I have to say: here at ACI, we’re a really lucky bunch. Day after day, we’re forced to browse and revisit the blogs of the coolest, most engaged scholars in every discipline imaginable. And because all blogs are editorially curated and vetted through multiple levels (including PhDs and librarians) in the editorial review process, we have absolutely no shortage of brilliant posts and credentialed opinion to browse through. (And yes – reading those posts can be a self-serving distraction; those posts call to us like uneaten brownies in a break room.) So we are lucky… but even so, we still stumble across blog posts where the blogger’s content and research interests make it even harder to get back to work. And the blog of Peter Reed, PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and author of The Reed Diaries, is one of those.

Peter Reed’s blog, The Reed Diaries:      View in ACI     |     Visit the Blog

The uses of social media by college students and faculty? Check. Correlations of said usage on performance and academic growth? Check. Technologies in modern pedagogy: what works, and what doesn’t? Check, check. Digital ethnography, tweet-chats, technology-enhanced learning experiences in academia… no matter what your field of interest, Peter Reed pretty much covers it.

Read on for ACI’s interview with Peter Reed below, and see why the content and scholarship of bloggers like Reed make it even harder for us to get back to work.

 ACI Interview with Peter Reed

You’re a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool. Can you tell us what discipline(s) your PhD studies are in? What interests made you decide on that area for your doctoral studies?

Peter Reed
Peter Reed

Yes, my PhD is looking at social networking amongst undergraduate medical students at Liverpool. There are lots of fascinating concepts related to social networking that we don’t even think about. And this isn’t just about online tools – many of the concepts were proposed B.C. – Before Computers! Some of the research that has inspired me so far are things like: Homophily (the notion that we tend to stick with people who are similar to us); this homophily is often demonstrated within the clustering of racial/ethnic groups (even if this is just a perceived belief that people will be similar based on these demographic factors); and Granovetter‘s notion of Strength of Weak Ties – which relates to the closeness of the networks we engage in. When those small networks are really closed, we are isolated to new information as a result of homophily, i.e. we’re all very similar and likely to come across the same new information by our own means. As such there is great importance and emphasis placed on those ties that we’re not so close with (or similar to), as these can facilitate the flow of new information.

See, fascinating!

And when we add technology back into the mix, it really does open things up ten-fold. One question that I’ve been pondering lately is: if we know that networking can help students, why don’t we encourage it more? Why do we continue to line students up in huge lecture theatres in rows that restrict communication and collaboration? Why are we still frowning at students using Facebook or Twitter? I think it’s really important we raise awareness to these concepts and start to take advantage of the promises of technology to support learning and teaching.

You’re also a Lecturer in Learning Technology there. Do the classes you teach allow you to focus or touch upon any of your primary research interests?

Yes and No, I think. In this role much of the teaching I’ve been involved with has been online and at Masters level. So whilst I have been interested in and involved with completely online learning and teaching for about 9 years, this probably isn’t my main research interest. My unique position within the Institute for Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences has enabled me to pursue some research interests though – things like how staff and students view the use of technology enhanced learning (TEL), including the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), online submission of coursework and lecture capture (recording lectures). I’ve also maintained a great interest in open education over the years so still trying to keep my hand in there too, and then over the last year or two I’ve given some thought and piloted some work into assessment analytics!

And this was one of my biggest challenges in getting started with my PhD – I just didn’t know which of my interests to focus on.

Your posts have touched upon some really fascinating topics, like digital research, digital ethnography, interpreting the language of feedback, and even what students want to experience more of in the classroom (your VLE baseline work). How did your interest in these areas come about?

I was quite new to my role and wanted to get a feel for what work was currently happening in my faculty in regards to TEL (as there had been a recent report published by the Guild of Students around the key things they want/need). So I began with an audit of the VLE to see what was actually happening. This showed some really good work happening but it was isolated pockets of innovation rather than strategic and consistent implementations. Around the same time I was pulled in to a group looking at writing a new TEL strategy.

So with that, and the data from my audit in hand, I thought it would be useful to see what staff in my faculty thought about the areas that the Guild report and the TEL strategy were focussing on. The data from this was really interesting which then led on to researching in more detail what the students in my faculty thought about these three areas. So in a way I was triangulating the TEL landscape – what was actually happening, and what did staff and students think about these key areas.

The Reed Diaries
The Reed Diaries

The funny thing about VLE baselines or minimum standards, is that they’re actually quite low tech. It’s not very innovative at all, but instead I think they’re really about giving students those essential bits of information that they really need to survive at University. These hygiene factors (repurposed from the work of Herzberg) can help prevent students becoming dissatisfied, in comparison with the glitzy motivating factors of things like Augmented Reality or Games Based Learning.

Some of the other things I’ve worked on are also about me questioning the work we do on a daily basis. The ‘language of feedback’ stuff came at the same time I was looking at assessment analytics. I was interested in the data that our systems collect routinely and how we can use that to tell us a bigger picture about assessment performance. This was really inspired by some of the work Cath Ellis had done at Sheffield (Hallam I think) before she moved back to her native sunnier climates down under. As I was looking at this, I began to question what students understand about assessment – do our academic terms such as ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ really help them engage with this? And I also suggested we should attempt to visualise our assessment schedules at a programme level so we can see the burden we’re placing on students. Typically academics run their own modules and only one or two people might have an idea as to what’s happening across the whole student journey. I think this needs to be a bit more explicit so we can understand the pressures and priorities for students.

Of course, I’m only one person and wouldn’t pretend we’re doing all these amazing things at Liverpool. I just hope that in all the conversations I have with colleagues each day, someone might be inspired a little to go away, think about something I’ve said, and maybe do things a little differently.

One recent post mentions your interest in how social media activity might impact med students’ achievement in medical school. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Yes, so as I said earlier, we know there are links between social networking e.g. the roles we adopt in networks/who we network with, and achievement. There’s been some work that suggests those students who network with older students (from subsequent years of study), with professionals (junior doctors, consultants, etc) or even their lecturers, perform better in assessments. Again, this is linked to information flow. I suspect as students are preparing for assessments they can ask these people for help explaining certain concepts, or perhaps be directed to useful resources (or avoid certain resources) to help studying.

When I’m really busy but have something playing on my mind, I just make a few bullet points and save it as a draft to return to and flesh out when I get chance. I get to the office quite early (between 7.30-8am) and find this my most productive blogging time (with a cup of tea in hand), so I guess it’s about routine too – I’m definitely a creature of habit so I find this useful.
Peter Reed on blogging

So I’m interested in all of these things amongst our medical students at Liverpool. And to build on this, I’m also interested in how they use technology to support this networking, and the things we might do to take advantage of this knowledge/insight.

In your post entitled “Leveraging Value from (Social) Networks and Communities”, you bring up a number of topics that would interest scholars from a wide range of fields – educators (in any discipline), those whose research revolves around education as a field, sociologists studying patterns and correlations in social media use, academic UX engineers trying to find out what causes students to engage in various pedagogical technologies. Have you found that your blogging and social media activities allow you to take better advantage of the multi-disciplinary interests coming from those in fields other than your own?

Well, I’m hardly an internationally renowned blogger, but I have had some interesting conversations with people based on my work. I’m very open about all the things I’m working on (cognisant of the benefits of networking of course:-) ), so I try to blog as much of it as possible. I’ve had people from the US and other countries contact me about earlier work related to staff attitudes towards Open Educational Resources; I’ve had lots of conversations around the VLE baseline work (and continue to), which has led to some other institutions using some of my resources to get going themselves; and the assessment stuff (language, timelines, analytics) led to being invited to keynote at the eAssessment Scotland Conference last September which opened even more conversations. Also recently I wrote a chapter for The Really Useful #EdTech Book, edited by David Hopkins – this is really a collection of reflections from people just like me across the educational technology field. It’s a great read (especially my chapter)!

So blogging as a form of open scholarship has certainly been useful for me (and hopefully for others too), although Twitter is where much of my discussions and resource sharing takes place – I’m @reedyreedles over there by the way!

As a PhD candidate who’s also actively lecturing and active in social media and networking, how do you find the time to blog about your research and academic notes of interest? Any advice for others in academia who want to blog more about their topics but find the time-balance factor a little overwhelming?

Well, blogging can certainly be time consuming but I think if you can blog the work you are doing on a daily basis, it certainly helps. Quite often my posts are literally brain dumps – a way of me making sense of the information I’ve been mulling over. Many of my posts have then been tweaked for internal reports or journal articles, etc. In this way, the blog is mainly for me thinking out loud. Quite often the things I blog are emerging topics or things already under discussion across the sector – if other people read and then engage in one way or another, then great!

When I’m really busy but have something playing on my mind, I just make a few bullet points and save it as a draft to return to and flesh out when I get chance. I get to the office quite early (between 7.30-8am) and find this my most productive blogging time (with a cup of tea in hand), so I guess it’s about routine too – I’m definitely a creature of habit so I find this useful.

What I would say to others though, is avoid blogging for the sake of blogging. Of course, we’re all encouraged to develop a digital identity and this has certainly been useful for me, but there has to be a point to it. As I said, my blog was mainly for me, and if anyone else is interested then that’s a bonus. I must say, I went through a little phase of trying to push out 2 posts a week and after about 4-6 weeks, I looked back and had blogged some rubbish. It turned from being a reflective practice for myself, to trying to please potential readers and metrics/systems for having a high impact blog.

Needless to say I knocked that on the head and I’m back to myself now, thankfully. There are many more renowned bloggers than me out there with mass followers, but the things they blog are nothing particularly new – typically a regurgitated form of existing works. So I’m not particularly interested in them – I like to read opinions on things from people I respect. David Kernohan and Martin Weller do a lot of blogging on open education which really gets me thinking. Unfortunately the likes of Amber Thomas who is definitely on the same wavelength as me when it comes to open education, isn’t so active blogging since moving to Warwick from Jisc. Sheila Macneill blogs in a reasonably similar way to me – sharing the work and conversations she’s engaged with, and David Hopkins has some great insights into the role of Learning Technologists.

So think about what you like to read, and that’s probably how you should write!

Further Reading:

Peter Reed’s blog, The Reed Diaries:      View in ACI     |     Visit the Blog

Speedy professional conversations around learning and teaching in higher education via the brand new tweetchat #LTHEchat
Journal ALISS Quarterly by the Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences
Sue Beckingham, Chrissi Nerantzi, Peter Reed, and David Walker, February 2015
Visit hashtag #LTHEchat

Hygiene factors: Using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction
Peter Reed and Simon Watmough, E-Learning and Digital Media, Vol. 12 No. 1 68-89, January 2015

Staff Experience and Attitudes towards Technology Enhanced Learning initiatives in one Faculty of Health & Life Sciences
Peter ReedResearch in Learning Technology, September 22, 2014

Tweet-chats: The new condensed synchronous discussion forum?
Lifewide Magazine: Special issue: Using Social Media in the Social Age of Learning
Peter Reed and Chrissi Nerantzi, Issue 10, June 15, 2014

Hashtags and Retweets: Using Twitter to aid Community, Communication and Casual (Informal) Learning
Peter ReedResearch in Learning Technology, September 13, 2013

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