Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Blogging your research

Photo by Hannes Wolf | unsplash.com
There's a first time for everything and the first time for the 'Blogging your research' series of workshops was Semester 1, 2019!

We (Tseen and Jamie - RED team members) wanted to run these sessions because we're both big fans of academic blogging, and have gained so much value from the practice both professionally and personally. It has been a lot of fun sharing our knowledge, tips, and strategies with highly engaged La Trobe staff and graduate researchers from different stages of career and a varied bunch of disciplines. And we have learned a lot in the process of bringing together these workshops.

One of the activities for the final workshop is to work with the class on writing, formatting, and publishing a blogpost. We wanted to make it live from within the workshop itself! So, that's what this post is: a communal post from the inaugural RED series of blogging workshops.

We asked our participants to reflect on the sessions they've attended and the discussions we've had. What was the most valuable thing they learned from them?


"Over the course of the blogging workshops the key lesson I’ve learned is that planning is essential for a blog to be both engaging and rewarding. 
A sense of one’s audience(s) is important if the blog is to be successful. Think about what it is you wish to achieve with the blog and the nature of the content to be uploaded.
What images shall I use? Who can I get to write up content for the blog? How do I moderate the account? How much leeway do I give to others who may wish to curate the account if it’s a blog that has multiple hosts?" - David O'Keeffe, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
"Blogging was a mystery and now the skies have cleared. Perhaps the most useful outcome for me was something I picked up on day one: that it was doable. I immediately could see what it is I wanted to say whereas up until that point I had wondered if I had anything to say. 
Just by being at the workshop and committing to the process, my brain clicked into gear, gathering what I needed to blog. Then the background information, the technical tools and the experience of others who had done it filled in the rest of the landscape. 
The key thing I’ll remember after set up is the knowledge that having a pipeline to take the stress out of the content deadlines is crucial, and that you can create that pipeline by bringing in others. These workshops have been great." - Erina Reddan, Creative Writing and English, School of HuSS.
"During the workshops on blogging, I have been inspired to have a go and create my own blog. Looking at different styles of blogs has given me confidence to create my own style and hopefully get my message out to a general audience. I am passionate about parents and their role in their child’s maths education and want to help.
A blog seems a good forum to begin this process by giving parents and educators up to date research in an easily read and encouraging way. Hopefully, as a result, parents will feel more confident with mathematics." - Jenny Holmes, School of Education.
"It was my first time ever being in a workshop like this. I have friends who are bloggers but have not had the time to actually ask them how they went about it. I came into this workshop with some expectations. To start my own blog and let people know about my research. You see, people always comment on how fascinating they think my research is. I always go like' yeah, yeah' in my head because I don’t believe it's that fascinating. I mean, it's so much hard work trying to document a language that I don’t even speak. What’s even harder is staring at my data every time I sit behind my computer. Not knowing how to analyse it and whether to just shove it all down and pack up my bags and go home. 
One amazing thing that happens during these challenging moments is when I think about the comments I receive from people. About how fascinating they think my research is. So, then I go back to my computer and brace myself to do something actually fascinating. 
So yes, I want a blog. A blog to let people know about endangered languages and one in particular that I am stuck with for a couple of years! These workshops have actually been amazing by giving me a complete start over as to how to go about my own blog and how to get it out there. Its been hands on and very practical." - Esther Manu-Barfo, Linguistics, School of HuSS.
"I came into the workshops hoping for some technical know-how and (perhaps) looking for that mythical silver bullet that would make me an instant blogstar. (Don’t we all hope for that when we do a course on a new topic?) 
But the true revelation turned out to be a deeper one: it turned out to be an identity question. A double-focused, Janus-mask kind of identity question. 
My thoughts about blogging rested on two essential questions: What sort of ‘me’ am I wanting to be when I’m out there in the digital world? And…who do I want to connect with? Who do I want to share my work, words and thoughts with? 
Yes, the technical side training was all gracefully handled by Tseen and Jamie. No, I am not an instant blogstar. But having participated in this series of workshops, I do feel ready to press ‘publish’ in Wordpress and create my own tiny island in the digital river of knowledge." - Carolyn Leslie, Creative Writing and English, School of HuSS. 
"The workshops were a useful space for me to think through not ‘if’ a blog could be useful – but ‘how’ it could be useful. It expanded my thinking about what a blog could stretch into. For example – I am developing a blog linked to a ongoing collaborative study with many partners. A blog could be a way to bring collaborators into the blog as a way of maintaining engagement not just with co-investigators – but their whole organisation." - Graham Brown, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
After asking our participants to contribute their thoughts in this way, it's only fair that Jamie and Tseen share what they found most valuable about running this first set of 'Blogging your research' workshops.

JAMIE: First of all, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to work with Tseen – a communicating your research guru – and our group of researchers who have rich ideas on the kinds of blog posts they want to write and read. One of the key things I am taking away from this workshop is the importance of finding the right image to accompany a blog post. What initially drew me to blogging was a love of writing, but images are important parts of blogging – they draw people in and are an important  aspect of online communication. Tseen shared this helpful website – Unsplash - which has images that are freely available for use. I suggest checking it out! 
TSEEN: One of the key things I learned was that I make too many presumptions about where people are with their level of technical knowledge and social media skills. I need to work on this! 
It's also good to consider the work of blogging as the whole cycle from concept to publication, to sharing and promotion. Talking this through conveys honestly how much is involved in managing and writing for blogs - the value is definitely there, but so is the workload!

Overall, we found the series to be a good space for reflecting on whether blogging is right for how you might want to communicate your research. If it was, then how are you going to do it? What are you in for? These and other questions and experiences were actively discussed and shared.

Blogging can be a lot of fun and an excellent way to activate and gather a community around your research. Managing a regular blog is also a lot of ongoing work. It's good to be aware of this when you start so you can plan to invest time appropriately in this space (that is: don't set yourself up to fail!).

We are very much looking forward to seeing our colleagues start their blogging projects. We'll update this post with their blogs when they do!

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