft To-Do is a simple and intelligent to-do list that makes it easy to plan your day. Whether it’s for work, school or home, To-Do will help you increase your productivity and decrease your stress levels. It combines intelligent technology and beautiful design to empower you to create a simple daily workflow. Organize your day with To-Do’s smart Suggestions and complete the most important tasks or chores you need to get done, every day. To-Do syncs between your phone and computer, so you can access your to-dos from school, the office, or the grocery store or even while you’re traveling around the world.

How to mindmap a keynote or lecture

I’ve recently just made it back home from a conference. While I was there, I mind mapped the keynotes – something I have done at previous events. I received some really nice feedback on these and thought it would be nice to write up a quick guide of how to do it!

The first thing you need to do is decide on a medium. While you can hand draw them, you generally need a very big sheet of paper – so unless you’ve got a wall to hand, software if your best bet. There are LOADS of mind mapping tools, both free and paid for. Biggerplate has a ranked list of mind mapping software on their website. I personally use iMindMap. While most software has a broadly similar feature set, I feel iMindMap has a couple of unique modes. Most importantly, I think the maps it produces are the most aesthetically pleasing. If you’re going to do this – it may as well by pretty!

If you go digital, you’ll probably find it faster if you have access to a keyboard. This can either be a laptop, or a tablet with keyboard cover or bluetooth keyboard.

Practice the method

No matter what tool you are using, paper or software – you must practice. You need to be very confident with the process of creating a mindmap, especially when you are doing this for a keynote or lecture. This is because you need to be fast. If you’re not used to the software or the process, your notes will be slow and the mindmap will hinder your notes – not help them.

I think mind mapping from existing notes or book chapters is an excellent place to start. If you are using software, it will help you with the map format. If you are going hand-drawn, the iMindMap website has a great page on the technique and a fully detailed PDF guide that goes into the science. Still – I recommend the software!

At some point you need to practice mind mapping a live event. It’s best to do this for something recorded or something that doesn’t really matter. As this is your first event based map – you may miss some points or not be as quick as you need. Don’t rely on this approach until you’re confident with it!

Practice with the software is particularly important. They all tend to be pretty intuitive, but it is best to practice capturing at speed.

 

Mind mapping a live event

This bit assumes you are confident with mapping:

When you are mind mapping an event, you need to focus on getting everything down. You should try and make sure you get things into the correct hierarchy and tree – but don’t worry if you don’t quite manage this. The beauty of software is that you can copy/paste/move things around easily. If you decide to go for a paper map, you may need to make a tidier version once you’ve finished.

Don’t worry too much about the overall structure. As your map grows through the event you will get a better idea of the more important elements. Then you can begin to re-order things as you go. If your software supports multiple ‘central ideas’, or concept mapping, it may be easier to split/move your tree around afterwards.

Whatever you do – do not focus on branch shaping and location. Let your map be messy! At the end of the event you can reshape everything and move it to where it needs to be. Do not let this distract you from capture as you can only do that in the event. Smartening things up is a job for later.

You will find most software has an automatic structuring feature, snapping feature or ‘clean up’ feature. This will keep everything in some form of order as you go. The software I use, iMindMap has a really good clean up feature that tidies things up and makes sure everything is legible and in its own space. If you’re working from a single central idea, it also has a special capture mode that explicitly lets you focus on getting things down – and not on structure.

If you want to include images or photos in your mindmap, these can be done afterward – or as you go along. It tends to be easier to do this afterwards, but if you’re quick, it is nice to capture as you go along to ensure images are in the correct place. I do this a lot when capturing slides that I embed inside my map. As I have an iPhone and a MacBook Pro this is an easy process. I use Microsoft Office Lens to capture board pictures and then use AirDrop to send it to the MacBook and then into the software. That sounds like a fair process – but it is quite quick with practice!

As an example, here is an initial screenshot from the capture and another towards the end:

Initial version:

Final version: 

This final version is finished after the event. I spend time tweaking the branches and central ideas so everything fits. Sometimes I add in a few more links, reflections or questions to further reflect my thinking. Checking spelling and grammar comes at this point too, as does the inclusion of additional images.

 

 

Fitting in exercise around a professional doctorate and full-time work

I’ve just entered my tenth year as a student. While my first three years were full-time undergraduate, its been part-time study ever since. Balancing full-time work alongside part-time study has required a lot of jiggling around activities and the stopping of other things entirely. One of the first things to go was exercise. That pretty much disappeared at the end of my final year of university as the assignments stacked up.

I guess the first mistake I made was not finding time for exercise when I first started work again. I just did not get back into a good routine. In hindsight, I had the time. Loads of time. I just never really realised that until I started part-time study. By that time, all the that time was going on my masters. When that stopped, the time went on the doctorate. Any downtime or study gaps went to CPD. Volunteering quickly hoovered up any spare time left. Finding my soulmate and growing our relationship. Well. That threw time on its head. By this point, I was absolutely convinced I had no time for exercise.

Turns out I was wrong.

After much persuasion from some sporty colleagues to join them, and, assisted by the fact I am getting married, I finally jumped into exercise. It started with a yoga class, followed by spinning the week after. Over the couple of weeks following we were heading to the gym and playing badminton. A couple of months later, we were running outside. Most important of all. I feel great, and, it really didn’t take that much time!

komposita / Pixabay

Turns out, the whole exercise and time thing I had going on was a mental block and not a real one. I’ve made most of this work by fitting in exercise over lunch. Exercise isn’t eating into my mornings when I catch up on work. It isn’t eating into my evenings when I spend time with my fiancé or study. Combined with some more flexibility about how I fit in doctoral EdD work, I’ve even found enough time to nip to the gym or go for a run on weekends.

The best part about exercise, is that I feel great. I’ve feeling fitter, healthier, more awake and I’m loosing weight. Exercise really wakes me up to the extent that I feel I need less sleep. When I am awake, I feel more awake too. I’m kicking myself for not getting back into exercise sooner.

This last three months has made me realise the benefit of exercise for study. Turns out it’s pretty good for the soul too 🙂

Attending an online conference: The ALT Winter Conference 2017

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Winter Conference. This free conference was entirely online, delivered via a series of parallel sessions. Webinars, Twitter chats and wildcard sessions formed the basis for these sessions, with a good mixture of each across both days. It was my first time taking part in an online conference and so I wanted to reflect on the format here. Technologically, I thought BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra served for the webinars very well and it was nice to experience this first hand. I usually use Adobe Connect in my own practice so it’s always nice to see another system working.

The first thing that is important to note is that I attended from my open plan office at work. This of course makes a difference as I was surrounded by colleagues, and I was fitting conference sessions in alongside other work commitments. This means I wasn’t fully dedicating all my time to the event, which is a very different experience to being at an actual conference where you are fully immersed. This had advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, I was able to take part in the first place. I simply would not of had the time or money to travel to any conference at this time of year. On the negative, I felt it was not as good a networking opportunity as face:face conferences, and, that it did not provide the same ring fenced development time that you get with being away.

It would be unfair to say networking opportunities were absent. Dialogue and interactivity was present in every parallel session. There was also the #altc hashtag on Twitter for the backchannel conversation throughout both days. However, this is no different to the opportunities afforded at any conference. What I really missed however were the little conversations after sessions, in traveling, between parallels, over coffee, throughout lunch, at evening events and through drinks. I find a lot of the benefit of traditional conferences can be found around the formal programme, not just within it. I should note, the conference did have an always-on cafe for conversation. It was just empty the couple of times I tried to visit. Perhaps Twitter was the better forum?

Pacing the conference around work activities was fairly easy, and I imagine I was not the only person doing this. This did mean some times of day were perhaps busier than others, but this could have been depended on the sessions. The only frustrating thing about attending remotely is the clash between a very useful parallel and a work activity. Of course the work activity takes precedence! It just always tends to coincide alongside the one session you really wanted to see.

The aspect of time away is a difficult one. One of the things I like about a traditional conference is the mental break you get. The time away. The opportunity to focus on self-development, learning, thinking, networking, idea sharing, collaborating and more. The day job, research, writing or whatever else you are doing is placed on hold. Not forgotten, but you put yourself in a different space away. I’m not saying this is absent in an online conference, but because there is a tendency to take part from home or work, it is not the same kind of break. As above, this is advantageous as it means work does not need to stop for your to take part. But it prevents gains in some areas.

While I missed the face to face elements, I think this kind of conference is a fantastic opportunity. As I stated above, I would not have been able to take part were this a traditional conference. I also liked that I did not have to dedicate two whole days and travel to this. While I would usually gladly do this for any conference; work, my research, volunteering and general life are too busy to take all that time out! I’d like to extend a thanks to anyone running a session I attended at the conference. They were all engaging and I look forward to enacting some of this stuff in practice. Huge thanks to ALT too for putting it all together and making it possible.

Maybe I should also celebrate the fact an online conference helped me avoid a few wet days!

The EdD – One year on!

It seems like only yesterday that I started on my EdD journey.

As I sat at home filling in my annual review, it really struck me just how quickly this year has gone. While this year has led to many achievements of which I am proud, I have also noticed an absence of many things I *should* have been doing as part of my EdD journey. While I can be proud of my bibliographic management, organisation, note-taking and writing – many other things are absent…

Where are the conference papers/attendances?
What additional seminars have I engaged with?
What happened to my blog…

I figured writing down these shortcomings would be a useful way of (publicly) identifying some goals for the year ahead. I have made a great start in so many ways, but now is time to pick up the pace and continue to develop my wider engagement with the programme, with doctoral study and with the communities of practice for which I subscribe.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself in the context of the other achievements I have made this year. I have gained both my Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy and my Postgraduate Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. I now need to leverage these networks alongside the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education to continue to develop my thinking in all things to do with learning development and space. After all, what is the use of joining networks if I do not use them…

Something every day…

The flying start to my doctoral studies that I had planned (well… if I am more honest) expected didn’t really happen. Right after our first weekend, life simply got in the way. Even worse, it wasn’t anything in particular. Nothing bad or unexpected happened. I just fell out of the first EdD weekend right back into my regular routine.

That annoying little voice at the back of my mind knew this was a sure path to later stress and inevitable failure. So what did I do? I did what any self-respecting student does – I ignored it!

But it didn’t go away.

There was only one thing that I could do to get back on track. That started with admitting I was off track in the first place. I ‘bravely’ wrote an email to the rest of my tutorial group, admitting I had done nothing. Quite honestly, I was hoping everyone else was waaaay ahead to give me that pressure. (Yes – I am one of those annoying people who quite like working under pressure). Annoyingly I didn’t exactly get the response that I wanted. I just got a lot of comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. What did help however was the advice Azumah shared with the group and that was my reason for writing this post.

Azumah has blogged about Getting stuff done on the Hull EDD blog and it is definitely some of the best advice I’ve received so far:

Set yourself a start day. So I did – and that date was today. Although the second piece of advice has led me to do a little something every day, I made a point of ‘fencing’ off all of today to’ sink my teeth’ into my first assignment. I have actually had a lot of fun today – what took me so long! (more on this another time I think…).

Do something every day. It seems quite obvious really – but it is something that I have striven to do every day since that post went live. This has even led to nights where I’ve gone to bed and have had to suddenly spring out of a light slumber to make sure I do something before the day ends. It has kept the EdD in my thoughts for each day because of this. Even if I only do a little thing like read a few pages, conduct a search, add some articles to my EndNote library or even print some things out ready it has been enough.

Read every day. I am lucky that every day I read stuff that is useful for my EdD as part of my job. What I have done since however is ensure I always have something ‘ready to read’ either in print or electronic form. If I have a few minutes I can easily pick it up. No searching. No procrastination – speaking of which…

Turn vice into virtue. I have been known to procrastinate on occasion. Even today, I decided to do nothing until the courier arrived. I managed to convince myself I really needed those post it notes for my reading today. Thankfully it was an early delivery. But in all seriousness, this is something that I am aware of. Whenever I feel like I need a break and I’m sliding into procrastination I turn to Twitter. As I use Twitter for professional purposes, the worst I could probably do is tweet about something academic or end up reading an article that isn’t entirely relevant. Either way I get a break and I get something that contributes to my wider contextual knowledge within my disciple (see – I’ve been working on justifying this for a while).

Anyhow! I hope my reflections on starting the EdD have been interesting – if not somewhat useful. I wanted to share this to first of all thank Azumah for her advice and secondly, to share some of my worries with you all. I imagine I am not alone!

I’m a student again!

Perhaps I am being somewhat misleading with my title. It suggests I wasn’t already a student – when actually, I’m heading into my 8th consecutive year as a student at the University of Hull. This however – is the start of a new programme. I’ll be doing an Educational Doctorate (EdD), a five year part-time research programme. To say I am excited would be an understatement…

We received our reading list for the first weekend a few days ago and I’ve spent today pouring over journal articles in preparation. The articles have been a fascinating introduction to both professional doctorates and the concept of ‘inside researchers’. It has really made me question the multiple roles I will have through the programme. I am a graduate of the University of Hull, thanks to the EdD I am also both a student and to some extent a ‘researcher’. I can’t overlook the fact that I am a staff member too.

The interesting thing about a professional doctorate is that it is focused on the context of your profession. That means you research on your own doorstep. Now I knew this – this was my main reason for choosing the programme. I could root my research into my profession – making it relevant to my daily work and to the service I work in. What I had not considered was the multiplicity of roles that I would assume through the process. I could be both tutor/adviser to a student – but also ‘researcher’. I had not even considered how I would be both a ‘colleague’ and a ‘researcher’.

This is an interesting dilemma. I had not even considered that my friends and coworkers could perceive me differently though undertaking the programme. Now that is probably a bit dramatic. I am sure it won’t be too big a deal – and I’m positive it will all work out. It is however going to be a whole additional dimension that I need to keep in mind. I’ve always loved the deep complexity of phenomenon. This is going to be an interesting five years 🙂