Blogs galore: An interview with serial blogger Helen Curry

The series of interviews that I’ve been running on careers blogging seems to have been well received. In this interview we speak to Helen Curry who may just be running more blogs than is good for her.

 

AiCD:  Introduce yourself

Hi, I’m Helen Curry, the “Information Officer with Responsibility for Online Resources” at The Careers Group, University of London. It’s a great job that allows me to do all kinds of things including updating Facebook all day, planning websites, making videos, researching careers news, training staff and helping students. Officially, I am a librarian by training. And in my spare time I like a bit of freestyle crochet. Quite geeky overall, and proud.

 

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AiCD: Tell us about the blogs you write/contribute to.

Careers 2.0 http://helencurry.wordpress.com is my blog about using web 2.0 – Facebook, bloggng, podcasting etc – for careers advice and information. Using social media is a constant learning curve, and I find it useful to reflect on and discuss approaches I have tried.

 

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Off the Shelves – The Careers Group library blog http://thecareersgrouplibrary.wordpress.com is my main blog at work. As the majority of my audience will not be users of our library, I like to write posts of general interest, highlighting online resources as well as recommended books.

 

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Reach – Supporting graduates facing barriers to employment http://thecareersgroupreach.wordpress.com is another work blog, a group blog, that I have contributed to. This blog is directed very much at London students, offering a broad coverage of diversity-related current awareness and opportunities.

 

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Crochet Creature http://www.crochetcreature.co.uk is my off-duty blog. I wanted to write about my latest crochet creations, share some patterns, get into the lovely community of knit-bloggers, and maximise the geekery by installing and customising my own WordPress site. Of course I have to find the time to crochet first, then find the time to photograph and write… Which I think leads onto the next question nicely.

 

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AiCD: Didn’t’ Oscar Wilde say something like to write one blog is misfortune, to write two looks like carelessness? What made you set up all your b
logs?

 

I wouldn’t recommend writing for more than one blog. You are setting yourself up for guilt and dissatisfaction. A great blog takes work and commitment. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

 

Of course sometimes it makes sense, you want to write about a very different topic, to a different audience, you want to learn something new, you want a separate after-work blog… The most important thing is not to set up a new blog for each and every one of these reasons. Like I did.

 

AiCD:  What technology do you use on the blogs?

WordPress.com and WordPress 3.0 

  

AiCD: Is your authorial personae different on all of the different blogs?

Yes, although possibly getting closer.

 

Where I feel I am representing my organisation and I am much more careful about the opinions I state and make clear which are my personal opinions. Sometimes I stick to a purely informational viewpoint. I take less risks on work blogs.

 

Over time I have felt that being too dry and corporate is not what blogging is about, it does not engage people, so I occasionally experiment with putting a bit more of me in it, a bit of life, although I have to make sure I am covering all interests there not just my own.

 

AiCD:  How often do you update?

What I’d like to do, and what I actually do is very different… It does tend to vary according to bursts of enthusiasm – I think this is typical of a lot of bloggers.

 

Careers 2.0 – I’d like to write fortnightly, as ideas come up, but it has now been a couple of months since my last post… I write less on here when I have Open University coursework. Or a social life.

 

Off the Shelves – I think the minimum I can get away with is once a week, otherwise audience figures tumble. For growth, I’ll do 2-3 posts per week.

 

Reach – I only contribute occassionally, the rest of the team have now made a schedule.

 

Crochet Creature – umm, sporadically, at best. But I really mean to do more.

 

AiCD: Who do you think reads them?

The work blogs are partly read by students and users of The Careers Group websites and pages on Facebook, where the feeds are displayed. But I also think a lot of traffic comes from Google and non-university audiences, so I try to write so that anyone can get something from it.

 

Careers 2.0 is read more by careers service staff. And people searching for lego people apparently.

 

And no one reads the crochet blog…

 

AiCD: What is it about you that makes you think people should pay attention to what you blog about?

When it comes to the careers service blogs, I put a lot of effort into finding
and bringing together resources, researching what people want to know, and finding approaches that will engage.

 

For my personal blogs, I see things differently, I’m not claiming special authority. I’m usually blogging about some puzzle I have in mind which I want to think through, or something that has really inspired me which I want to share. I blog to connect with people and develop new ideas. It is a community thing. Librarians do this very well, they are tremendously supportive. 

 

AiCD: What have been the best things about blogging so far?

Comments, real comments, from real people.

Learning what to post and how often to see the audience and usage grow.

Feeling useful.

The rush of inspiration and jotting down great ideas to share.

Generating and growing more ideas as I write and read.

 

AiCD: What are the downsides?

The Guilt. When you haven’t posted for a while. Deciding if and when it might be time to let a blog go (I have killed 3 blogs too).

 

AiCD: Do you think blogging will ever replace conventional careers advice/education?  

No, conventional careers advice will always have a place. You only have to look at peoples’ varied learning styles to know that some people will always want face-to-face guidance tailored to them, immediacy, personal coaching and motivation, rather than the slow investment and laborious process of searching, scanning and piecing together information from blogs. Self-assessment of ability is also notoriously difficult, so that third-party, professional viewpoint adds a lot of value – if people realise that they need it of course…

 

But I do believe blogging is a valuable tool for careers education. Writing a blog is a great exercise in reflection, comparable to a career discussion, and perfect for a job-hunter. It can raise your profile, perfect for networking. And you can learn a lot by putting yourself out there and sharing ideas. Reading blogs can give you a better insight into what it is like to do a job, to get an insider view with real character, I’d rather have a well-written, in-depth blog than a superficial case study from a careers website or book. I probably lean more towards blogs and talking to friends for my own career development, but I would never propose that as right for everyone!

 

AiCD: What careers blogs do you read?

Currently:

 

AiCD: Thanks for listing this blog twice! Do you read any non-careers blogs.

Yes,

And more actually, but I think that will do…

 

 

AiCD: Any final words?

Thanks for doing these interviews – you’ve introduced me to a number of interesting blogs!

 

 

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Career learning and the internet

Bill Law has just published a very interesting piece called Career Learning and the Internet on his website www.hihohiho.com. The article is in formation and he has asked for people to respond to it by the 19th June. So I thought that I???d use this blog post to make some (hopefully useful) comments on what Bill has written. This post might not make a lot of sense without reading Bill???s article.

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Bill???s article starts out by noting that the internet has become an immersive, interactive experience, moving from ???quiet library to noisy forum???. He then goes on to discuss possible responses for careers workers to this situation by setting up a dichotomy between the idea of ???colonising??? or ???inhabiting??? the web. I find this a useful distinction and it rings true with the way I hear certain people talking about the web. The question is usually ???how can we use facebook/twitter/etc for career guidance???. The first problem with this is the difficulty of using something as a pedagogic tool that you have little experience of as a user. I generally believe that you need to be self-exemplifying in your pedagogy. In other words you need to find a personal value for Web 2.0 before you evangelise it to others. However another problems with the ???using facebook for career guidance approach??? is the assumption that the basic careers work paradigm is unproblematic and simply needs to be transferred into a new environment. What Bill is arguing here, and I would endorse this, is that the radical changes in the way we interact with information and each other that have been brought about by the growth of social media/web 2.0 require the development of a new paradigm. ??

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So what to do in the light of this radical transformation. Bill cites the response that is given by Bosley, C., Krechowiecka, & Moon, S. (2005) and Barnes, A., & La Gro, N. (2009) as inadequate. These studies push the idea that training is what is needed to get the careers worker up to scratch, whereas Bill argues that we have to inhabit the web without claiming expertise. While I think that training has a place I???d broadly go along with this idea as well ??? my experience of using the web is of constant learning rather than confident competence. If you wait until you know ???enough??? you never get to take part. As soon as you???ve learnt something the world has moved on and we are into something different. I think that this means that we need to embrace and develop a culture of experimentation and exploration, Bill constructs this as a need to recognise the learning that young people already have.

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I???m all for co-construction of learning and for breaking down barriers between learners and professionals. What I???m not convinced about is the idea that young people are necessarily highly competent users of social media. The idea that there is a generation who are born hard-wired into the web seems to me to very problematic. I think that we need to move very carefully into areas where we assume that competence in any skill is associated with a generation.

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Bill then goes on to characterise Web 1, 2 and 3 as cognition, communication and co-operation in a definition that he draws from Fuchs et al (2010). I need to give this article some proper attention but it seems to me that these terms are pretty heavily contested. I???m gradually weaning myself off using these Web #.0 definitions but in the meantime I generally work with the following

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  • Web 1.0 ??? the web
  • Web 2.0 ??? the web (but a bit easier for users to update)
  • Web 3.0 ??? the semantic web

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However this is really rather different from Bill???s/Fuchs??? definition. I???d see the move from communication to co-operation as being a cultural shift within the technology of Web 2.0 rather than a technical shift. What do other people think about this?

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Bill then goes on to rehearse a number of concerns about how developments on the web are impacting on learning. Essentially this comes down to listing the work of Tony Curzon Price, Laura Miller, Maryanne Wolf, Tara Brabazon, Cass Sunstein, Nigel Selwyn and Jaron Lanier. To be honest I think that this section needs to be either expanded or dropped. In particular I have big doubts about the value that is accorded here and elsewhere to Lanier thinking. I think that he tends to be trotted out as a convenient thinker to provide ???balance??? in discussions of the internet. I don???t agree with his ideas, but I also think that they have a Canute-like quality of ineffectively trying to turn a tide that is much more powerful than any individual. However, I don???t want to get sidetracked onto a discussion about Lanier ??? let???s save that for another day. While it is all very well to recognise the limits of technology and the impact (both positive and negative) that it might have on learning/teaching, these different critica
l perspectives pull in a wide range of confusing directions. More interesting than this survey of the anti-Web brigade is Bill???s discussion of the concerns that we have about issues of trust and provenance when (young) people are using the web. Bill posts some very useful questions that set out an approach to critical digital literacy that I feel should be at the heart of what careers work needs to be teaching people. If we can???t teach people to answer the question ???how can we know what/who to trust??? how can we talk about helping people to undertake career exploration and utilise labour market information. Bill constructs a frame for this process that looks like this:

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(1)???????? finding things out, by experiencing and enquiring;

(2)???????? sorting them out, by linking things into ???like-not-like??? patterns;

(3)???????? checking them out, by concentrating on what people can then see is important to them; and

(4)???????? figuring out how things got this way, and – so – how they can effectively be managed.

Bill goes on to argue that this approach to career learning, what I would call ???critical digital literacy???, provides a much better basis for careers work than the conventional matching paradigm. He then goes on to make the point that if this is the job of teacher and careers adviser they should be able to move past the constant cries for technical training. Our job becomes to enable learning, encourage enquiry and challenge assumptions, yes we need to learn how to use some technology to do this but the core of our activity should be around the learner and not the technology. This seems an important message that discussions about technology, education and careers really need to put at their centre.

Career, technology and related stuff bibliography

I’ve just finished a paper on career exploration, career IAG and technology. I’ve been keeping my references on Citeulike as I’ve gone along which has been fantastic. It would be even more fantastic if more education, career and related people were using Citeulike. The power of social resource discovery is enormous to say nothing of the advantages of not having to type so many references in if other people are doing it for you.

Anyway, if you are interested in having a look at the bibliography for this project you can find it on Citeulike tagged as iagtech.

Why careers professionals should engage with social media

I’ve been working on a paper abo ut the relationship between career exploration, career IAG and technology. I originally wrote a bit about the value of social media for professional development. This bit ended up getting cut out, but it may be of interest to someone so I thought I’d stick it up on the blog….

 

Social media tools such as blogs, micro-blogs and social bookmarking sites offer ways for groups of people to interact around a common interest. It is possible for these tools to be adopted by professional communities who wish to use them for information and practice sharing and professional development purposes. Professions where social media has been utilised in this way include teaching (Luehmann and Tinelli, 2008), museums professionals (Madsen-Brooks, L, 2009) and librarians (Dupuis, 2009). Where communities of practice have utilised social media tools they have provided a social learning space within which professionals can engage in professional development.

 

The use of social media has been found to facilitate the learning process by encouraging reflection (Beale, 2007). The process of writing about an experience, publishing it to your peers and receiving feedback on your reflection is a powerful process for learning especially in a professional context where you are part of a pre-existing community of practice. There are a number of examples of this kind of use of social media tools within the careers world. Notable examples include David Winter’s Careers – In Theory blog (http://careersintheory.wordpress.com/) and Helen Curry’s Careers Service 2.0 blog (http://helencurry.wordpress.com/about/). There are also a small number of careers professionals active on Twitter and rather more on Linkedin where the UK HE Careers Professionals and ICT in Careers Work groups are moderately active.

 

Given that the careers profession is fragmented across a number of professional bodies and employers as well as being geographically spread it is believed that this kind of decentralised approach to professional development could be useful. The opportunity to share information and insights on a regular basis with those whom you share some concerns is one of the biggest opportunities offered by social media. It is however perhaps work noting that careers professionals employed by local authorities often find that their employers have restrictive internet use policies or even internet filters that prevent the use of social media sites.