PLN Day 101: Where I Speculate Wildly on the Implications of Blog Stats

13 04 2010

As my PLN reaches 100 days old, I’ve been reflecting on what this process has meant to me and to my students.  With that in mind, I asked my students to analyze the people and resources they found as they built their PLN, and specifically to analyze their blogs, self-assessing the quality and consistency of their posts, and to analyze the conversations they’ve engaged in as they have undergone this process.

One trend I notice is that my students who have not been in conversation with other blogs or who have not been creating or adding to Ning threads, who have not been commenting on other blogs, or who have not ventured into the wide world of blogs and Nings and forums of all sorts, and who do not initiate conversations with fellow professionals do not themselves get visited all that much (several have less than 100 views per semester).  The ones that do all these things generate massive amounts of traffic.

Sometimes creating a single thread on the English Companion Ning can be a notable success, as it was with Amanda Shaw’s blog.  She commented eleven times, posted to the PICCLE forum, and this creates a baseline that benefits her blog, and, by extension, her whole personal learning network.  Amber Henry’s blog generated quite a lot of traffic without actively seeking conversations, which is a bit of a phenomenon.  Perhaps her blog simply attracts people, or maybe she is well networked socially to begin with.  Who knows what other factors account for Amber’s blog, which is relatively popular but makes little effort to promote itself — possibly the quality of her posts is a factor, or perhaps she generates enticing titles — i.e.  “An Ethical Dilemma” is her most successful post.   But maybe not.  “Another day of PLN-ing” is her second most successful post.   Brianna Rafferty got involved in several conversations on the E.C. Ning, but rarely commented on other blogs, and that probably depressed her stats, though I thought her analysis of the PLN was very thoughtful, and this reminds me that a benefit of the PLN  is that the experience of creating a learning network provides fodder for reflection, and having hard data, like the stats page, helps people count instances and extrapolate from that data.  Brittany McHale generated numerous comments from her peers, and has several hundred visits to her blog, and she became highly involved with the E.C. Ning.  She joined groups, made friends with people outside of the Penn State community, and she established a successful thread about Shakespeare. She was also extremely consistent, posting 21 times.

Let me take a generous sip of hot coffee.  Caitlin Mulroy’s blog got visited 5461 times.  Spffffff-wuh????? How did she do it?  Caitlin writes:  “The reason for this is simple. My post on February 25, entitled “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”; A New Audience and Technology in Education was about three different newspaper articles that involved technology. Originally I found the articles in the The New York Times, but the articles were also online, and so I provided links so that people could read them if they were interested. Obviously I wasn’t going to include the entire article in my post, I just offered my commentary about how technology is being integrated into society. These links are what caused the spike in my views for that day.”  Her blog generated massive amounts of readers besides that, though.  She has a handful of posts that received more than a dozen visits, and she’s been everywhere, and writing interesting, thoughtful, high-quality posts.  She is conversation with me, with Laura Young, and with Richard Byrne’s blog Free Technology for Teachers.  She has this to say about the process: “I have learned more than I could have imagined, and I have made reflections that I never would have made if it weren’t for this PLN. Above all else, I think that I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, and that was a huge step for me. When it comes down to it, this blog is more about personal gain than a grade, and I am satisfied with how I have developed personally and professionally through this Personal Learning Network.”

In her blog, Chelsea Sandone got some conversations going on Classroom 2.0, commenting about technology in the classroom.  She also used the E.C. Ning.  She put effort into her posts, but she posted only a half dozen times and this kept her number of visits comparably low.  In her blog, Diane Mowery writes of how she enthusiastically embraced the E.C. Ning, calling it her “new obsession.” She had numerous visits to certain of her posts, but rarely commented on other’s blogs; however, the quality of her posts and my mention of her blog helped her generate reasonable traffic.

Eric Yingling writes in his blog:  “I’ll admit that I was very skeptical of blogging and the idea of a PLN in general.  I am so accustomed to traditional learning practices that it just seemed unnecessary.  I was sticking to the old saying: “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”.  However, I think it has proven to help with my education way more than I ever thought it would.  I have been able to explore websites that I have never heard of and discuss education issues with people I have never met.  That has been a pretty neat experience.  These resources have proven valuable for researching education issues in all of my current course work.  For example, I am currently writing a paper which discusses the helpfulness of writing in science classrooms.  I have been able to synthesize the information I have gathered with my PLN (Ning discussions, blog posts, resource suggestions, my own writing, etc.) to help formulate opinions and find sources.  In essence, I have learned how to utilize my PLN.”  He had quite a lot of steady traffic, was viewed 280 times.  He makes the following observation about his classmates:  Having looked at many different blogs . . . of my classmates, I see three types of blogs.  Some people have gone way above and beyond what I would consider an ‘A’ PLN.  They post VERY often and comment on almost everything they see.  They also demonstrate a mastery of how to use networking sites that others don’t demonstrate.  The second tier of PLNs are those who blog regularly and add to discussions every now and then.  I would consider myself in this group.  I don’t slack, however there is definite room for improvement (as highlighted above).  Finally, I have seen some PLNs that have only a few posts.  These people are also completely mute as far as participating in discussions goes.”

Jaymee Frankel is just beginning to get into the conversation, and traffic to her blog languished because for weeks her classmates and I had the address of her previous blog on blogspot.  Jesse North’s blog was very consistent, and she posted about every week on average.  She read her classmates’ blogs regularly, but she almost never left comments, and thus her numbers are lower than they might have been had she been generating pingbacks and conversations with them.  Sometimes I think that we are all getting used to the read/write web, and the old model of just reading content produced by experts (usually who could write code for their websites) is a hard habit to break.  With blogs, it’s a two way street, and so many conversations are available to us that weren’t in the passive web 1.0/ passive-consumer-of-content model, but many students still find it hard to add something in that comment box, even though they almost always find that the conversations that ensue are rewarding and inspiring learning experiences in their own right.

Kim Cuppett has posted twenty five times in her blog, has close to a thousand visits, and has generated 57 comments from her peers.  Her whole PLN is linked together to provide a certain synergy — Twitter, the E.C. Ning, her RSS feeds, the Wikispaces project, Netvibes, youtube, teachertube taken together are greater than the sum of their parts.   She writes, “I used my classmates’ blogs to come up with ideas for my posts, and in return, I had fellow classmates fertilize ideas from reading my posts.  Like Jessie’s blog about “Entering the Conversation,” I feel I’ve done a decent job of entering various conversations and adding to them.”  That said, she wishes there had been more concrete parameters to the assignment, and she wanted to know how it was being graded.  I love clear procedures, but there is a certain magic to trying something out and not having any clear idea of what attainment looks like, even though everyone finds that to be frustrating at times.  I have been allowing this class to have considerable input into their grades.  Sometimes I’m not even sure if detailed descriptions of assignments and their rubrics do help.  Is Kim’s (or anyone’s) PLN better or worse than it would have been had I specified parameters?  Did I unwittingly get a more authentic effort? Was she intrinsically motivated as never before? Or was she aware of a certain distribution within her class and, based on that, make an effort to be near the top of her class?  Do my students value the process or the results, or something in between?  I keep telling myself that I see MUCH more intrinsic motivation out of this group, but everything eventually boils down to a grade, so maybe I’m fooling myself.  If I had said, this is a truly optional assignment, what exactly would happen?  If I said, this is an optional class, only come if you want, would they attend?  My stated goal at the beginning of every course is that I want my class to be so meaningful and worthwhile that you would rather be there during that time that doing something else.   I try to make good on that promise.

Laura Young’s blog has over five hundred visits.  She writes, “[Jason Whitney] gave me the initiative to first create this blog commented on one of my earliest posts, that blogging could be “the ideal creative vehicle” for me. And honestly, blogging has become this for me. Blogging has allowed me to combine my love for research with my love for writing and creative ideas, and gather the information I learn and enjoy in an organized fashion. I’ve learned a great deal through the writing and research that I’ve done specifically for this blog – along with constantly learning from other’s blogs and from the comments and conversations I’ve had from my blogs (and theirs).  As much as I’ve been keeping up with my blog because I knew my professor and fellow classmates would be reading it, I’ve also  (and mostly) been keeping up with it out of my own desire to research, learn, gather, organize and write about the topics that interest me. And this enjoyment and excitement that I would say I find in blogging is one of the main factors that allows me to give myself an A in my overall assessment of my own blog.  However, this is my one bit of a disclaimer before entering into my self-assessment: I invested the time I did into my blog for myself, my own enjoyment and my own creative interests, far more than I did for any external forces or reasons (professors, class mates, grades etc).”

Both Laura and Lisa Angelucci have been very helpful in terms of finding resources about blogging and other aspects of the PLN.  Lisa writes in her blog, “Food for thought: in most internet communities, approximately 90 percent of the members are lurkers. Nine percent of members are occasional participants, and the remaining one percent is active participants. It’s very, very difficult to convert a lurker into a participant. I tend to be a lurker, and I would guess that many of my classmates more or less the same. I give us all credit for pushing beyond our natural tendencies to observe and entering the conversation, even if we’ve done so reluctantly. (There is some variation to these numbers, but lurkers are always the largest percentage. See here or here for more info. The same breakdown tends to apply to engagement within other communities, including workplaces and offline organizations.)”  And regarding her motivation to blog, check out how writing for a grade eventually translated into intrinsic motivation:  “I don’t like blogging for a grade, so I’m going to stop short giving myself a grade for this project (though I would never have started blogging if I weren’t being graded for it). I plan to continue blogging after the semester comes to an end, because I’ve found great personal benefit in this project. It’s something I enjoy, when I finally force myself to sit down and write and gives me an outlet for the questions I have about teaching and learning. For me, this reflection is about deciding whether I am committed to this blog or not. I choose to commit. There have been times this semester when I’ve put my best effort into this blog, and times when I’ve only gone halfway. For April and beyond, my goal is to convert this blog from something that I do just because I must to a place I am fully proud of.”

Meghan Shanley writes about her PLN in her blog (115 views) that “I feel only somewhat satisfied with my progress in creating and using my PLN and what it has to offer; I’m made significant progress in my opinion, especially considering my reluctance in January. I began with much skepticism and annoyance. I had just added hours to the amount of time I needed to be on my computer for school even though I had planned to spend fewer hours in front of the screen that I have in the past.  But since then I have been able to embrace the resources to which I have been introduced. I appreciate resources like the English Companion Ning, the NCTE blog, Wikispaces, Classroom 2.0, subscriptions to blogs, and surprisingly Facebook (yes, I’ve been able to view Facebook as a resource and not just to talk to friends who are hundreds of miles away).

Nicole Dado (146 views) comments on her blog that she would like to comment more on her classmates’ blogs and offers the following reflection:  “First of all, I have to say that I have appreciated the experience of creating this blog.  I enjoy hitting the ‘publish’ button and then seeing my finished post appear on my page.  It’s nice to have a place where I can write whatever I want, with no length requirements or headings at the top of each entry.  That format of writing gets old really quickly, and I value the freedom in blogs.  That being said, this blog is something that is a lot more time consuming than I realized it would be.  I would love to be able to get on here and comment on all of these cool things we are doing in our LLED block classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I simply don’t have the time.  Instead, I have tried to focus on one or two main things in each of my posts.  I think that this way, I won’t feel overwhelmed when I sit down to write an entry.  I can clearly state what I want to say without going off on tangents, which would be easy to do.”

Elizabeth Bartels (96 views) writes in her blog:  “I’ve struggled a lot with this project because I didn’t know how it was going to be evaluated and thus didn’t know how hard I needed to work on it. Now I have a better picture.”

Rachel Dabiero writes in her blog, “It has been two months since I first began my Personal Learning Network journey. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing and was annoyed with the project. I explained my technological incompetency, which had led to an aversion to technology. Looking back now, I see how much I have learned and how much I have explored in the realms of online networking and even just basic computer skills.”

I like Rachel’s breakdown at the end:

“How I have improved:

-Became more comfortable with computers and technology
-Expanded my online network
-Discovered helpful resources (English Companion Ning, National Writing Project, Read, Write, Think, Teachers Teaching Teachers, NCTE)
-Learned methods for implementing technology into my future classroom
-Shared ideas with my classmates
-Explored my own beliefs and ideas

Where I can Improve:

-Post blogs of higher quality
-Engage in more conversations
-Continue to explore and research online resources
-Network more (LinkedIn, participate more on English Companion Ning)”

In her blog, Rae Thiesen has posted 38 times and received forty comments.  She has a PLN that has many working parts that seem to complement one another, and she writes about blogging:  “I’m very into making things my own and creating something that represents who I am. I also don’t like things to be ugly so I decorated my blog with widgets that I felt were necessary and uploaded my own background picture. Since I discuss (for the most part) professional, educational, and English topics I feel like it’s okay to have a blog that is “me.” I also hope to use this blog for my own purposes after LLED 420 has ended. I like writing and I like using it as a tool to figure stuff out. That’s another reason I chose to create categories for my blogs. If a visitor views my homepage and the most recent post’s topic is something silly or unrelated to education or English, they can click on the categories in order to find a post that they are interested in reading. I also developed a blog roll for other blogs or sites I felt were important and directly related to my blog. I thought I’d make it easier for people to access some sites by being able to just click on them from my site.  In addition to creating a blog, I comment on my classmate’s blogs a couple of times a week…”  Read her blog if you want to see what a functioning, mature PLN looks like, and she writes about feeling satisfied with the experience:  “I think I fulfilled the PLN assignment. I don’t like to toot my own horn very much, but I think I even went above and beyond. My blogging is consistent; I blog about significant topics (for the most part); I connected through the Ning network, starting some discussions and creating a group; I’ve used Wikispaces for more than the assignment in LLED 420; I created a LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and have those resources as potential connectors; I use PICCLE and connect to my peers in the PDS program; I made each of my pages and profiles my own; and I genuinely enjoyed this process. I learned to connect to the educational community. I became more tech-savvy. I found an outlet to express myself. My knowledge has increased. I’d honestly have to give myself an A on this assignment and not only for what I’ve done, but for what I plan to do. I don’t foresee myself abandoning “Connectivism.” I think I’ll stick to it.”

Ben Craig wondered in his blog about how his approach to cover music and video games and the things that were going on around him this semester and how he might have gotten more conversations going with the rest of his class.

Colin Hill writes in his blog that “The PLN, at first, was entirely neglected by me (pardon the passive voice in that sentence). It was hard to keep track of, and the guidelines were so vague that I hard time working up the motivation, and had trouble figuring out what was expected me.  This project, I have to request, could seriously use more guidelines next semester. I found it difficult to do the project, because all I really knew about was the blogs. The internet is so vast that it’s really difficult to just feel your way around, figuring things out as you go. Now that the PLN project has been more flushed-out, it’d be useful to set stricter guidelines for future students.  Like I said, around the beginning I didn’t keep up with my blog at all. I had a Google reader, and used my delicious account, but it was hard to really work beyond that. The English Comp. Ning was something I occasionally browsed, but beyond that I didn’t do much.  But as the semester went on I began to get more and more into the project. I took time at the end of each day to sort through my new RSS stories, and even shared a few with the class.  I consulted the E.C.Ning frequently to get ideas for things to talk about during my LL ED classes. It really helped me spark thoughtful discussion, and was a really reliable go-to resource for my little English questions.”

Jessie Bindrim writes in her blog, which had over five hundred views, “Overall I think my PLN has developed nicely and I put in effort above and beyond what was expected of us at first. I have learned loads and came up with my own ways to implement different technology we haven’t been taught about into the classroom, such as Stumble and The Sims. I have used my resources to make connections and stir up questions and concerns I have with teaching and Education. I have a solid foundation of a PLN that will contribute greatly when it comes down to teaching and even student teaching. . . Though I have had solid conversations, like I said in the beginning, we’re entering a conversation that has been going on for years and is going to continue beyond our years so there really is never “enough” discussion.”

And what of my own blog (which I have started and kept alongside my students, part of my whole philosophy of co-learning along with my students, and of modeling the practices that I ask of my students)?  I have 1850 views so far, 60 comments, and I am in conversation with all 21 of my students plus another twenty blogs regularly.  The E.C. Ning has been a huge resource, as has PICCLE.  I leave comments all over the place, and I will go into detail about what the PLN has meant for my own personal growth in a future post — suffice it to say that this has been a period in which I invested a lot of energy into my own personal and professional development, and there is evidence of the fruits of that labor all around me.  This class has been great for me, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my class for doing so much of the legwork.  As my learning network expands, so does their’s, and vice-versa, since we are all connected.

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21 04 2010
What I’ve Found « The English Inquisition

[…] When looking back at using a PLN (and after dwelling on Jason Whitney’s latest post) several experiences come to mind.  At first it was very foreign and difficult for me.  Soon […]

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