PHT402 Ethics course: Developing an online professional identity

This post was written for the participants of the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. For many of our participants working online has been a new and interesting experience but for most it will probably won’t progress much more than that. This post is intended to highlight how the blogs that have been created as part of the course can form the foundation of an online professional identity that can be carried forward as evidence of learning in a variety of contexts.

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.

Strategic blogging in the PHT402 Ethics course

This post is intended for the participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics course 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 for the course.

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
Screenshot showing some of the important areas in the index of posts, which you can use to more effectively manage your writing.

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 a blog post for the PHT402 Ethics course

This is a post for participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics online course being run by the University of the Western Cape and Physiopedia. Many of our participants 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. You should explore the additional content provided here through hyperlinks, as they are aimed at helping you to develop your blogging skills.

The point of this course is that you work with the ideas of other people to inform your own thinking about a topic. So, for the benefit of everyone taking the course you need to read other peoples work and you want them to read yours. 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.

Michael Rowe - Google+_002
My Google+ profile, showing the card UI design.

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. 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.

Just an example of an embedded picture with a caption that explains the context of the image.
Just an example of an embedded picture with a caption that explains the context of the image.

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.

Social media and professional identity: Part 2 (blogs & microblogs)

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on using social media to create and develop an online professional identity. Here is the full list of topics that I’m going to cover:

  • Part 1: Introduction to the internet and social media
  • Part 2: Social media, online identity and engagement (blogs and microblogs)
  • Part 3: Academic social networks (Mendeley)
  • Part 4: Academic social networks (ResearchGate)
  • Part 5: Academic social networks (Academia.edu)
  • Part 6: Getting started with social media
  • Part 7: Privacy and sharing: social media policies in healthcare

Social media, online identity and engagement

You probably have a Facebook page that you use to share family pictures and catch up with old friends. You may even use it to connect with a group of like-minded professionals, sharing experiences, resources and challenges in your work. This section will hopefully introduce you to a range of other online, social services that you may find useful. The idea is that you explore these options and play around with establishing a profile in one area or another. In each of the following sections, I’ve tried to explain in general what the service or technology is, and then give a few examples of ways in which I’ve used them in a professional context.

While the main theme of this article is to share ideas for 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 presence is that it allows you to interact and engage with others in your professional field. Twenty years ago, academics could only rely on the (very slow) process of publication and subsequent citation to establish an academic reputation. Now, with the affordances that the web provides, crafting a professional online identity can happen relatively quickly. However, it’s the interaction and engagement through conversation and discussion that builds credibility, rather than just “being there”. This section will discuss two of the main ways that people are engaging with each other; blogs and microblogs.

Blogs

A blog is a personal online space in which entries (called “posts”) are published in reverse chronological order (i.e. newest posts appear first) and is a combination of the words “web” and “log”. WordPress is probably the biggest blogging platform at the moment, although Blogger is another commonly used service. Prior to blogging platforms, it was challenging for individuals to post content online, as it required a knowledge of HTML and basic coding skills. With the advent of blogging tools and free content hosting, it became possible for anyone with an internet connection to post information to the web, essentially allowing anyone to be a publisher. Most modern blogging platforms allow for integration with other online services. For example, sidebar widgets can be used to display your latest tweets (see Microblogging below), your shared images on Flickr or Picasa, your LinkedIn profile, or your most recent conference presentations via Slideshare or Prezi.

I started blogging a few years ago and after a few false starts (a normal part of trying to find your own voice) I created /usr/space, where I continue to blog today. My blog is where I share my experiences of and research into clinical education. In the past, it might have taken many years – sometimes decades – to build up a reputation through publication in international journals. Now, while that aspect of developing an academic reputation is still important, you can begin a conversation with others in your field almost immediately.

A blog is often the place that professionals use to establish a first online presence, which you can think of as a space to develop a digital representation of who you are (or who you would like to be). But, some people seem to think that they should share everything they are, or everything they want the world to think they are. When you first begin blogging try to do the following:

  • Write regularly. Google gives greater relevance to blogs that are updated more frequently.
  • Be yourself and write about what is important to you.
  • Include images or embed videos. Blogs are visual mediums and good use of images help grab readers’ attention.
  • Use links to external content so that your post could be a resource for someone else.
  • Respond to comments left on your blog.
  • Write comments on the blogs of others. Blogging is about engaging in a conversation with others.
  • Use an RSS reader, like Google Reader, to keep up to date with other bloggers in your field.

One of the things that might take some getting used to is the idea of being public. Sharing with the world can be intimidating (“What if I’m not funny / smart / clever / [whatever] enough?”). My advice is to keep your posts authentic. Be honest with yourself and your audience and you’ll find that there are others out there who are experiencing the same challenges that you are, and will respond to your writing. Write for yourself, but be mindful of the fact that others will be reading it.

Here are some of the blogs that I subscribe to. Most of these are about teaching and learning, but there are some by clinical educators as well. Have a look at the last few posts from each of these bloggers, and if it looks like they’re sharing ideas that you might enjoy reading about, subscribe to them. Even better, comment on what they’ve written and share your own ideas. Remember that the whole point of blogging is to engage in a conversation with colleagues who have similar interests, and that the list below is a tiny fraction of the full conversation that is happening.

Microblogs

Microblogging is about sharing content in a very limited format. The most famous example of a microblog is probably Twitter, although Tumblr is another good example. For the purposes of this article, I’ll stick to Twitter, just because it’s what I’m most comfortable with. Twitter allows users to post “tweets” of 140 characters, and was originally designed to be used as an alternative to SMS, hence the 140 character limit. When you first start tweeting you might find yourself trying to decide what to say. It’s OK to begin by watching to see what others are talking about, but know that if you’re not actively sharing, people will be hesitant to follow you.

Some of the things that you may want to share include your own experiences of “being” whatever it is that you are. Share the challenges you face in your professional context, or the things you see in the people around you. Tell your followers about a particular insight that just came to you, or a link to a really useful / interesting / engaging / thoughtful / inspiring online resource. Take a photo of something beautiful and share it with everyone. The whole point of being on Twitter is to engage in a public space, so be careful with what you tweet. A future employer might end up reading it.

There are several desktop and mobile Twitter clients that extend the functionality of the standard web-based experience (e.g. being able to send and receive tweets from multiple accounts), and you should play around with a few until you find one that you like. Some of the more popular clients include Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Echofon and the default Twitter client for most smartphones.

Conventions that you should be familiar with when using Twitter:

  • Stream – The feed of tweets that come from the people you follow.
  • Follow – When you “follow” someone, it means that their tweets show up in your stream. You should follow people who are interesting to you, otherwise your stream very quickly becomes polluted with content that has little value for you.
  • RT – “Retweeting” is when you see a post from someone you follow and share it with everyone who follows you.
  • DM – “Direct messages” are a bit like email. They’re private and can only be sent between people who follow each other.
  • @replies – When someone addresses you or mentions you in public. Everyone can see what’s been said and you get a notification that you’ve been mentioned. The message usually begins with “@yourusername”
  • # (hashtags) – Adding a hashtag allows others to perform a search on that word or phrase, which can be really useful during conferences. In addition, you can follow ongoing conversations like #phdchat, a collection of PhD researchers who share their experiences, stories, resources and tips for staying sane.

You can sign up for a Twitter account here, and here are a few users who I think are interesting to follow, just to get you started: @thesiswhisperer, @mashable, @courosa, @danariely, @opencontent, @pgsimoes, @presentationzen, @drtonybates, @sapinker, @coolcatteacher, @giustini, @bryanalexander, @amcunningham, @cameronneylon, @francesbell, @nlafferty, @gsiemens, @sebschmoller, @downes, @jamesclay, @ryantracey, @rachaellowe

The next part of the series on using social media to develop an online professional identity will review Mendeley, one of my favourite applications on the desktop, iPad, phone and web.

Blogging taking a back seat for now

I’m in the process of writing up the final parts of my PhD and am hoping to submit a first full draft in August, in preparation for a final submission in November. I’m doing it by publication and so am focusing my attention on the last 2 articles I need to complete. I’ve published two, submitted one, have one almost ready for submission and a final paper that I haven’t begun yet. Together with the bridging pieces that connect the articles, I still have a lot of work to do, which is why I haven’t been blogging with any regularity lately. I’ll definitely pick up on this when my work has been submitted.

Using a rubric for a blogging assignment

Earlier this year I gave my 3rd year students an assignment in which they needed to write a reflective blog post based on a clinical experience they’d experienced. I just thought I’d share the rubric I used to grade the assignments, as I’ve come across a few people have have had difficulty trying to assign grades to blog posts. This one below is the best that I could manage but would love to hear if you think there’s anything I could do differently.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-25

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-18

  • Some beautiful photos from around Cape Town over the past few days (not mine) http://t.co/56JmLtl #
  • Amazing weekend at the #caperoyale hotel. Recommend it for any special occasions / celebrations. Friendly staff & great food. Thanks #
  • Beautiful day at Greenpoint Park, can’t believe what amazing weather we’re having #
  • Over 1 billion items shared every day on Google+ http://t.co/KtbAVMO #
  • @GoodTasteMag loved the rib eye steak 🙂 Service was fantastic, really good experience #
  • @ShanLatimer sitting outside at #1800 in the middle of winter at the #caperoyale Cape Town is fantastic 🙂 #
  • View from the pool deck of the #caperoyale http://ow.ly/i/enxq #
  • Staying at #caperoyale for the weekend, really impressed so far, great service (www.caperoyale.co.za) #
  • On social networks: “If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product” #
  • Hey Google — being social is not an engineering problem http://ow.ly/1uD0TH #
  • Does Google+ solve the privacy problem or make it worse? http://ow.ly/1uD0za #
  • Further Thoughts on Blogging Profs. http://ow.ly/1uCWZs #
  • Slow Academia « The Thesis Whisperer http://t.co/AF62ZsZ #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile http://bit.ly/riyuKD #
  • “Analytics” interventions « Gardner Writes http://bit.ly/pILLgV. Indictment of standardised testing #
  • Learning with ‘e’s: Going the extra mile http://bit.ly/riyuKD. Too nervous to try and step outside the box #
  • “People who live in the intersection of social worlds are at higher risk of having good ideas” (Burt, 2005) via Anderson, ALT-C presentation #
  • “Relationships, more than information, determine how problems are solved or opportunities exploited.” (Looi, 2001) via Anderson, ALT-C prez #
  • Championing open access to research http://ow.ly/1uyaDr #
  • Applications for FAIMER / SAFRI Fellowships in 2012 now open at http://bit.ly/qcyD9J #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-11

Reflective blogging in an Evidence-based practice module

During 2010 a colleague and I studied the use of blogging to facilitate reflection among postgraduate physiotherapy students as it related to the process of learning evidence-based practice. We’re in the last stages of writing the article and have developed a poster that will be presented at the World Congress of Physical Therapy in Amsterdam during June.

Here’s the poster:

Frantz & Rowe – Blogging to Facilitate Reflection in EBP