Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

How to Boil the Ocean: Lessons of Blogging for Online Discussions by @berlinf #heartlandconf11

These are my notes from Berlin Fang’s presentation, “How to Boil the Ocean: Lessons of Blogging for Online Discussions” at the 2011 Heartland eLearning Conference on March 8th. Follow him on Twitter: @berlinf. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. See my notes from Berlin’s preso at last year’s conference, “Putting Learning In Student Pockets: Mobile Learning at Oklahoma Christian University.” I’m recording this session to share later as a podcast. THIS WAS A GREAT SESSION AND BERLIN SHARED GREAT IDEAS HERE!

Berlin’s blogs:

We have about 2000 students at Oklahoma Christian University
– I am from China originally, and I actually blog a lot as a sort of cultural anthropologist living here in Oklahoma

When I help people develop online courses, the faculty members are often fearful about losing the personal touch, losgin touch, and establishign their presence at a distance

Why do people blog?

Reference to “Pursued by the Government” movie originally in Chinese, translated

lots of times WordPress and Blogger are blocked in China
– that is why I self-host with a CHinese hosting service

Why blogs in the age of Twitter and Facebook?
– to me I feel 140 characters is hardly enough to express what I want to say, it’s good for sharing pointers to other places
– it’s ultimately not about the tools – it’s about our ideas and what we say

Blogger roles
– citizen journalist: West Virginia Mine Disaster example
– writer: “Nothing has happened unless bloggers are talking about it”
– teacher: “I learned…”
– Window: “Window to the world…”
– Lobbyist: “Workers’ Union Example (blog post I wrote comparing unions in the US and in China was republished in a magazine)

In China print media has had primarcy historically, but now things seem to be reversed
– people talk about things on blogs first

I try to use my words to change the world one person at a time

Blogging has changed my life
– articles
– columns
– books
– awards

I’ve had two book offers from my blog
– this is like writing a book backwards!

I have won two blog awards in China
– originally I thought it was scam

Most importantly: I make lots of friends with my blog

I use the sandwich method when writing: I don’t aways write directly

Blogs can be turned into podcasts
– you can turn text into speech
– Voki is an example
– I met a person in Beijing who has hired people to read my blog in Chinese into his podcasting service, and that is now available in iTunes

Blog is media
– it interacts with other kinds of media
– it spreads out to print media, TV news, etc
– this is the way things are happening in China now

Example: My post “Cook Your Way to the Chinese Mind” was picked up and made into a magazine article, and then went onto TV

Most read posts:
– Too close vs too clear (200,730 views, 676 comments)
– Pre-marital questions (106,018 views, 174 comments)
– more…

1st post about family relationships and family dynamics (sorts of questions pastors and counselors use when talking with engaged couples)

Implications for online discussion: What drives people to a discussion?
– story: one ounce of story is worth a ton of argument
– familiarity: if people know you well, they will read more
– relevance: if this is something they can relate to, they will come
– practicality: if this is something useful, they will come
– curiosity: if this is something they want to know about, they’ll come

An oversimplified chart of American Inter-generational relationships
– made Chinese version, very complicated by comparision

Not all posts being read the most are being commented on
– “After Lu Xun, can we have Lin Yutang” (61,390 views, 924 comments)
– reference to Lu Xun who is in all our textbooks as a revolutionary author
– China is having a debate about whether his articles should be removed from textbooks

“Guo Jingming” – was in NPR story saying he doesn’t care about politics (post has 45,468 views, 914 comments)

In the evenings Berlin translates lots of books, and when he gets tired he’ll sometimes write a blog post as a break– that really helps!

Why would a reader participate in a blog / online discussion?
– Duck effect: dull arguments are not conducive to discussions, duck v portfolio
– watchdog effect: people are on guard for errors, ‘the masses’ eyes are now snow-bright / razor sharp
– dragonfly effect: reader cannot tolerate incongruity
– safety valve effect: readers feel rather safe to comment if you create a non-threatening environment
– my turf effect: everybody is an expert at something
– “I’ve got to say something” – there are those readers who are determined to say something, anything

Book: “Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate” by Stephen D. Cooper”
– now the bloggers are watching

Portrait of an Engaged Learner
– I asked students to write about words which describe an engaged learner

see “What does student engagement mean to you?” post

Wordle about Engaged Learning from Berlin Fang

Another interesting post and cross-cultural comparison: Forks and Chopsticks

Post about movie: Tender Mercies

Post: Hey couples, talk your way to bliss

Power of a good controversy: Tiger Mom (from Yale Univ)
– book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
– I was commissioned to write an article about this
– “Tiger Mom Method can wait”

Passion is what matters
– it’s easy to get a lively discussion going if passionate people are involved
– Dr Stangelove quotation: “I reckon you won’t…

Catalyze Passion: Guy Kawasaki, “The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything
– you have to make use of your passion
– your goal is to catalyze passion: pro or anti

To design controversey, you need to have a good story
– instead of using an argument, try starting your discussion with a story, anecdote, or quoteation
– purpose: not just for the “eye ball” (not just to drive traffic)
– participation: monitor if someone is ‘off the mark’
– saturation: close your arguments when you have gathered all possible important angles

Advice for managing blog:
– keep design simple and straightforward
– use multiple channels for promotion
– write with your grandma in mind
– blog to change the world, one reader at a time
– share your expertise
– find the right start
– do not worry about fame (focus on high quality posts and ideas)
– respect the media


I’ve been blogging a little less than two years, I now have about 6.8 million page views – that is like a small newspaper

Lessons learned
– write offline and save often
– write as if you are going to publish it
– be yourself: but do not behave like a geek
– don’t post things you will regret

Last: Try not to get yourself fired!

A call to action: Start a blog!

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