On being an Infrequent Blogger

Hi, nice to meet you, I’m a terrible infrequent blogger.

Alright, so I’ve been trying to complete some courses online, and one thing these courses all seem to have in common is the requirement to maintain a blog.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand the utility of a blog in this context. I’m just… Not particularly enthusiastic about it?  No, that’s not quite right, because that implies I’m not motivated to complete a blog, and I think I am.  I mean, I feel like I have things to say, and I actually Ike the blog format because it allows me to say my piece without unrestricted argument (i.e. I can moderate or forbid publically-visible comments, MUAHAHAHAHA! Ahem. Moving on…).  But I’m not sure it’s a great format for those people wanting to find out what I have to say (yeah, all those many people…), because I don’t post very frequently, as much as my classmates and colleagues and facilitators have been trying to convince me to.  I think I might be on track to figurinng out why, so I’m going to go against all my inclinations here and post – gasp! – an incomplete thought!

I’ve been trying to figure out why, despite my best intentions, I haven’t seemed to get myself to post a comment in a discussion forum every day, or a blog post at least once a week.  I often found myself starting a post and then relegating it to the ‘draft’ bin for further consideration, or previewing a comment and then deleting it, or just stopping partway through and abandoning it.  This happens to me even when considering replying to a post of a blog that I follow with a comment.  That got me to thinking about the fact that I spent longer than I probably needed to in writing my Master’s thesis, and my Doctoral thesis, and every research paper or review article I’ve ever written.  And it seems to me that I don’t like putting anything out into the public sphere that isn’t… Well, “correct” isn’t quite the right word, because I certainly don’t mind being corrected if I’m wrong (as I’ve told my students!), but I think… Well-reasoned?  Well-evidenced?  I guess I don’t mind being wrong, but I do mind being seen as… Is there a word for it?  I was going to write “stupid” but that’s not really the right word.  Naive?  No, I don’t mind just not knowing facts… As long as I’m allowed to change my mind in the face of new information.  Aargh, I spent way too much time with thesaurus.com to not be able to find a word that means what I want it to!

Let me try putting that a different way.  Whenever I’m putting something “out there” for even semi-public consumption, be it a blog or comment or thesis or anything that leaves a record anywhere other than in the squishy brain of a person or two, I  want to make sure that it makes sense objectively, that it fits with observable and evidenced reality.  I don’t mind conjecture; I was after all a research scientist where good hypothesis generation and testing is the name of the game.  But making unevidenced claims is a big no-no.

So what does all this blathering have to do with posting frequency?

Finding evidence to back up my claims takes time.  And sometimes often I find information that contradicts my claim, or seems to back it up but not really, or I get sidetracked on some vaguely related note, or… Well, you get the idea.  Between the time it takes to get through all that and the standards I try to hold myself to, it means getting things posted out in the public sphere happens infrequently.  In the context of discussion forums, it means I can have a hard time keeping up, especially when dealing with controversial topics.  I’ll happily take a couple months to work on researching a given topic, but that sort of timeline in an ‘online’ world doesn’t seem to be realistic anymore.  I don’t like feeling like I can’t stay caught up, when I know realistically I should be able to, if I could get over myself :-/

But what does all this have to do with teaching? Because you know I had to bring it back to that!

One thing to consider as an instructor is that my presentations, my quizzes, my test questions, my review materials, my textbook will never be perfect. In the courses I currently teach, our students are expected to learn about 1-3 topics per week, which means I have to present them with 1-3 topics each week.  That hardly gives me as much time as I’d like to make things “perfect” the first time around.  And yet I do it, so what’s stopping me from dealing with other things the same way?  I do worry that my students will judge me – they are adults, after all, and I’m supposed to be an ‘expert’ – but I manage to get past it in a classroom setting, with either my students or fellow classmates in courses for instructors, where I can’t seem to when I’m presenting things online…

That’s not quite it, either, though, because my presentations and review questions and things are online for my students… Not entirely “publically accessible”, but then neither are the discussion forums I try to contribute to as part of these courses I’m taking.  And here’s where I claim incompleteness of thought, because I can’t quite pin down what the issue is.

I schedule times when I try to convince my self to post something in a specific spot, but seem to either get distracted or spend so much time obsessing over some detail that I exhaust myself and can’t find the energy to do a second task.  Or I talk myself out of posting whatever I was going to say, figuring it’s irrelevant or incoherent or unclear or…well, you get the idea, right?

Actually I don’t know that “you” do.  And here I come to my resolution for this blog: from here on our, whether I’m working as an instructor or taking a training course or both (!), I’ll post at least one “incomplete” post here each week.  I’ll be tagging them as such mostly becaase it gives me a nice out for my apparently accuracy-obsessed brain.  Might work, no?  One way to find out…

One last thought: I suddenly find myself with a heck of a lot more sympathy for my students who claim feeling overwhelmed.  I Think I have an idea of how to try to help them find ways past their own hesitations as I work through mine… I’ve assigned take-home assignments in the past, and they don’t tend to go as well as I like; in speaking to students afterwards, a LOT of them leave things to the last minute either because they’re busy or just overwhelmed by the assignment or material.  This term I’ve been having students work on assignments in class, but allowing them to hand their assignments in a few days later… They seem to be doing better with that, but still not great, and I know they can do great on these assignments!  They’re designed to allow students to do great!  I’m thinking of upping the deadline so they work on their assignments in class and hand them in before leaving, more like how labs are typically run.  Since I’m there to help guide them and ask questions of and so on, I think it should help?  Worth a shot I expect; I’ll try to follow up in a few months once I figure out if it seems to help!

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