How to Market Yourself Online? Freely Share Quality Content


Content is everything

This morning I responded to a question on one of my LinkedIn groups. “If you could use only one method to market yourself online, what would do?” After being asked to elaborate on my initial comment, I decided to turn it into a blog post and a demonstration (of sorts). Note: While the question addressed promoting “yourself,” my focus is on promoting your ideas.

Promotion begins with freely sharing quality content. I use the Creative Commons BY-NC 3.0 license. Use it, share it, remix it. Just tell people where you got it, and don’t try and sell it. I’ve never been hesitant to “give my stuff away.” Remember, as the price of commodity drops, consumption increases. Who wants to go back to a site that hides all its content behind a paywall.

Freely sharing your material amplifies and “promotes” it in new ways. One of my most popular posts – Taxonomy of Reflection – has been modified for diverse purposes – from 2nd graders, to the SEC XBRL filing process. I would never have generated all those uses. I don’t even know what the second one is.

Remember, as the price of commodity drops, consumption increases

Each time I publish a new post, I use to create a shortened URL along with a tweet pointing back to the new content. (I also send it to Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+). I then add the new post title and shortened URL to an existing text file – a running list of “” links to all my posts. I keep that text file on Dropbox, accessible from any of my computers and my iPhone. Your list of “” links is a great resource to add to your #edchats, conference backchannel tweets and emails.

I do much of my reading online, focusing on the space where digital literacy, social media, technology and education intersect. If sites offer the option, I’ve registered and created a reader profile – usually with an icon image, info about me and a link back to my blog. If I run across an interesting piece that relates to one of my existing blog posts, I’ll take a moment to leave a comment. I can easily use my text file of shortened URLs to include a link back to one (or more) of my relevant posts. If I happen to be one of the early commenters, I usually will detect a ripple of traffic in from that comment. My analytics show that often, these new visitors will continue on into my site to view a few more of my posts. Please note: I’m not suggesting you use comments as spam to paste a link back to your post. I’m talking about extending the conversation in a meaningful way, and including a link back to you, only if you have a post that’s germane. (I get loads of inarticulate, off-subject “comments” on my blog from sites like Does someone really think I’ll approve them?)

To help me find relevant content, I use RSS and auto notifications from a number of sites that steer me towards new material that I might enjoy and comment on. When I’ve written a particularly timely blog post, I sometimes will search on that news item and leave comments on other sites linking back to my post. For example, when the latest PISA test results were released, I placed comments with links back to my post Stop Worrying About Shanghai, What PISA Test Really Tells Us About American Students It was a unique take on the test results that sidestepped the typical “American education Sputnik moment” and drew lots of traffic. Plus the links in didn’t hurt my Google rating on “PISA test” searches.

So answer to the original question – if you could use only one method to market yourself (and your ideas) online – it begins and ends with freely sharing quality content. (And being able to easily access and add to your comments.)

Final note: When I’m done with this post, I’ll illustrate my method by adding a new comment to the Linkedin discussion with a link back.

Hat tip to Chris Wechner for his discussion group question.

Student Bloggers Reflect on Learning


My approach to instruction borrows from the thinking of Donald Finkel who believed that teaching should focus on “providing experience, provoking reflection.” 

He goes on to write,… to reflectively experience is to make connections within the details of the work of the problem, to see it through the lens of abstraction or theory, to generate one’s own questions about it, to take more active and conscious control over understanding.
~ From Teaching With Your Mouth Shut

Since I first posted my Taxonomy of Reflection in Jan 2010, I’ve been on the lookout for good examples of student (and teacher) reflection to share with my readers.

I was pleased to see that Mike Gwaltney (and good friend and great teacher at Oregon Episcopal School) had developed a well-designed model for incorporating student reflection into a new class blog. The Age of Exploration Blog. I urge you to visit his class blog and respond to the student posts – they are looking for your feedback.

Honesty, deeper reflection, and care in the writing because they know they’ll have “real world” readers and commenters, not just their teacher

I asked Mike for his “elevator pitch” on why he thinks fostering student reflection is so important. He replied, 

Teachers don’t give kids time enough to reflect in a serious way. The success of this assignment comes from giving them: a) instructions on how to reflect, good questions to consider; b) time to do so – real time, not just one day, but frequently; c) an authentic audience to write for – it encourages honesty, deeper reflection, and care in the writing because they know they’ll have “real world” readers and commenters, not just their teacher.

Here’s a portion of Mike’s assignment for his high school sophomores. Full assignment here

The topics of your blog posts in general should be “reflection on your learning”. Reflection is an opportunity for you to step back and think about / evaluate. When you reflect, you’re doing very high-order thinking, the kind we do when we self-assess. As for the topic of your reflection, you choose that. Here are some general ideas I have for topics:

  • “What I’ve been studying / learning lately.” – tell us about some topics you’ve researched this year and what you’ve learned. This could be about the big topics of projects, or about little pieces of a topic you discovered and that you found really interesting.
  • “What I’m working on right now and what I hope it will be.” – tell us about your current project and how it’s shaping up. What are some things your finding and what form will your project take?
  • “What I’m learning about myself as a learner.” – tell us about how it’s going for you being in a research-based class. Are you finding this is a good way for you to learn? What’s easy? What’s hard? What are some successful strategies you’ve followed? How do you think you can improve?
  • Etc. – what other ideas do you have for a blog post? Feel free to take it where you wish.

I’ve been impressed with the depth of reflection generated by his students’ posts. I asked Mike if I could join in the dialogue by posing a few questions for his students to answer. (sort of reflecting on reflection). I asked them to read their reflections and those of their peers and answer two questions:

  1. “Do you see any patterns in the reflections”. I think that analyzing is the gateway to higher order reflection – See my post The Reflective Student for more prompts.

  2.  ”Looking back to your reflections (and those of their peers) can you identify any ‘ah-ha’ insights?”


Here’s some of the student responses:

What I found really interesting about this assignment was that most people wrote about themselves as learners, not the information they have gained from our class.


What I found really interesting about this assignment was that most people wrote about themselves as learners, not the information they have gained from our class…. My peers and I are accustomed to very focused courses that, while emphasizing creativity, don’t always allow students to pursue what really interests them or to learn more about themselves. This blog looked like it was an opportunity for many people to have semi-revelations about their school experiences and their optimal learning environments.

The ah-ha insights were kind of obvious: students in this class learn the best when they can choose what, and how, to learn. I just realized that this blog was another mechanism of learning that helped most everyone learn about themselves. Haley’s full post A Love, Lost and Found


Most of our reflections aren’t just talking about what we learned fact-wise or wrote in class. It seems we’re actually taking a look at what we’ve been doing ourselves, examining how we learn things, what’s been working for us, and what hasn’t been working. The class is about learning information, while this blog is about us learning about our learning of information.

Ah-ha insights: Karen saying, “As a researcher, I’ve found my hardest task not to be collecting information or presenting it, but rather motivating myself to delve deeper and deeper into the topic instead of simply accepting what I have as being good enough.” Arjun saying, “the point of research is to learn something new or interesting, and then share those findings with others” Robby saying, “Instead of being graded on what is right and wrong, a student can be graded on how well they did personally” Spencer’s full post Research Conundrum: Bias


First of all, every one of the posts shows that the author has been enjoying Age of Ex immensely. My post was mostly about learning and researching as a concept rather than actual facts or ideas that were learned in assignments, and most of the other posts focused on essentially the same thing. My classmates and I have written about how the loose structure of the class gives us enough support to feel comfortable, but also encourages us to push beyond what we’re used to and to think for ourselves.

Certainly one of the most common insights was that research based classes are, in fact, pretty difficult because they require one to be self-managed and self-driven. On the other hand, another of the most common realizations was that we were enjoying our research and learning. It seems that we also found that the necessity of being self-driven pushed us to understand who we are as learners and how we learn best. Clare’s full post Researching History to Understand My World


One commonality that I noticed throughout many of the blog posts was the appreciation of the freedom that Age of Ex has given us. For me, and some classmates, this was a crucial component in choosing this class. What appealed to us was the ability to learn about what we, as individual students, were interested in. Another thing that I noticed was people rediscovering the researching process. Learning how to budget time and tackle large projects.

Many of the ah-ha moments I noticed were the realization of an individual research process. Over the course of this first project, people realized which researching techniques worked from them, and which didn’t. I think that these lessons are going to be something that a majority of the class continues to carry with them throughout the year. Lauren’s full post A Research Project in Retrospect

Image credit: flickr/Alex Clark

Why Johnny Can’t Search – a Response

Image by Stephen Poff
Image by Stephen Poff

I just got my latest issue of Wired Magazine (Nov 2011). In “Why Johnny Can’t Search,” Clive Thompson writes:

We’re often told that young people tend to be the most tech savvy among us. But just how savvy are they? A group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan tried to find out. Specifically, Pan wanted to know how skillful young folks are at online search. His team gathered a group of college students and asked them to look up the answers to a handful of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the students generally relied on the webpages at the top of Google’s results list.

But Pan pulled a trick: he changed the order of the results for some students. More often than not, those kids went for the bait and also used the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Pan grimly concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit – they’re putting too much trust in machine.

Other studies have found the same thing: high school and college students may be “digital natives” but they’re wretched at searching. In a recent experiment at Northwestern, when 102 undergraduates were asked to do some research online, none went to the trouble of checking the author’s credentials. In 1955, we wondered why Johnny can’t read. Today the question is why can’t Johnny search?

Every day he walks into a sanitized information landscape with the expectation that anything he finds behind the school firewall is valid. How does that teach Johnny good digital hygiene?

If you spend any time around students, none of this comes as news. Given a research task, many go straight to Google and grab the first “low-hanging fruit” they find. Their inability to critically evaluate sources or context is more crucial as the barrier to the production and distribution of information has disappeared. (It doesn’t take much for any crank to start blogging the “true story of the Holocaust.”) While many applaud the digital revolution’s successful overthrow of the media gatekeepers, it does force us to become our own editors. (Should I forward the email that claims in next week’s sky, Mars will appear bigger than the moon?)

Many schools respond by sequestering students behind an information firewall. That allows school administrators to sleep at night knowing that students can’t get to any “bad information” during the school day. It’s a safe “CYA” for the educators, but it doesn’t provide any guided practice for Johnny to learn how to critically evaluate information. In fact, I think it sets Johnny up to fail in our “wild west” of information. Every day he walks into a sanitized information landscape with the expectation that anything he finds behind the school firewall is valid. How does that teach Johnny good digital hygiene?

Schools inhibit the development of critical evaluation skills in another way – the relentless (test prep) focus on mastery of facts. Johnny can assess the validity of information because he’s awash in a sea of text without context. Critically evaluating sources requires a deeper understanding of author and purpose. That’s developed with an inquiry-based approach to learning – exploring multiple sources, sussing out context, comparing perspectives, recognizing patterns, and encouraging constructive controversy and evaluation among peers. No time for that – we have to “cover” content for the test. In the relentless march to the exam, Johnny gets well acclimated to quickly stuffing his head with facts. No wonder he’s willing to take up Google on the bet that “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

Today’s student needs to become a critically-thinking citizen and the best response schools can come up with is to force-feed students in sanitized information feedlots.

It would seem that the demands of the information age would put a premium on teaching critical thinking skills. But the test regime leaves little time in the school day for that. Teaching information literacy is everyone’s (and no one’s) responsibility in school. (And I fear most of the librarians who were “fighting that good fight” didn’t survive the latest round of budget cuts.)

And isn’t this all so ironic. We live in an information age that puts a premium on the ability to find, decode, evaluate, store and communicate information. (All skills central to mastery of the Common Core standards). Today’s student should be in training to become a critically-thinking citizen and the best response schools can come up with is to force-feed students in sanitized information feedlots.

Image credit: flickr/Stephen Poff

My TypePad to WordPress Conversion

typepad wordpress conversion

If you’re a follower of my blog you’ll notice its new look. Copy / Paste has moved to WordPress.

When I first started blogging back in ’05 I was a bit confused by WordPress, so I opted for TypePad. TypePad has been easy to use, but I’ve enviously watched WordPress evolve into a far superior platform. And I’ve always been a bit nervous wondering what might happen to my blog if TypePad – a paid blogging host – decided to pack up shop. Earlier this year, its parent company, Six Apart, was sold to a new owner. My anxiety level increased. The thought that some new owner of TypePad might one day shut it down was frightening. But so was the idea that in moving to WordPress, I might jeopardize my content and traffic.

Fortunately I found Foliovision – and here’s three reasons why I can highly recommend their work:

My web design skills peaked with FrontPage ’98.

1. I don’t think in html, yet manage to do lots of interesting things with technology with only a veneer of understanding of what’s going on under the hood. Foliovision spent a great deal of time explaining the conversion process before I signed on. (How many times did I make them absolutely promise that a conversion wouldn’t kill off all my links?) Since we started working on the project, they have patiently answered questions that a serious techie must find rather naive. Bottom line – while they wrote the book on TypePad to WordPress conversions – they can discuss it in layman’s terms.

2. They manage project workflow with style and efficiency. Through the conversion process I worked with four specialist via their Foliovision’s Basecamp collaboration tool. Replies were timely and each person seemed well aware of what the rest of the team was doing. Alec, Foliovision’s creative director, would periodically pop into the conversation with a great idea, like merging one of my other domains into my new blog. You never would have guessed I was working with a team based in Bratislava, Slovakia – half a world away from Portland, Ore.

3. It turned out to be an engaging collaborative effort. OK – so I didn’t have much to suggest to Martin about programming or Marieta about CSS. But I did have a bit of synergy with Michala, the lead designer and project manager. We shared loads of design ideas and exchanged screen shots as the look and function of the new blog took shape. We even found out we both admire the work of Barbara Kruger – you’ll recognize her influence in my blog.

So this is my first blog post on my new site. I’m eager to learn more about using WordPress and leveraging the custom Foliovision plugins. And, of course, I checked all my content, links, and data  - they made it over successfully. 

For more on Foliovision’s conversion click here.  BTW, I chose the Gold Service Option. 

3 Ways to Use Social Media to Crowdsource and Blog a Conference Backchannel

conference backchannel
conference backchannel

One of the goals of my blog is to research, curate and effectively share information with my audience. Conferences are a great aggregator of expertise and information that have inspired some of my most popular blog posts. Here’s three strategies that I’ve used to crowdsource my research and harness the conference backchannel. All three tools employ hashtags – the popular practice where conference attendees include a common tag in their tweets. Typically conference organizers will designate an official hashtag – some combination of letters / numbers prefixed with a hash symbol “#.”

Use Twitter Visualizers

Wiffiti There are many great Twitter visualizers that can be set up to automatically gather specific Twitter #hashtags. Two of my favorites are Wiffiti and Twitter StreamGraphs. Wiffiti displays entire tweets, while StreamGraphs graphs frequency of keywords within the tweets. Both are interesting visualizations of the conference backchannel. Each tool is free and can be embedded on your blog. And neither requires you to attend the conference. 

Here’s how I used these visualizers  to cover the 2010 ASCD conference. 

Streamgraph For some fun, I used StreamGraphs to blog “comparative coverage” of two conferences that were in session at the same time in this post, “Humanities Conference Smackdown! AHA vs MLA Twitter Visualizers.”


Use Prezi

Itsc11-prezi Prezi is a presentation tool that adds a dimension of space and scale to information. It can be displayed both as a stand alone presentation and embedded on a blog. Here’s how I used Prezi at the ITSC 2011 conference in Portland Ore, where I had been invited to attend as a guest blogger. My onsite tools included my MacBook, iPhone and Flip Video.

During the conference I attended sessions to gather photos / video and tweeted my observations along the way. I also gathered content from other attendees by following the conference hashtag #ITSC11. The finished Prezis can include – tweets, images, video, YouTube video, PDF’s, screenshots, text, hyperlinks and clipart.

Periodically I gathered all the content and created a Prezi. (BTW – I used the same Prezi technique to blog the San Antonio ASCD in 2010.)  


Use Storify

Storify Storify is a new platform that allows users to quickly tell a story using material from the social web. Recently I received an invitation to try out their beta and I’ve been putting it to use as conference blogging tool. 

The Storify web-based interface divides your screen in two columns. On the left (screenshot – to the left) are a variety of social media feeds – Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, YouTube, RSS feeds, Google searches, SlideShare as well as any URL you select. It also has built in search tools that allow you explore your sources using hashtags. My favorite feature is that the Twitter search allows you to exclude RTs. As you find your content,  you drag it to the right side of your screen where you also have options to add text, delete or re-order content. When your Storify finished it can be embedded in your blog. To help you get the word out Storify sends out a Tweet to anyone you have quoted. 

Here’s how I used Storify to cover the recent 2011 ASCD conference in San Francisco. I received many positive comments from viewers who thought I gathered some of the best social media being posted from the conference. I saved them the time of wading through all the RTs, side comments, and promotional tweets. BTW – I did not attend the conference. 

Stay tuned for may ongoing conference coverage – I’m sure there’s a new tool being created that I’ll get to take for a spin!