Writer’s block? Write, now!

For more than a month now, I have been suffering from severe writer’s block. I haven’t been able to write my thesis. I haven’t been able to update my PhD blog. And I haven’t been able to write on my personal blog. In fact, it has been so bad that I haven’t even been able to reply to personal letters to my family and friends. (Yes, I write “real” letters!) I don’t know exactly what prompted my block, but I think it was caused by a lot of little things working together to become one great big thing.

However, before my block, I signed up for a three-day non-residential writing retreat hosted by my university’s Research and Innovation Office (RIO) that took place last week. The event, Write Now!, was held off campus to allow for a much-needed change of scenery—which I always find helpful.

And, thankfully, on the Friday before the retreat, one of my supervisors came by to check in on my progress. When explained my extreme writer’s block, he helped me to re-work a couple of things and to re-think my mindset. (And he checked back with me later that same day, which helped. A lot!) That chat helped to better set me up for the writing retreat.

When I first signed up for the writing retreat, I told myself that a 1,000-word goal would be achievable each day. However, I had to amend that to 500 because of my block. My reasoning was that if I tried to go from 0 to 1,000 straight out of the gate, I would become even more frustrated. So I chose a more manageable goal so that I could feel a bit of success at the end of the retreat.

In the end, I wrote 1,713 words (daily counts were: 539, 651, and 523).

That doesn’t seem like much for what should have been an intensive writing session. However, it is more than treble the words I managed in the month prior.

We marked our successes each day by hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree. Small baubles for 500 words, large baubles for 1,000 words, and golden snowflakes for 2,000 words. It was encouraging for me to see more baubles added as the hours and days went by. (Though I wish I could have added more than I did!)

In total, there were about 20 people at the retreat from across the university. And between us, we managed to write 40,000 words. Though it should be noted that some writers were editing documents, rather than bulking them out, which means that some people were working on negative word counts. (Which makes me think we should have had additional ornaments for reaching our daily goals—which would have included editing pages. I think I’ll mention that to the RIO team for next time…)

I am still feeling a bit blocked, but I am pleased to say that the retreat has helped me to see my way forward. It was also a good reminder that when your goal is total words, you can always switch to another section or chapter when you’re feeling blocked. Even if that is not the chapter you were meant to be working on that day. Words are words!

With the Christmas holidays (nearly) upon us, I am aware that I will not be spending full days at my computer—especially as two of my nieces are coming to Scotland to spend the holidays with me! However, I am going to aim for 250 words a day minimum with a stretch goal of 500 per day for my holiday average. (My nieces are 21 and 23, so if I plan to write when they’re Facebooking their friends, I should have plenty of time!)

Anyhow, as my thesis writing time is tick, tick, ticking away, I will need to work really hard at finding my motivation and overcoming this block. But I am confident that I will manage to pull it off. I just need to remember that writing needs to be prioritised and that, when I am blocked, I just need to suck it up and write, now!

Building identity online at #ASIST2017: A poster presentation

I am leaving for Washington, DC tomorrow morning to attend the 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), where I will be presenting some of my research in the form of an academic poster. The presentation will be held during the President’s Reception on 30th October (6.30-8.00 pm) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Independence Level, Center A).

The poster is titled “Building identity in online environments: an Information Science perspective” and was co-authored with my PhD supervisorsPeter CruickshankProfessor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation. Specifically, this work concerns an aspect of information behaviour and use related to the creation of online identity, which is addressed in one of my four research questions: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

This qualitative study used participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews as data collection tools. It involved 45 UK-based participants, and data collection took place between October 2015 and January 2016.

The content of the poster shares findings related to three areas of identity building. These are:

  • The creation and use of online “personas” and identities
  • The use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices
  • The ways in which private and professional selves blur or merge together in online environments

The main finding presented in this work is that individuals present elements of their offline lives using online information to showcase different “personas”. However, they do not do this with the intention of building identity. The findings explored in this presentation are contextualised with reference to identity building in the more formal setting of academic reputation management, i.e. through the use of citations.

Please stop by the poster session to learn more about this research and my doctoral studies as a whole. You can also find me during the coffee breaks or other social activities.

Not in attendance? Don’t worry! As part of my “professional persona” I like to share information online. The links below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar!

⇒  Poster download (low-res for online viewing)

⇒  Poster handout with further information

⇒  Full abstract from Edinburgh Napier University’s repository

If you have any questions about this research or the doctoral study as a whole, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #ASIST2017.

Teaching to learn; learning to teach

As my time as a PhD student (hopefully) winds to an end, I am beginning to look towards my career as an academic. My hope is that part of that career includes teaching, which is why I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach a module at Edinburgh Napier University this term.

More accurately, I accepted the opportunity to co-teach alongside a more established and experienced educator, Professor Hazel Hall.

My official title is Associate Lecturer on a module called Knowledge Management (KM). The module, which is half-way over, is being delivered to a group of 4th-year honours students in the School of Computing.

The module’s content includes lectures and activities related to approaches to KM, knowledge capital, KM infrastructures, and techniques for the creation, capture, classification, exchange, dissemination, and use of knowledge for competitive advantage and corporate growth.

By the end of the term, students will be able to: critically assess the general principles of KM; make effective use of the principles of KM in organisational settings to increase effectiveness; examine KM processes and tools for organisations; develop KM teamwork activities in organisations; and demonstrate sound understanding of theory and practice in KM.

I am sure that the students felt overwhelmed when these learning outcomes were shared on the first day of class. And I cannot imagine how overwhelmed I would have felt if I were teaching the module on my own.

However, whilst my role is one of “teacher”, I am also there as a learner. That is, a learner of teaching through co-teaching.

Some of it is quite easy though. For example, I feel quite confident in the task of speaking in public and sharing knowledge to an audience. I find delivering presentations and workshops to be energising and enjoyable. And I feel that when I deliver learning events, people do learn.

However, delivering a one-off workshop is not the same as delivering a multi-week module to a group of undergraduate students. And that is part of what I am learning from my teaching experience.

Thankfully, I am learning from someone who has a proven ability to deliver the module!

Hazel has taught the module for a few years now and has developed a strong programme of lectures, readings, personal study assignments, and in-class activities. This means that I have been able to see what a well-developed module looks like from beginning to end. Being able to see the entire term’s plan set out in front of me eliminates much of the unknown “fogginess” that I would expect if I were starting from scratch. Instead, Hazel knows what works well (and what doesn’t) and has learned through experience how best to deliver each segment.

From the administrative side, Hazel and I are both well-organised which means that her way of preparing for each class (and the module as a whole) suits my own working style—even though our overall organisational styles are not identical. Seeing how Hazel has organised materials (print and electronic) has given me a lot of ideas for how I can combine her methods with mine to improve on the ways I might have managed things without that insight.

Over the next few weeks, there will be more learning on my side as we near exam time. I am a tad nervous about marking all of those essays, but I imagine the students writing them will be a tad (or more!) nervous, too.

One of the things I’ve learned from teaching so far is that I was right in thinking that I would enjoy it. Although I know that the never-ending planning and administration that goes along with the role will bring a bit of stress and chaos on occasion, I feel that the rewards will far outweigh those (potential) negatives.

So, that’s another feather in my CV-hat (which you can view here).