Avoid the facepalm: Take charge of your online personal brand

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Anyone who has ever been on a big job interview or in a faculty review hearing may have had bad dreams or anxious imaginings of  a nightmare scenario: just as things appear to be going well, the interviewer asks you about an embarrassing or compromising situation from your past — anything from a brush with the police or your attendance at a drunken bacchanalia to your former affiliation with a questionable group or ill-advised public performance. Luckily, you remind yourself, such skeletons in your closet are matters of the past that this employer or panel of evaluators could never find out about… right?

As we learn more every day in our increasingly ubiquitous digital landscape, the twin pillars of online data searching and social media make it easier than ever for potential employers or merit reviewers to discover the details of our lives, be they laudable or loathsome. The controversy over the revoked appointment of Steven G. Salaita at the University of Illinois in reaction to his inflammatory Twitter rhetoric is perhaps the most high-profile example of online presence affecting an academic job search. It is easy to imagine far more mundane discoveries happening earlier in the search process resulting in unfortunately negative perceptions of one’s online persona.

While many of us in academia might chafe at the notion of “personal branding” and self-marketing from the business employment world, the fact remains that higher education is no different than any other industry in its capacity and potential interest in mining social media for information about potential hires or promotions. In addition, internet searching is a common-sense way to vet potential guest speakers or other folks that might visit campus — if this could be you, it’s definitely a good idea to ensure that the “you” that emerges from a Google search is the you you want to present. That’s why taking your “online presence” as a key component of your personal brand is important.

Kelli Marshall from DePaul University wrote the following piece for the Chronicle last week. It provides some helpful advice and links to resources for helping you take proactive steps toward having the kind of online personal brand that will help rather than hinder in your professional life. Avoid the painful facepalm!

For additional insights into creating an online presence for your personal brand, check out Lesley McCollum’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Establishing an Online Presence” in Inside Higher Ed.


January 5, 2015

How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic

If you don’t manage your online presence, you are allowing search engines to create it for you

How to Curate Your Digital Identity  as an Academic 1

In 2009, anyone who searched my name on the web would first encounter the opinions of a disgruntled Midwestern undergraduate who lambasted me for being an unfair, unprofessional, and essentially ignorant professor.

Oddly enough, the student was angry because I had begun incorporating Twitter into the classroom. I was among the early advocates of using the social-media site in teaching, especially in large lecture-based courses. While many of the 120 students in my introductory film course embraced the Twitter assignments I devised, a handful revolted, including this particular student. He took to the Internet to express his belief that social media had no place in the college classroom, and any professor who thought otherwise was not only oblivious to Twitter’s intent (It’s for socializing, not learning!), but also graded her students unreasonably. In his diatribe, he called out my name, school affiliation, and the classes I taught.

Because I attended a graduate school focused on technology and digital media (even for those of us in the humanities), I’ve had an Internet presence since 1999. Teaching assistants in my Ph.D. program were required to, at the very least, post their syllabi online. Our advisers also encouraged us to have our own websites (or pages), which we rudimentarily made via software like Microsoft FrontPage (1996) and Netscape Composer (1997). So I’ve been aware of the need to shape one’s digital identity or online persona for quite a while now.

But of course, the Internet changed significantly between when I left graduate school in 1999 and my student’s public critique of me in 2009—see, for example: Google rankings, social media, sitemaps, shifts in search algorithms, robots, crawlers, and search-engine optimization in general. The Internet has changed even from 2009 to today. Suffice it to say, that undergraduate’s tirade is now buried deep in the web. Nowadays, the first item to appear when anyone plugs my name into a search engine is my personal website, followed by my social-media presence, and then direct links to the mainstream publications for which I’ve written.

So how might academics—particularly those without tenure, published books, or established freelance gigs—avoid having their digital identities taken over by the negative or the uncharacteristic?

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Resolve to reflect on teaching in 2015!

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The New Year often brings with it an invitation to reflect on past actions and future prospects. We make resolutions aimed at self-improvement for the year ahead (for me, it’s getting back on my exercise regimen, doing more recreational reading, and blogging more regularly!). Introspective reflection can also be a vital component of successful teaching.

In Reflective Teaching and Learning, Jennifer Harrison explains the roots of “reflective practice” in John Dewey’s examination of though and problem solving in the classic 1910 volume How We Think: “Dewey’s view was that reflective action stems from the need to solve a problem and involves ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’” (Harrison 9, citation omitted).  Harrison continues to explain that reflective practice can be considered as occurring at three levels, each succeeding level being less instinctual than the previous:

  1. technical reflection: examining events and action to determine what worked and what didn’t, and why;
  2. practical reflection: examining “the interpretative assumptions you are making in your work” (Harrison 8);
  3. critical reflection: examining “the ethical and political dimensions of educational goals and the consensus about their ends” (Harrison 8).

While each level is important, the second — practical reflection — is what draws me to blog this New Year.

As I have worked with colleagues in interpreting their student evaluation data from the IDEA Center Student Evaluations instrument we use at Augustana, one of the matters we discuss is the selection of learning objectives that is central to the process. IDEA SRIs focus on student reports of progress on specific learning objectives selected as “essential” or “important” by the instructor. So, the instructor’s selection of priority objectives is obviously crucial. There are a couple of areas in the summary report to which I draw their attention: the reported progress on their selected objectives, of course, and also the raw data on objectives they did not select. If the scores on selected objectives is lower than expected, and/or the scores on unselected objectives is higher, at least one important question for practical reflection arises: Are the objectives you’ve selected really the focus of your teaching practice? Or is there a disconnect between your assumptions about teaching goals and your actual practice in the classroom? For instance, you may hold firmly to the notion that Objective #8, “developing skill in expressing oneself orally or in writing,” is important to your class. But do you actually spend time and energy instructing in this skill area in the class? Do your assignments clearly reflect and articulate that learning objective? If not, there may be a disconnect between what you believe or intend in teaching and your actual action in the classroom.

These three components of teaching practice — beliefs, intentions, and actions — are at the heart of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), a free self-assessment instrument developed by Daniel D. Pratt and Associates based on extensive research into teaching beliefs, intentions and actions. The TPI is a 45-item survey that analyzes these three dimensions across five key teaching perspectives:

  • transmission: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”;
  • apprenticeship:  “Effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working”;
  • developmental:  “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted ‘from the learner’s point of view'”;
  • nurturing: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”;
  • social reform: “Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways” (Pratt and Collins 2001-2014).

Any teacher will have varying levels of all five perspectives; some will be dominant, some recessive, and the levels may well change over time based on changes in knowledge, experience… and reflection!  I took the TPI last fall — here’s how it shook out:

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Developmental  teaching reached above the upper line, indicating a dominant perspective. Apprenticeship, Nurturing, and Social Reform all fall below the lower line, indicating recessive perspectives. Overall, the results in the 30s suggest that these perspectives are held moderately. The emphasis on developmental teaching makes sense to me, although I note a bit of a disconnect between my intentions and my actions — something I’ve been pondering about my practice since I took this survey. I was a bit surprised that the three recessive perspectives were at these levels, considering the emphasis on disciplinary analysis of communication as political and social agency that I (think I?) stress in my classes. More fodder for reflection!

The TPI doesn’t assume that some perspectives are “better” than others. And it’s not a perfect instrument, to be sure. Rather, the results provide one lens for practical reflection: what assumptions about teaching drive your practice at a given time? And is there any disconnect between what you believe, what you intend, and/or how you act as a teacher?

So, as we move into 2015, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the work we do, and resolve to be more reflective practitioners in order to match our actions to our intentions and serve our students well.

For more resources on reflective practice, check out the following:

Happy New Year!

 

Work Cited

Harrison, Jennifer. “Professional Development and the Reflective Practitioner.” In Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison (Eds.), Reflective Teaching and Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008. 7-44. Print.

 

Student evaluation day need not live in infamy

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Yesterday, December 7, 2014 — an anniversary for a date which will live in infamy. 73 years ago the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

More recently, many of my colleagues at Augustana (on a trimester calendar) felt suddenly and deliberately attacked by pen and paper missives of the Empire of Their Students.  All too soon, those of you on semester calendars will have your own students complete the dreaded SRIs (student ratings of instruction), and immediately start speculating on whether or not that surly, detached kid in the back row will nuke you as you anticipate he will.

Student course evaluations can be a valuable source of information — not just as summative assessment for department chairs and T&P committees who evaluate your work as a teacher, but as formative assessment for you, the teacher, who can use the data you receive to reflect on your classes, locate your current strengths and revise and tweak where you can. But all the positive data in the world, any collection of bright and shiny open-response affirmations from students can be overshadowed by the one or two negative responses that invariably turn up like bad pennies. All too often it is the this “bring on the rage, bring on the funk” moment of reading student course evaluations that keeps us from engaging them with open-minded inquiry as education professionals.

After a brief hiatus, APP is back with what is hopefully a timely chunk of advice! Isis Artze-Vega, an educational developer from Florida International University, provides a healthy perspective and valuable tips for engaging your SRI responses productively in the latest Faculty Focus. The day you get your summary report and completed forms need not live in infamy… indeed, it may be the first day of the rest of your continuing improvement as a teacher.

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DECEMBER 8, 2014

Cruel Student Comments: Seven Ways to Soothe the Sting

By: in Faculty Evaluation

Reading students’ comments on official end-of-term evaluations—or worse, online at sites like RateMyProfessors.com—can be depressing, often even demoralizing. So it’s understandable that some faculty look only at the quantitative ratings; others skim the written section; and many others have vowed to never again read the public online comments. It’s simply too painful.

How else might you respond? Here are seven suggestions for soothing the sting from even the most hurtful student comments:

1. Analyze the data. First, look for outliers: anomalous negative views. In research, we would exclude them from our analyses, so you should do the same for uniquely mean-spirited or outlandish comments.

Next, find the ratio of positive to negative comments to get an overall picture of student impressions. Better yet, categorize remarks: Are students responding negatively to your assignments? The course readings? A particular behavior? Identifying themes will help you determine whether they warrant a response. If multitudes of students note that they didn’t know what was expected of them or that you were disorganized, you’ll want to reflect on the area(s) identified. What might have given students that impression? And what steps might you take to improve or to alter their perception?

The recent New York Times piece “Dealing with Digital Cruelty” offers additional ideas for responding to mean-spirited online comments. Some of those suggestions are woven into numbers 2-5 below.

2. Resist the lure of the negative. “Just as our attention naturally gravitates to loud noises and motion, our minds glom on to negative feedback,” the article explains, adding that we also remember negative comments more vividly. This finding itself is comforting. If we catch ourselves dwelling on students’ negative feedback, we can consider: Am I focusing on this because it’s “louder,” or because it’s a legitimate concern? If it’s the latter, revisit the ideas in suggestions 1 and 3. Otherwise, skip to 4 and 5 below.

3. “Let your critics be your gurus,” suggests the New York Times piece. It explains we often brood over negative comments because we suspect they may contain an element of truth. Rider University psychology professor John Suler advises us to “treat them as an opportunity.” Ask yourself, “Why does it bother you? What insecurities are being activated in you?” “It’s easy to feel emotionally attacked,” adds Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and senior research fellow at the Brookings Institute, “but that doesn’t mean your critics don’t have a point.”

4. Find counter-evidence. When you encounter a negative comment, look for (or recall) comments that contradict it—whether positive feedback from other students or a colleague. “Disputing to yourself what was [written]” can make “harsh comments… feel less potent” (Rosembloom, 2014).

5. Dwell on the positive ones. Because “it takes more time for positive experiences to become lodged in our long-term memory,” (Rosembloom, 2014) we should devote at least as much time to students’ positive comments as their negative ones. Plus, remembering your teaching strengths can motivate you to continue exhibiting the trait or design your courses a certain way. These positive sentiments, often heart-warming and gratifying, will also help you maintain a positive outlook toward students.

The New York Times article proposes another strategy, in the brief article segment about student evaluations. Psychology professor James O. Pawelski jokes that “bars would make a killing if at the end of each semester they offered ‘professor happy hours’ where teachers could bring their evaluations and pass the negative ones around.” He cautions that “Nobody should be alone when they’re reading these things.” That advice leads us to our next tip.

6. Read them with a friend. Whether a departmental colleague, relative, or a trusted center for teaching and learning staff member, a more objective party can help you make sense of or notice the absurdity of the comments because they’re not as personally invested in them.

7. Be proactive, especially if these comments will be the primary data used in decisions about your hiring, re-hiring, promotion, etc. In this case, revisit suggestion 1 above. If you don’t conduct this analysis yourself, you’ll be at the mercy of whomever is charged with your evaluation—and they probably won’t be as thorough. They too may focus on negative comments or outliers. Also, take the time to provide explanations about any off-the-wall student complaints, so that your reviewers don’t draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately, all parties involved—particularly academic leaders—should remember that, important as they are, student comments offer only one perspective on teaching. Thorough evaluation of teaching effectiveness requires that each of us reflect on our practices, examine artifacts from our courses (assignments, syllabi, etc.), and look closely at what our students know and can do upon completion of our courses. The proof, after all, is in the pudding.

Reference:
Rosenbloom, S. (2014, August 24). Dealing with digital cruelty. The New York Times.

Dr. Isis Artze-Vega, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Florida International University.

– See more at: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/faculty-evaluation/cruel-student-comments-seven-ways-soothe-sting/?ET=facultyfocus:e168:335619a:&st=email#sthash.k6XaIXfk.dpuf

Climb that mountain of ungraded papers with confidence… and smart skills!

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Grading papers sucks.

There. I said it.

Most of us got into our profession because we love teaching. When we design courses and lessons, when we interact with our classes in discussion, when we see the look of wonder on our students’ faces at the moment of significant learning, we feel a charge of accomplishment and authentic meaning. Sometimes we feel that in the best student essays we read, too. And then…

What kills us a little each time is different for different teachers. Maybe it’s the frustration of noting the difference between genuine student struggle and a genuine lack of effort. Maybe we chafe at the instructions unfollowed, or the writing mechanics still unmastered (and unproofread). Or maybe it’s just the mountain of paper at the start of the process. Mountain climbers may climb the mountains because they are there. We aren’t freaking mountain climbers. We never asked to be, we never trained to be… and the threat of the seemingly insurmountable task can hit many of us (especially the serial procrastinators among us, myself included) with a sense of paralysis.

Of course, pro mountain climbers don’t just gambol out into the wilderness with a rucksack and a jaunty song and start climbing. Through knowledge of appropriate equipment and safety rules, and the wisdom that comes from reflective practice, they have learned how to prepare and proceed in order to reach the summit most effectively — at the right pace, applying the best practices, and avoiding the slippery spots that can send the unwary off the edge. And by climbing those mountains in the right way, the pros can forego the dread of “inevitable” risk and enjoy the purpose of the climb.

Rick Reis of the tomorrows-professor listserv introduces us to a fellow climber, Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong. He reminds us of some important best practices in essay grading that can keep us safe and sane, and thus help us approach grading’s true purpose: as the assessment-as-teaching needed for effective student learning.

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Folks:

The posting below gives some excellent advice on how to approach the task of marking, or grading, student essay assignments. It is from the September 8, 2014 issue of the postings on a blog by Brian Martin, professor of social sciences in the Humanities and Social Inquiry department at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and is reprinted with permission. More information about his blog and how to subscribe can be found at: http://comments.bmartin.cc.

Regards,
Rick Reis
reis@stanford.edu

Marking (Grading) Essays: Making it Easier and More Fun

It’s worthwhile discovering methods to make marking more enjoyable. The same methods can be used to tackle other dreaded tasks.

Sitting on your desk is a pile of essays that need to be marked. There might be just 10 or 20, or maybe 50, 100 or more. For most teachers, this is not an eagerly awaited task. Is there some way to make marking easier and more enjoyable?

I’ve been marking undergraduate essays for over 25 years and have tried out various methods to make the task less onerous. Gradually I’ve discovered ways that work well for me. You may or may not want to adapt these for your own circumstances. In any case, I encourage you to undertake your own search for better methods. If you’re looking ahead at 25 years of marking, surely it’s worthwhile to explore better ways to go about it.

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Have your students read your teaching philosophy? Get on the bus!

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When we last left our heroes, they were discovering how “painting a portrait” of one’s classroom experiences with concrete details and reflective discussion can help craft a teaching philosophy statement that is attractive to job search committees and useful for faculty review portfolios.  But have you considered sharing your teaching philosophy with your students?

A friend of mine at Augie has often done this as part of an exercise at the start of the course with her students: she shares her teaching philosophy, which vividly uses the metaphor of the ’90s educational children’s TV program The Magic School Bus to describe her thoughts about ideal teaching and learning. Well, she’s like that.

She then asks students to draft a brief “philosophy of learning” statement, which gets students (most of them for the first time) to do some reflective metacognition on how and why they tend to approach learning the way that they do.

A research study brief published in the new (free!) online Faculty Development Today newsletter discusses a pilot approach to sharing teaching philosophy statements with students and assessing their end-of-course responses. The results are intriguing: this move can not only provide you with helpful feedback on your teaching, but also might encourage a greater sense of classroom community for students!  It’s worth checking out.  Maybe you’ll end up showing your students the inside of your magic school bus and take them for a spin!

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6 Reasons to Use Student-Directed Teaching Strategies

Faculty members traditionally develop a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) as part of the job application process, for tenure reviews, or to encourage reflection. In a study published in the Journal of Faculty Development, we propose an alternative approach—to develop the TPS with students as the primary target audience, distribute it to students at the beginning of a course, and collect evaluative data from students about its accuracy at the end of the course. Data were reported from three faculty members who used this student-directed TPS approach. The study revealed implications for faculty development and for the creation and use of teaching philosophies.

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Don’t just write a teaching philosophy… paint a picture.

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Writing a thoughtful and compelling statement of teaching philosophy is hard. It’s crucially important, and not merely for securing a faculty position, or making your case in a faculty review for tenure, promotion or merit. The process of self-reflection and articulation is an important exercise we all need to revisit periodically in order to (re-)discover the core of what’s important to us in our pedagogy and the outcomes we want for our students. But such self-examination can be awkward — where do I start? How much is it OK to toot my own horn? And more fundamentally, how do I put the basic instincts I have about what’s important to me into words that aren’t broad, abstract platitudes?  How do I get past “I want my students to be independent learners” and “active learning is important” and “I’m a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage?” (Those cliches may be true for us, but they’re deflating to write and tedious to read.)

The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis has a wonderful set of resources for helping one compose a teaching philosophy statement, including links to lots more online resources.  Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a useful site on writing a teaching philosophy statement, providing some simple but powerful question prompts to drive your philosophical invention, as well as a helpful video featuring Susan Yager, who frequently teaches in ISU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program:

But what the Wash U and Iowa State sites might not provide as clearly is a sense of the core of a really unique, definitive teaching philosophy: the concrete texture and experiential detail of your classroom, described in ways that help the reader get a vibrant sense of what it’s like for your students and for you as the teacher.

Here’s where Mary Anne Lewis from Ohio Wesleyan University comes in. In her recent post on Vitae (an essential blog site to follow if you’re on the job hunt, or even just interested in ongoing faculty development at your current place of employment), Lewis describes how she discovered the notion of a teaching philosophy as a “self-portrait,” and in doing so rediscovered and was able to articulate her personal joys of teaching and learning.

Be sure to check out the original post on Vitae — at the end is Lewis’ own teaching philosophy statement in an embedded document file… and it’s really worth the read!

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October 3, 2014

Image: sketch of Albert Camus, by Petr Vorel

Just two years ago, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, namely on the academic job market. The fall semester is under way and, in addition to dissertation work and teaching obligations, you have to write and revise some dense documents for your job applications. Those documents, far from conversational in tone, have to represent your past five to eight (or more) years of academic work in a clear, compelling, articulate, elegant way that demonstrates your unique contributions to your field. And you should have finished your other dissertation chapter. And your dishes are dirty. And you have run out of socks.

I found crafting a “statement of teaching philosophy” particularly elusive. What is it exactly, I wondered, and how does one write such a statement? Should the tone be philosophical, practical, entertaining, or some combination of all three?

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Hack your writing with simple discipline strategies

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We academics constantly face two competing impulses that threaten our productivity as researchers and writers:

  1. The chronic busyness that fills our days — prepping classes, grading student work, preparing for meetings, attending meetings, recovering from meetings……. that convinces us we have no time to write;
  2. The radical (compared to most other jobs) flexibility of our schedules, with sometimes wide expanses of unstructured time that can paradoxically cripple our ability to use much of it for writing (e.g., “I have all summer… My God, where did the time go?!?!?”).

This post from from Jennifer Ahern-Dodson of Duke University, written for the ProfHacker blog (which you should follow regularly — it’s great!), provide some simple yet valuable tips for keeping your writing productive by keeping it scheduled, limited, accountable to others, and kept in mental perspective with humor.

I just helped start a Writers Group for faculty at my college; the participants all seem to agree that having a sense of human connection for fellowship and accountability makes the process less daunting by making it less isolating. While I didn’t have it when I started this particular group, I am going to share with them the Writing Group Starter Kit from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. It includes worksheets and instructions for making the group experience focused and productive.

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Now if I could only follow the advice myself!

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ProfHacker

Teaching, tech, and productivity.

September 30, 2014 by

Scholarly Writing Hacks: 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June

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[This is a guest post by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, an assistant professor of the Practice in Writing Studies at Duke University where she teaches digital storytelling and researches learning communities and community-university partnerships. You can follow her on Twitter @jaherndodson.–@JBJ]

On May 31st panic set in. I had agreed to commit to writing every day in the month of June as part of a faculty writing group experiment. Inspired both by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), recent conversations about mini-monographs, and a visionary classics colleague who cooked up this idea, seven of us agreed to set a big scholarly writing project goal for the month (such as writing 30,000 words) and write every day to reach it.

We agreed to post our daily word count and to report our progress (and musings) on a private WordPress site: “(Wee) Little Monograph in a Month.” Despite my enthusiasm for the challenge, I feared I’d fail: Could I keep my writing momentum going for a full 30 days? Could I really write just a little every day and get a rough, raggedy draft by the end of the month?

Here’s what I learned from trying.

1. Use writing to figure out what you think. In the early messy-thinking-on-the-page stage, it’s not the quality of the words, but generating text that matters most. Because I committed to writing every day for a month, I was able to turn off the internal critical voice, that perfectionist voice that many writers struggle with, and just write instead of agonizing over every word and sentence. Sometimes my writing meandered for a while before I discovered what it was I wanted to say, but I finished the month with enough of a draft to see both gaps and possibilities. I had something to revise. One of my favorite posts from a fellow traveler in our June group captures the value of generative writing best:

Is anyone else discovering that they might be writing awkward/problematic/vomitatious words but that they are THINKING, and SEEING their project, as if for the first time?

2. 20-30 minutes a day really does make a difference. I’ll admit I was skeptical, but as I settled into the month, I realized that by writing just a little every day, I was making writing a habit. By “showing up” to write daily (whether I felt inspired or not), I discovered myself thinking about my project even after I’d met my daily writing goal, and so found renewed intellectual energy when I showed up to write the next day. Enforcing upper limits on writing time allowed me to walk away and not lapse into the stressful binge-writing trap, a practice that I sometimes fall back on that perversely just generates more resistance to writing at all.

Experimenting with short daily writing also allowed me to do an end run around the problem of (seemingly) unlimited summer writing time (no teaching, committee, administrative commitments), yet never feeling I had enough time to write the first draft of a book.

3. You gotta have a plan, and having a plan means scheduling time for weekly assessments and revisions of the plan and its goals. I revisited my writing goals at the end of each week to keep my big-picture goals in mind (to get that first draft on paper) and to see if I was working productively toward that goal. Each Friday part of my scheduled writing time included these questions:

(Big picture): What was I trying to think about, to understand, to express with this project? To whom? Why? How did the particular section I was working on fit into the big picture?

(Daily writing): How did it go? Did I need to stop and do more research before the next writing session? Was I distracted at that coffee shop? Bored by chapter 3? More productive in the morning? Did I need to schedule writing around vacation or travel?

By planning weekly assessments, I could celebrate small successes when I hit weekly targets, remind myself what it was I wanted to say, and look honestly at what was happening when I was writing, so I could see where I was getting stuck and whether I needed to revise my writing plans to keep the momentum going. Momentum is crucial.

4. Community matters: Showing up for each other helps you show up for your writing. I often resisted writing in June, especially on the weekends and while on a family beach trip. But when I resisted, when I felt I could not write one more word, I turned to our group WordPress site for motivation. Each of us in the June challenge—an historian, philosopher, rhetorician, classicist, German literature scholar, biologist, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies scholar—posted the highs and lows we encountered with our writing and our research. Despite the disparate topics (including Medieval dogs, ancient foods from the wild, and fan fiction) and meeting only virtually, I felt connected to other writers, which kept me writing. Our group posted word counts daily, which was a helpful accountability measure, but we also infused a sense of fun by posting snapshots of our writing lives with a format adapted from the tumblr siteAcademic Breakfast. Here’s one from a writer studying foraging cultures:

wineglassWhere am I? On my sun porch

What am I drinking? Glass of Grüner Veltliner (Cheers!)

What am I doing? (5 words) Pre-writing – today’s words till ahead

How am I doing? (10 words) Proving difficult today to tend plants AND write about them.

5. We need to keep a sense of humor about the challenges of writing in the real world.
allthecatsOur writing community posted a wide range of experiences (and distractions) that we faced as we tried to write every day in June. Cats taking over our writing spaces. Power outages. Laptop crashes. Big ideas for other projects popping up and distracting us from our June writing project goals. We wrote in airports while waiting for lost luggage, a Disney World bathroom at 5am while family members slept, and in an outdoor garden that called for attention. Our pictures and musings captured our writing lives as we actually lived them, not as we imagined them. Collectively, we demystified the magical summer-of-productive-writing so many of us long for in April, but rarely see materialize by early August. Life happens. Writing can find a way in if we make the space for it.

In the end, I managed to write every day in the month of June and sketched out a rough draft of a book that I’d been sitting on for years. Draft in hand, I now turn toward the hard work of revising it. To work productively toward that goal, I know I need a faculty writing community, a writing routine (when the specter of “unlimited” writing time gets replaced by the “no time to write” mantra), and a plan for the academic year.

Our June group is resuming for the fall, and new writers are joining us. We will name and post our writing project goals and weekly targets to our new WordPress site “justwrite.” (My weekly goals will include writing Monday-Friday for at least 20 minutes).We will continue to post pictures of our writing spaces and the joys and challenges of scholarly writing. Our pictures may be less glamorous—beach views and sun porches replaced by offices or classroom spaces—but we will write, and use these scholarly writing hacks to face new kinds of writing resistance with good humor and a shared commitment to cultivating a sane and productive scholarly writing life.

Have you had success with online writing groups? What strategies seemed to help get the writing done? Share in comments!

In-post photos are courtesy of J. Clare Woods. Lead photo is “Writing in the Purple Room” by Flickr user Julie Jordan Scott / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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