If basic research were conducted under the conditions of educational research

Council of the rats, from Wikimedia Commons
Council of the rats, from Wikimedia Commons.

This post was originally published at /usr/space.

Basic, bench research study – you are testing the mechanism of an airborne viral infection on lung function:

  • You have a line of carefully bred rats, all genetically identical.
  • You keep them under controlled conditions of temperature, food, exposure to the environment and isolation from other rats.
  • You expose them to the virus under conditions to ensure they get identical levels of exposure to the pathogen – viral concentrations and durations of exposure.
  • If desired, you expose them to the virus multiple times at specified intervals.
  • After an appropriate interval, you sacrifice the rats to examine the lung tissue for evidence of the effect of the virus.

If you take the same kind of study and try to implement it under the conditions of most educational research, you have something like the following:

  • Your rats come from everywhere: white rats, sewer rats, pet rats, roof rats, Norwegian rats, and even a few mice. In fact, the rats are INTENTIONALLY selected to be diverse, rather than uniform.
  • You have no control over where the rats live, what they eat, what they do, what other rats they consort with, or what activities they pursue.
  • You expose them to the airborne virus in a large room when all the rats are gathered together by releasing the aerosol at the front of the room and letting if diffuse through the rest of the room. During this exposure interval, some rats come in late, some leave early, some are sleeping and thereby breathe in less of the virus, while others are active and breathe in more. Of course, some of the rats aren’t even there.
  • If you want to have multiple exposures, some of the rats from the first exposure will now be absent, whereas other rats will be there for the first time.
  • After exposure, many rats intentionally try to share the virus with their fellow rats.
  • At the same time, dozens of other researchers are using the same rats for their own studies, exposing them to various agents, running them through various mazes, observing their behaviours and feeding them all manner of diets.
  • Instead of holding them in controlled conditions while the virus establishes itself, you have to release them back into the wild, where they roam freely, engaging in all sorts of unexpected activities and exposing themselves to all sorts of other viruses.
  • When it comes time to perform the autopsies to examine the effects of the virus, you first have to catch as many of the rats as possible. Some evade capture and other that you trap don’t look familiar to you and you question whether they are really part of the study.
  • Then, you find that the ethics board denies you the opportunity to sacrifice the rats. Instead, you must develop tests to infer the effects of the virus or questionnaires to ask the rats “how they feel”.

Larry D. Gruppen (PhD), University of Michigan Medical School

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Unteaching how we think about teaching

Unteaching.  I like that.  We need to unteach the assumptions we carry about teaching.  Foremost is the assumption that teaching is easy.  Anyone can do it.  We see this in our national discussions on school teachers.  Every year in December we lament the annual matric results.  It is so predictable that I am sure the same articles are recycled from year to year.  Why are we surprised that young people coming from communities plagued by poverty and a host of social ills should be performing poorly on an academic exam?  Underlying this is the assumption that it should be an easy task for a teacher to take these young people and transform them into high performing exam writers.  Of course we do know that some school teachers are not at all up to the task and some could be putting in more effort, but I think what we are missing is that there are many teachers working hard in difficult contexts, putting in long hours and lots of care.  I had all the naivety whacked out of me during a memorable teaching practical in the early 1990s when  my youthful self headed off to a Khayelitsha school to start demonstrating how my brilliant teaching would change the world.  The experience left me with a much more realistic sense of what it would take to turn this country around and quite how much growth I was going to have to go through before I could start being part of the change.  Why do we expect schooling to solve all our social problems? 

 Let’s then return to a more modest discussion that focuses on teaching and what it can achieve. I’m sorry but there are no magic bullets in education.  Teaching is a complex activity, sapping of energy and creativity, and the learning outcomes are never assured.  If someone tells you otherwise they are lying.  But we need not despair.  We know that good teaching does make a difference.  It makes learning more likely to happen and it can inspire young people to start to become something in their lives.  Although there is no simple cause and effect relationship between teaching and learning, good teaching is totally focused on learning.  Learning is this extraordinary process where an individual person takes on knowledge and makes it their own, something they hold and with which they can work.  If you want to help that process to happen then you are part of trying to bring together both the learner and the knowledge.  Teaching that is only focused on the knowledge will have a limited impact, especially in a context where you have learners who are still developing their ways of learning.  Teaching that is only focused on the learner will involve people in busy activities that might even make them feel good but no real knowledge will be taken on board.

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Now I want to situate our discussion on teaching in the university context.  Unlike school teachers, teaching is only a part of what academics are required to do.  Academic life is a busy job with many different parts that need to be juggled, predominantly teaching, research and administration.  Let’s disabuse ourselves of another notion: The view that somehow we are in the future going to get more resources with which to accomplish our work in universities.  We are not.  This is true pretty much everywhere in the world.  We are most probably going to have to do more with less.  So we need to get really smart.  The way most of us currently allocate time is not always that smart.  So you are going to have limited time to spend on your teaching.  What should you prioritise?  I have identified five things that are top priorities for me.  And I have to confess right away that producing beautiful powerpoint slides is not one of them…

 My first priority centres on the knowledge.  And in the context of teaching in the sciences, for me the focus on conceptual understanding is crucial.  The lecture serves to ‘open up’ the subjects, to create a conceptual map and to establish the major signposts.  You have to go into a lecture knowing the few ‘big ideas’ that you are planning to tackle in that session.  Here, of course, your own clear understanding of the subject is non-negotiable.  But to that you also need to add some sense of where students are likely to trip up.  Unfortunately, schooling tends to encourage the development of high end memorisation skills.  These are of limited use in the learning of science and engineering knowledge.  I try to do everything I can to signal this point.  Significantly, I allow students to bring into a test one A4 page on which they can write anything they like.  Given what we are usually testing in our courses, I find students don’t really need this ‘crib sheet’.  But, significantly, it can reduce some of the exam nerves, and most importantly it demonstrates to students that I will not be asking them much that requires simple recall.

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My second priority is to work hard to be able to accommodate as wide a range as possible of student educational backgrounds in the class.  No one said this would be easy but it is the central challenge for university lecturers today.  You are not a good teacher because you can engage a homogeneous group who all came from highly resourced school and family backgrounds.  You are a good teacher because you can (of course) engage this (typically minority) portion of your class as well as the majority for whom life was not so ideal.  A key challenge here is in building an integrated classroom community.  If students feel isolated and marginalised, if they feel that they don’t deserve to be there, then learning is not going to happen.  One thing that I have been working on a lot in the last while are innovations that give extra time on task for those students who need it, noting that you as a teacher do not necessarily have extra time to give.  A first complete no-brainer is to do lecture casting.  Here students have an opportunity to go through parts of the lecture again where they didn’t fully grasp everything the first time it all happened.  We have clear evidence that this is making a significant difference for students who struggle in the course.  This year we kicked off with another innovation in our first year.  Here, students who have performed poorly in the first semester came back on campus for three weeks during the vacation for intensive work with a top postgraduate tutor.  This was extremely well received by students and we are watching the impact as we go forward in the course.

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My third priority might surprise some.  I make a tremendous effort to get to know student names.  I teach classes typically in the order of 130 students and I find that over the semester I can pretty much get most names under my belt.  I am not ‘good at names’.  But I simply make this a priority.  I do have a few tricks though.  In the first two weeks of lectures students come in small groups to have a lunchtime cooldrink with me and to tell me something about themselves.  I find that knowing something about a student – ‘He’s the guy from Kimberly who said he is enjoying the big city’ – helps me to remember a name.  I require students to introduce themselves when they participate in class.  This also helps other students to get to know names.  If you want to totally shift the way your students experience your teaching then put effort into names.  It is a very radical thing on a university campus, for a lecturer to greet a student by name.  I have only taught classes up to 150 so I do accept that for those of you with bigger classes this might be a huge challenge.  But the evidence is that many of us teach 150 or fewer students in our classes.

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My final two priorities centre on intellectual challenge.  I believe the intellectual challenge has to start in the lecture theatre.  So I am not into passive transmission style lectures.  I ask students questions; I get them to try out small parts of problems; I get them to discuss things in small groups.  This relates to my final priority which is to set clear deliverables and to have high expectations.  I expect my students to work hard and to deliver top quality work.   I require students to drop me a note if they have to miss a class session; this is to develop a facility in communicating with me as a lecturer and a confident professional attitude.  I mark ‘hard’.  I set challenging tests.  I run projects that are complex and open-ended.  I ask probing questions when students do their project oral presentations.  But I also always praise when I see outcomes that are looking good.  I tell the class when I am impressed to see from the website traffic that there was hard work happening in preparation for the test.  I tell them when I like what I am seeing in the project reports.  I also tell them where the next set of challenges will lie and where they need to put more effort. 

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This is not an easy job.  This is not a job with a straightforward set of techniques.  But it is the best job.  There is nothing else I would rather be doing with my life.  It is a huge privilege to work with these young people and watch the transformation as they learn and grow.

 

Photos: Gary Hirson Photography www.garyhirson.com

 

Developing a professional online identity

This post was originally written at /usr/space for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. For many of the participants working online was a new and interesting experience but for most it probably wouldn’t progress much further than that. This post was intended to highlight how the blogs that had been created as part of the course might form the foundation of an online professional identity that could be carried forward as evidence of learning in a variety of contexts. Note that while the context of this post was for health care professionals, the principles are more broadly applicable to other fields.

digital_identityIn an increasingly connected and digital world, it often seems that too much is happening, too quickly. Every week another online service, app or device is competing for your time and it can be overwhelming to decide where to focus your attention. Even in our professional lives as clinicians or academics, there’s an increasing sense that “being” online is important, even if we don’t know exactly “how” to be, or “where” to be. There is a move towards the sharing of clinical experiences and resources that can add value to your professional life, if the available services and tools are used effectively. The clinical context is so dynamic, complex and challenging that we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our professions to share what we know.

The Internet offers a perfect platform for this professional interaction, particularly through the use of social media. “Social media” is an umbrella term for a range of online services that facilitate the creation, curation and sharing of user-generated content. It is increasingly being tied in to mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets) that make it easy to share many aspects of our personal and professional lives. Some examples of the types of technologies that come under this term are: blogs (like we’re seeing in this course), microblogs (e.g. Twitter), wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Physiopedia), podcasts, discussion forums, virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life), gaming worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft) and social networks (e.g. Google+ and Facebook). As you can see, the term “social media” covers a lot of ground, which is why it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly someone means when they talk mention it.

While the main theme of this post is to highlight the benefits of creating and maintaining an online professional presence, bear in mind that it’s not enough to simply “be” online. The main advantage of having an online professional identity is that it allows you to interact and engage with others in your field. Twenty years ago, academics and clinicians could only rely on the (very slow) process of publication and citation to learn about changes in the field. Now, with the affordances that the web provides, crafting a professional online identity can happen very quickly. However, it’s the interaction and engagement through conversation and discussion that builds reputation and a sense of presence, rather than simply “being there”.

You might be feeling that this is all a bit overwhelming and that you don’t have possibly have the time to get involved with all of these services. And you’d be right. Try to think of this as a developmental process, one that is going to take time to evolve. You didn’t emerge from university as a fully-formed, well-rounded clinical practitioner or researcher. It took time for you to develop the confidence to engage with colleagues, to share your ideas and to contribute to professional dialogue. Establishing an online identity is no different.

Whether you decide to continue updating your blog, or to start tweeting, the point is that you start somewhere, and start small. As your confidence grows, you’ll want to begin experimenting with other services, integrating them with each other and building them into your workflow. This is the most crucial part because if you think of this as just another thing you have to do, or another place you have to go, you’ll find yourself resenting it. Build a foundation in one space at a time, and only use services and applications that you feel provide you with value.

In the beginning, you may feel more comfortable “lurking” on social media sites, listening to the conversation without really contributing. This is OK and is likened to a form of Wenger’s concept of legitimate peripheral participation. Over time, as you gain confidence you may begin to feel that you have something to say. This may be as simple as posting your own content (e.g. a tweet, a blog post, a status update), sharing the content of others, or agreeing / disagreeing with something that someone else has said. Whatever it is, don’t feel pressured to say something profound or clever. Just give your sincere input to the conversation.

In case you’re wondering if there are any rules or regulations in terms of using social media as a health care professional, that’s hard to say. Many organisations and institutions do have a set of policies that can inform practice when it comes to employees using social media, although it’s hard to say if these are rules or guidelines. One of the biggest difficulties is that as a health care professional, the public often perceives you as always being “on duty”. A physio is always a physio, whether you’re working or not, which makes it difficult to determine what is appropriate to share, and when. The following list of health-related social media policies may help you to tread the fine line between your personal and professional online identities.

Developing an online professional identity and presence is an essential aspect of modern scholarship and increasingly, clinical practice. Not only does it allow you to connect and engage with researchers, academics and other clinicians in your field of interest, but it helps to develop your professional reputation by giving you an international platform to share your work and your ideas.

There are many services and platforms already available, with more becoming available all the time. While it’s not necessary to have a presence and to participate in all possible online spaces, it helps to be aware of what is available and how the different services can be used in the development of your own professional identity. Finally, while developing a professional presence is advisable, be aware that what you share and how you share will have as much of an impact on whether your share or not. There are some guidelines that are particularly relevant for health care professionals and researchers, but even then, the area is under such rapid development that it’s difficult for institutional social media policies to keep up. If in doubt, always check with your employer and colleagues.

Writing a research proposal for T&L

Here are my notes from a presentation by Prof. Denise Wood on developing a research proposal for projects looking at T&L.

Image from Tony Duckle's Flickr photostreamUnderstanding the funding body is important when it comes to applying for funding. Disciplinary specific proposals may not be successful when it comes to T&L projects.

Local evidence of successful projects is important before applying for larger grants. Collaborative teamwork is a great way to build ideas and test concepts. Local resources help you get started and build a track record. Generating pilot data helps to begin publishing. When panels review research proposals, your previous experience in obtaining funding and successful proposals is highly emphasised.

Why are you undertaking the study? Knowing your goals will justify your design decisions. What are your goals:

  • Personal
  • Practical
  • Intellectual / theoretical

Writing proposals is closely tied to career trajectory

How are you using research and research projects to improve your teaching practice?

What conceptual framework are you using:

  • Research paradigm
  • Experiential knowledge
  • Existing theory and research
  • Pilot and exploratory studies

Interested in addressing a gap, bringing in personal reflections that guide and influence the research. If you only think of your conceptual framework as a literature review, then you limit the scope of your research to what others have done.

Research questions:

  • What is the relationship between the goals and the conceptual framework?
  • Help to guide the actual research design / methods
  • Used to connect the problem and practical concerns
  • Should be specific and focused on the study
  • Need to allow flexibility to reveal unanticipated phenomena (if the questions are too focused you may miss emergent ideas)
  • Need to avoid inherent assumptions as they bias the study

Find a balance in the number of questions (3-4 is usually adequate)

Begin with divergent thinking to allow yourself space to explore many possibilities. Mind mapping is useful to identify high-level ideas. Begin reading broadly and then begin narrowing the focus. You can’t answer all possible questions in one study.

Try to avoid getting too caught up in the details of the research methods. Only use methods that you understand.

Note that you will be informed by your own epistemological understanding of what knowledge is and how we come to know. Your methods (quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods)  will most likely mirror your understanding of how we come to know. This will in turn guide how you sample, gather and analyse data.

For local studies, it’s OK to use a pilot within a classroom. Use this to identify a single context. Larger proposals would be better to expand the scope of the study and test the outcome of the pilot. On the basis of the smaller studies, you can make an argument for the larger study. Think laterally about how you can collect data.

  • Validity: How might you be wrong?
  • Bias (what assumptions do you bring with you? Results and interpretation distorted by your own values and preconceptions)
  • Reactivity (quantitative researcher may try to control for the effect of the researcher influence; qualitative researcher looks at how they actually influence the outcomes)

How do you reduce bias and reactivity?

  • Studies should be intensive and long-term (not the same as longitudinal study)
  • Gather rich, thick data (less likely to get from surveys / questionnaires; rather use interviews or focus groups)
  • Respondent validation of outcomes (is what you heard the same as what they meant?)
  • Identifying discrepant cases or evidence (you should take outliers into account, but identify and reflect on them, not necessarily include in the main data and suggest reasons for the discrepancy)
  • Triangulation
  • Comparative data (look at different contexts and populations)

Proposal checklist:

  • Identify a funding body
  • Objectives of the funding body
  • Use the guidelines that the funding body provides
  • Previous funded research and see what has been accepted and / or rejected
  • Links with existing research that the body is involved with
  • Evidence of value, need and benefits (institutional, local, national, international)
  • Background / conceptual framework
  • Methodology
  • Evaluation strategies are valued in educational research
  • Engaged dissemination whereby you share your results as you go, using a variety of methods, including publications, conference presentations, social media and workshops
  • Budget: must meet funding body requirements, realistic, value for money, justify costs
  • Milestones: linked to objectives and outcomes
  • Researcher capabilities: ensure you can deliver what you say you can, track record, previous collaboration, strategic, roles and responsibilities, realistic within workload

Try to model your proposal on successful projects. Learn from the mistakes of others. Sit down with a colleague and ask for constructive feedback.

Explicitly make reference to important and contextually relevant policy documents.

Identify how your research is going to create systemic change.

How are you going to evaluate your process and outcomes?

  • Formative: should be ongoing and used to modify project
  • Summative: can be broad and can go beyond the stated outcomes

Design-based research: can use milestones that are linked to formative evaluation. Identify problems early on and adapt quickly.

How are you going to convince the funding body that the people you’re collaborating with are adding value to the project? You must justify the presence of every team member and highlight how they will contribute.

How are you plugging the holes that funding assessors are going to be looking for?

Differentiate between deliverables (the tangible products that will come from the project) and outcomes (the achievement of stated aims and objectives).

This was originally posted at /usr/space.

Privacy and public discussion when blogging

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was published at /usr/space, but it is relevant for anyone who would like to develop their blogging skills. Many academics have little or no blogging experience, so this post is aims to suggest some resources that might be useful in terms of developing skills in online professional communication. It is part of a short series of articles on blogging that I will be posting here. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

7557181168_91f4af2d99_zOne of the things I always notice in other people’s blogs is the use of images that show other people. We need to use caution when uploading pictures into online spaces, since they become circulated far more widely than was the original intention. Even if you did obtain the person’s permission to take the photo, did you get permission to share it with others? With the world? We often use pictures like that because it really does show people a part of ourselves that we want to share but we need to be mindful of the other people in the picture. When it comes to our own professional practice, there are different sets of rules that apply. Information shared with us during interactions with others (and photos are just visual information) are often assumed to be private and confidential and there is an expectation that it will not be shared beyond the scope of the original interaction.

What about discussing colleagues or anyone else who you interact with in the course of your employment? What is the difference between having those conversations with peers and students in the classroom, and having the same conversation online? Well, for one thing, online almost always equals in public. The rule of thumb I always use is to ask myself how (or if) I would say what I want to say if the person I was talking about was going to read my work? What if the person you’re talking about comes across your post one day when you apply for a job at their institution? Even if you’re not talking about them, will they want to hire someone who speaks poorly of a colleague in public?

The other thing that you need to think about is how you feel about sharing your own life online. Even though sharing your thoughts and feelings may be beneficial in terms of presenting an authentic personal point of view, you should never feel pressured or obligated to put online something that you’d prefer to keep private. You can be as public or private as you like. I personally share very little of my personal life online but write often about my feelings around my professional life. My emotional response to the professional context is something I’m very comfortable sharing. However, my emotional response to things that happen in my personal life is not for the public view. That’s just how I prefer to establish the boundaries of my online presence – you can choose what works for you.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should always be mindful about what and how we share online. When something is discussed in an elevator, it’s ephemeral. When the same thing is discussed online, it will exist forever.

Strategic approaches to blogging

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was first published at /usr/spacebut it is relevant for anyone who would like to take a more strategic approach to their blogging. By using a few strategies suggested here, you may find that it’s easier to make the best use of your time when preparing your posts. I will be posting a short series of articles on developing your skills as a blogger. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

One of the difficulties you may come across when blogging regularly is finding the time to regularly reflect and write for this course. Since this module is allocated a slot on your timetables, I suggest that you use that time to work on the course. Even if you don’t have regular internet access, you could use the time to read content that you’ve downloaded, make notes, draft reflections, and discuss the topics with your peers on campus. The point is to put aside time in the week to focus on the module and then use that time effectively, even if you’re not actively blogging.

However, when you do sit down in front of the computer, you want to make sure that you spend your time writing, rather than trying to figure out how to use the platform. Remember that even though the course is designed so that you can progress through the topics at your own pace, there is still an endpoint and it doesn’t make sense for you to spend time on the technical aspects of blogging. There is no one keeping track of what you’ve done and when you did it so you will need to create your own schedule for working and then take responsibility for keeping to that schedule. The more familiar you are with using WordPress, the more likely it is that you can use your time effectively. Here is a screenshot of the Posts page, highlighting the common elements that you can use to manage your posts.

Posts ‹ -usr-space — WordPress - Mozilla Firefox_005

I strongly suggest that you begin drafting your reflective posts as soon as you can. Create draft posts for each topic (see image below) immediately and then work on those drafts over time. Every time you visit your blog, open your drafts and add new ideas, links to resources, links to other participants’ blog posts, images, etc. When you read something in the WordPress Reader and you want to incorporate it into your next post, copy the link to the post you want to reference and paste it into your draft. This way you can build up your reflective posts over time, rather than feel like you have to write it all overnight. You’ll also find that your thinking may change as you engage with others, and that something you wrote a weeks previously doesn’t feel quite right anymore. The Save Draft button is in the top right corner of the post.

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Use the Quick Edit feature of WordPress to make simple edits to the elements of your post without having to load the whole page (see image below). This feature becomes visible when you move your cursor over the post title in the index of posts. You don’t have to click anything to make it appear, just hover your mouse over the text to bring up the menu, and then click on Quick Edit.

Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.
Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.

I often find that when I’m in a writing frame of mind I can get through two or three posts in one sitting. Or, I write the posts on the weekend or late at night, which is when most of the subscribers to my blog are probably away from their computers. Since I want to make sure that as many people as possible read my posts it doesn’t make sense to publish them at those irregular times. In cases like that, you may want to schedule your posts so that they’re published at certain times or on certain days.

Considering that you want as many people as possible to read your posts, you should consider linking a Twitter account to your blog. This would allow WordPress to automatically push your blog posts to your Twitter feed, which would increase the chances of the post being seen and read by your followers. It also means that your Twitter followers could Retweet the original tweet, thereby increasing exposure to your post.

Another aspect of the course that you may find is taking up a lot of time is interacting with other participants. When I comment on someone’s blog posts, I always tick the “Notify me of follow up comments” box. This means that when someone responds to something I’ve said, I get an email that lets me know. However, there’s another way to do it. There’s a notification icon in the top right hand area of your blog, which is coloured orange when you have notifications. See the screenshot below for an idea about how to quickly respond to comments.

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That’s it. Just a few suggestions that may help you to be more productive with your blogging and to make effective use of your limited time.

Constructing an effective blog post

This post was originally written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course and was first published at /usr/space but it is relevant for anyone who would like to develop their blogging skills. Many academics have little or no blogging experience, so this post is intended to provide some suggestions and resources that may be useful when learning how to write your own posts. It is part of a short series of articles on blogging that I will be posting here. You may also want to find additional resources on our Blogging page.

A reader will often decide in the first few seconds if they’re going to read your post, which gives you very little time to make a good first impression. One way to encourage them to continue is to begin with a bit of introductory text (like I’ve done above), or to ask a challenging question, or to come up with a controversial or interesting title for your post. I’m not saying that this post is perfect but in it I’ve tried to show some examples of the different elements that can help make your writing both contextually and visually interesting, and which will encourage others to engage with you.

First of all, you should be aware that blogging can help you to develop certain skills, which could have value in your professional life, above and beyond what you may learn in this course. Being aware of these skills and actively trying to develop them will show returns in your professional career in the future. Here are some good reasons to consider blogging:

Incorporating other elements into your post will help to create interest for the reader. Embedded videos and images are great to break up long passages of text, as well as to provide contextually rich multimedia content that supports your writing. Since one of the major aims of this course is to think about the concept of empathy, I’ve embedded one of my favourite TED Talks below in order to demonstrate what an embedded video looks like.

You should also use links in your posts, for two main reasons; they direct the reader to additional resources and they can be used to support claims that you make. If you write something that’s just your opinion it won’t carry much weight. But, if you add a link to another source that says the same thing that you do, it strengthens the argument you’re trying to make. In this way, linking is a form of in-text citation. Note that simply adding another source doesn’t automatically strengthen your argument, especially if that source isn’t credible. When your thinking around a topic has been influenced by someone else’s work, you should acknowledge them by linking to their post. You can do this by copying the URL of their post (note that this is different to the URL of their blog) and then using it when you create a link in your own post. Describing how your own thinking has been informed by others is a powerful form of reflection that is strongly encouraged during this course.

When it comes to design (look and feel), I like to have a clear, uncluttered interface, lots of white space, neutral colours and a crisp font. For these reasons, I love Google’s updated user interface guidelines across it’s various platforms, and especially the “card” interface. My point is that you should choose a template for your blog that reflects a little bit about who you are and what you like. Does simplicity say something about you? Or, lots of bright, vibrant colours? What about serif or sans-serif fonts?

When it comes to personalising your blog using your own photos not only adds an element of personal style, but also avoids issues with licensing the content of others. The images above are screenshots that I’ve taken myself, of my own online spaces. The picture below is one that I took myself and can therefore use in any way that I want. I’ve added it simply to show the effect of including a nice picture to get the attention of the reader. Adding a caption is a useful way to provide context for any media that you add to your post. Adding a personal touch to your blog is great but when you’re using content that you haven’t created yourself it’s important that you’re familiar with licensing. The search function at Creative Commons is a great resource for finding openly licensed content.

Always include a caption with your images so that the reader knows what it’s in relation to.

And that’s it! The first of what will hopefully be a short series of posts as part of this course, aimed at helping participants develop a set of skills that can be used beyond the boundaries of this short course on Professional Ethics. If you have any suggestions of other tips and tricks to enhance your posts, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.