Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thing 1 - Create your own blog & blog about curriculum design experiences and what you expect to get out of the programme

After completing Thing 1
  • You will have a shiny new blog to use throughout the programme to record your progress.
  • You will have tried out how to use a blog, to present yourself, but also as a learning tool.
  • You reflect on what way blogs can be useful for curriculum design, or as a learning tool in general.

What is blogging & is it relevant to teaching?
Check out the Wikipedia entry on blogging for a perfectly acceptable definition and brief history, then come back here.
There are numerous blogs and bloggers within the field of lectureship. Blogging puts a natural emphasis on reflection, and that's also why some teachers or lecturers use it in that way: to reflect on their professional experiences, to offer their opinions to other colleagues, to communicate to students or parents, or also as a tool to let students reflect on their own tasks or progress which can then easily be followed by the lecturers themselves. Not everyone is convinced by the advantages of using blogs in lectureship yet, but there are definitely some advantages that can help in certain situations.

  • Check out Damien Clark's presentation on how he uses blogs for teaching purposes.
  • Or have a look at his blog itself as he uses it in an innovative way with lots of teaching benefits.
  • It's also worth reading this article about how blogs could be used by students themselves to support their learning processes.

Blogging during 13 things programme
Blogging is a key element of the 13 Things experience which we'd like all participants to engage with. Every time you complete a Thing we ask you to blog about it. Your blog posts should aim to constructively evaluate each Thing, giving an indication of what you liked (or didn't like) about it. It would also be helpful to offer the reader an ongoing flavour of your experience of the programme. It's worth mentioning that any blogs which contain posts which say little more than 'Done Thing 3' will not be eligible for completion as that is neither entering into the spirit of the programme nor the purpose of blogging. If you want more information on what could go in your blog, it's worth checking the 'FAQ' section of this blog.

Blog platforms
We have chosen to give instructions on creating a blog on the Blogger platform as that is commonly known, very quick and simple to get going on, however , you may choose to use the other main free blog provider WordPress instead. Note that if you already have a blog, there's no requirement to create a new one for the 13 Things programme.If you'd prefer to use WordPress for your blog then you will find this comprehensive tutorial by Chris Abraham very useful: Wordpress: Step-by-step (From YouTube)
But having said that, you can just ignore this WordPress information if you would just like to follow our steps about Blogger below.

Step by step instructions

creating a google account
The first thing is creating a blog, and for that you need a Google account in order to be able to do that.
If you didn't know: Google is much more than just a search engine, as it can also provide you with a Calendar, Google Docs, Blogger and many more useful tools! But enough about that, the thing we'll be focusing on now, is Blogger and therefore you need a Google Account.
It's possible you already have a google account, so feel free to immediately jump to 'creating a blog' if that's the case. If not, just follow the steps described next.
  1. Go to
  2. Fill out the different fields in the form. The field 'Your current email address' means you're just registering yourself to be able to use the Google features. Therefore, this could be a Google email address if you already have this, but it could also be another email address you're already using, such as a Cambridge email address.
If you have problems with creating this, here's a tutorial describing how to create a new Google account (from YouTube)

creating a blog
Now you have your Google account, you're able to use many more Google features, including Blogger.
  1. Go to and sign in at the top right-handed corner with your Google account username and password. You could also just navigate to Blogger if you're already signed in (for example with your Google email address). This will bring you to a sign up for Blogger screen. Some of the information may already be filled in for you (depending on what you told Google when you signed up for your account) but you will need to choose a display name and to accept the Blogger terms of service.
  2. You now need to name your blog, and choose a web address (URL) for it. The address has to be unique so your first choice may not be available. As mentioned in the FAQ, we leave it up to you how you call your blog. If you want to use an acronym, that's entirely up to you.
  3. Now choose your preferred layout template for your blog. You can change this at any point for a different one.
  4. Congratulations, your blog now exists! Wasn't that easy?

Your first post
You now need to create your first blog post.
  1. Click on the orange arrow that says 'start blogging' (if you have logged out and are returning, then click on 'new post' by your blog's name on your dashboard - the screen you see when you log in). This will bring you to the posting screen.
  2. Enter a title for the post, and then type your text into the box. There is a toolbar at the top of the box which will allow you to format your text and add links and images.
  3. We want your first blog post (Thing) to be about 1) what your experiences are with curriculum design, and 2) what you would like to get out of the programme. Feel free to also add something about your experiences with setting up a blog, blog post and so on. You could do this in the same post, or in another one but don't forget to give each blog post a title, by also referring to the Thing you're talking about.
  4. Click the 'Publish post' button at the bottom of the screen, and your first post will be live.

If you would get lost at all at any point above, we could recommend this Blogger tutorial (from YouTube) .

Register your blog and explore other participants' blogs
You've already made your first post, congratulations! Now we want you to 'register' it so the programme team could add it to the list of participating blogs. This allows other participants to be able to view and comment on your blog easily.
All you need to do is visit this URL and fill in the details.
Once you've done that and other participants too, you should be able to see their blogs in the list of participants. Feel free to explore them!

Further reading
If you're interested in finding out more:


  1. An observation, not a complaint . . .

    It seems to me that the participants of this project would communicate better if we had one blog rather than each set up our own - though at least we are all going through the mechanical process of doing that, so that is a valuable learning experience for some of us.

    Are we struggling to communicate because the usual rules of communication have been taken from us? We can't put a face or voice to most of the individual blogs, and we are all asked to start a discussion on the same topic.

    The potential amount of information to link to and read is vast (eg clouds and cloudscapes and hidden (which should I read? I can't read it all) so, for me anyway, 1 thing a week is sufficient rather than 2.

    I am feeling disoriented!

  2. Hi Lynn, thanks for the feedback!

    Actually we agonised long and hard about exactly this - would it be better to run 13 Things as a discussion as you are suggesting (we would have made each Thing a cloud in CloudWorks and used the comment stream) or to do it as we have done, where everyone has their own blog? It's really helpful to hear what you think about this.

    In the end we decided individual blogs would be better for getting people's personal responses, but you're right that makes it much harder to get a discussion going.

    I will see if I can aggregate everyone's individual posts somehow, either here or in Netvibes, so it's easier to keep up with other participants. Maybe we could even consider switching over to Cloudworks after the halfway hall.

    About the size of the things, there is definitely a lot of material in CloudWorks and the LTS, certainly more than 20 minutes' worth! Hopefully our introductions have been enough to give an idea of what is in there. Please don't feel obliged to make an exhaustive exploration - really don't look at any more than interests you.

    The next few things will be more specific.

    Do tell us though if we're asking too much - we really do want it to be possible to do each Thing in 20 minutes.

  3. We asked participants to introduce themselves by making a blog and writing a post about their understanding of curriculum design. We also asked them to write why they are interested in 13 Things and what kinds of improvements and tools they would be interested in. What a wealth of ideas we got back!  I can only attempt a summary of some common themes. 

    *Planning curriculum content*

    mrj10 took an unexpected but interesting line, saying “What I would like to see, in an educational context, is more attention to deciding what information needs to be got over and finding the most efficient and clear way to present it.” We in the learning and teaching support business tend to assume that content is the easy part, so we focus on pedagogy, which has the added advantage that teaching approaches often work across many disciplines, in spite of the fact that we know from experience that content is lecturers’ first concern.

    How could we actually support this phase of curriculum design? mrj10 has three suggestions:

    #*Subject-specific information on student skills and knowledge base*: understanding the evolving profile of course entrants so as to adapt appropriately, responding to the evolving expectations employers have of course graduates.
    #*Subject-specific repository of curricula from comparable courses and institutions*: provide sense of how other people are approaching the subject and what is considered best practice.
    #*Repository of curricula for Cambridge courses*: discover and build on related courses that students taking a new course might have already studied.

    A national repository could be very interesting, although my experience is that attitudes to sharing curricula vary widely amongst lecturers - some regard them as information that belongs in the public domain (and in fact course documents are probably subject to FOI), while others regard them as a significant investment of time and effort, not to be given away lightly. It would depend on the level of detail involved - for lecturers module synopses would probably be more shareable than course materials, and more useful too, at least from a module design point of view. Higher-level course synopses likewise might be helpful for course designers, and are probably already in the public domain.

    Although none our our participants posted about them, when they signed up for 13 Things they cited a long list of pedagogic issues as being potentially fertile ground for improvement: incorporating new teaching tools, identifying appropriate content and assessment criteria, designing for students (i.e. not designing for validation and delivery, I think), designing for different learning styles, authenticity, identifying and addressing threshold concepts and misconceptions, improving course structure.


    mrj10 mentions “finding the most efficient and clear way” to present a curriculum. Efficiency is surely a Pandora’s box, and if having talked to mrj10 it it’s clear that for him at least it is just as important as content planning.

    Efficiency isn’t often acknowledged in our academic culture, perhaps because education shouldn’t depend on being able to pay for it, but in fact many course design decisions are made on grounds of efficiency. If that wasn’t so, wouldn’t every student have one to one tutoring?

    Efficiency matters for lecturers on a personal level too. As people with multiple teaching, research and organisational responsibilities, and like everyone only a finite amount of time, their predicament was nicely summarised by a lecturer at our halfway hall meetup: “we have to be the best teachers we can be, in the time available”.

    An implication is that lecturers are likely to measure design (and delivery) tools with an efficiency yardstick: do they help them achieve more in less time? Offering to help them achieving more in more time is always going to be a tough proposition to sell, because that extra time already has a high opportunity cost attached to it.


  4. [Continued...]

    *Learning about curriculum design*

    New teaching staff and those keen to compare notes would like to be able to learn from a community of teaching practice. N Page says “I'm planning to watch what's happening in the 13 Things programme to see what tools are suggested but more importantly to get an insight into what others are doing in curriculum design in the university.” The mongoose librarian says "I have no experience with curriculum design, so that’s exactly what I want to get out of the programme." mrj10’s national repository of course curricula could be helpful here, and he suggests two more tools which fit under this category:

    #*Forum for exchange of ideas*: both publicly with course leaders at other institutions (perhaps identified through the curriculum repository), and internally within course development teams as a closed, collaborative work environment.
    #*Generic pedagogic advice resource*: substantiated and credible recommendations about things like course structuring, learning approaches, alternative assessment modes, records of what worked well in courses (and why).

    mrj10: shared some of his own design principles, including “it is reasonable to expect that [students] can fill in the gaps themselves (assuming that there is suitable support if, for some reason, they can’t).  My aim is therefore to give students frameworks that they can build on”, and two participants outlined their own curriculum design workflows in the sign-up survey. This all suggests that as well as apprentice designers there are other staff who have tried and tested design methodologies and are willing to share them.

    *Management and co-ordination*

    The process of designing and delivering curricula involves a significant amount of organisational work even when not making radical changes. Uncertain Thoughts highlighted it as an important aspect of curriculum design “I'm taking part in a large amount of reorganisation & redevelopment of teaching - including new courses and new structures - over the next few weeks & years”. mj-coursedesign described a core problem of many course designs: “there is a need to keep each teacher's module both coherent and distinctive in its own right and part of a coherent whole overall, in which the different parts both complement and reinforce one another.” Part of curriculum design for her is the necessity of building in “opportunities for liaison between teachers, particularly to enable them to respond consistently to the needs of students, whilst not depending too heavily on this for the smooth running of the course.”.

    The signup survey turned up several more nuggets in this category, with comments such as “I'd like to know more about how to make the process more efficient, and flexible”, “I am currently involved in ... identifying unifying themes that run through the interdisciplinary course and encouraging existing and new contributors to teaching to address these themes from the point of view of their own disciplines”, and citing planning timetables, producing course documentation and smoothly integrating courses across departments as key design activities.

    This is all particularly relevant to CARET’s CourseTools project, whose focus is on reducing the friction of curriculum design.

    *Teaching and learning support*

    One of the reasons for running 13 Things is for CARET, as a teaching and learning support unit, to improve how it pre-filters potential tools. Uncertain Thoughts supports this aim, while evincing scepticism about the likely value of the tools we’ve included in 13 Things: “I'm confident that, at the very least, thinking about how they aren't useful is likely to be a useful exercise in working out the best way forward in the development of teaching and learning support”.


  5. [Continued...]


    A few participants added their thoughts on blogs themselves as potential tools for curriculum designers. Lynn’s Place not unreasonably said it was slow and cumbersome: “how much easier it would be to have the discussion in the office!” Uncertain Thoughts was scathing “Usually, my feeling reading them is somewhere between pointing at the afflicted and a slow blunting of my remaining faculties ... This looks, smells and feels like procrastination. And not as much fun as proper procrastination.” 13things Blog Trial pointed out “We already have a lot of interaction with students via supervisions, and CamTools offers discussion forum possibilities.”

    Blogging is, it’s fair to say, unpopular. Probably not a good sign for 13 Things!