Just Trying to Help

woman online

She just wants to help me online.

I have been getting more emails sent to my blogs (I have 9 including this one - which is just ridiculous) offering "help" and also posts I might want to use.

Here's a recent example:

My name is [deleted], I'm a writer and blogger at IvyPanda. Recently I've been working on an article about communication skills and I visited your website while researching. There's a great post named "PowerPointless" (https://www.serendipity35.net/index.php?/archives/210-PowerPointless.html) I enjoyed reading!
Unfortunately, I noticed a broken link there. Here it is: 

Since my brand new article is out, I think you can use it for updating your page. It has 27 tips to overcome public speaking anxiety and a bonus list of great courses available online. It's going to be an excellent replacement! 
Here's the link: https://ivypanda.com/blog/public-speaking-anxiety-tips
What do you think? Just trying to help ;-)
Warm regards,
**   writer & blogger

There is software that can scan sites for broken external links. So, these people find a broken link and use that as a way to email and help you fix your site - which is useful - and then the email will always suggest a related link that I might use which comes from their site.

The first time I received one of these emails, I made the change and used their link and replied with a thank-you. But after receiving a dozen or so similar ones I had decided that this was just a way to place links on other websites.

This particular email I shared also offered links to her Facebook page. Yes, it was a woman, and on all the ones I have received, it was a woman - and an attractive woman at that. (Not the woman shown above.)  I wonder if female bloggers get emails from male helpers? is she a real person? Is this a scam, and if so is it harmful? 

This has a name. It is called "broken link building." This is a link building tactic. You find a broken link, recreate the dead content, then tell anyone linking to the dead resource to instead link to your recreated content. When it works - and I'm sure it often does - it is because you don't want dead links on your website.

You can feel some pride if you get one of these emails because websites targeted have a good following. They target you because they are trying to raise their own search engine optimization which is at least partially based on the ranking of the sites that link to you.

Did I fix my "PowerPointless" post here on Serendipity35because of that email? Yes. I got rid of the broken link, added a new one (not the one that was provided) and fixed a broken image. So, thanks.


overhead projector
There is probably one of these gathering dust in a classroom near you. It still has its uses.

PowerPointless. I really like that as the title of a presentation on the use of "slides" (even if it's Apple's Keynote instead of MS PowerPoint). We all know that it can be much abused, and yet it's in the majority of classrooms. You probably ask your students to do presentations. They get graded. What do you do to make their presentations better?

In the past few months, I've seen three mentions of assigning students (grades 7-20) to give a 90-second demo presentation. It doesn't seem tough. A script for one would be about 150 words, about one page of text. How much can you say in 90 seconds?

The point would be to force students to think about focus & polish and cutting out wasted time, words and images (or props).

What can you do in that amount of time? The very briefest of intros. Define the topic, problem or goal. Work through clearly defined steps. Multitask - talk and demo simultaneously, leading into the next step a beat before you actually do it. Do the steps build upon the previous one? Have a definite finish. Leave a slide or graphic up at the end with your name, demo title, etc. - end with the traditional intro.

Something this short can be scripted/storyboarded without it being a huge undertaking.

There is actually an event called Demo held twice a year where executives from 70+ companies get 6 minutes to do a product demo to an audience of venture capitalists, analysts, and journalists.

Check out:

  1. Video archive from previous Demo events
  2. Guy Kawasaki on How To Get A Standing Ovation
  3. Behind The Magic Curtain (demos with Steve Jobs)
  4. Tips for Successful Public Speaking from the Toastmasters.org
  5. Presentation Zen - a good blog to subscribe to

Where Are My Readers?

global handsTo answer my question of where my readers are I must break down my answer.

I can look at site analytics for this and other blogs I write on and find where they are geographically. Serendipity35 now has more than 104 million reads, so the countries listed in the stats are quite diverse. But still, most readers are from the U.S. and other English-speaking countries (primarily Canada, England, and Australia) but there are a good number from beyond.

hits by hours
Hits By Hours

Last month (July 2019), this site had 332,051 "hits." That averages to 10,711 hits per day, and they come at all times of the day (see image at right) which tells me that visitors are coming from all parts of the globe. Someone is probably reading this right now, just like you.

I will sometimes take posts from my other blogs  and cross-post them as "stories" at medium.com/@ronkowitz  and on linkedin.com/in/kennethronkowitz as "posts" and sometimes as "articles."

I started doing this to see if I would get more views on my other blogs or if the articles appeared on bigger sites (like LinkedIn or Medium). What I have found is that my biggest audience is here and I would like to think that some readers have been following the blog for several years.

Re-posting on other platforms gives me additional information about readers. For example, analytics can tell me what search term they used (and which search engine they used) to find that article. If my post here about engagement in online courses received half of its traffic from searches for "social presence" and "gamification," I probably should consider posts about those topics or writing about the nexus of those three topics.

This kind of information helps me get a better sense of another "where" which is where my readers are in their interests. That "where" crosses borders. 


The Rules of Engagement

online courseI was reading an article with suggestions on how to get more social media engagement on the same day that I was doing a Quality Matters (QM) review of an online course. The QM rubrics ask a reviewer to consider student engagement. Social media marketing and higher education may seem very different, but the engagement objective is certainly shared.

I decided to walk through the article's suggestions with an eye to online courses to see how much crossover I would find. 

The article says there are three rules of engagement for social media: Be Consistent. Ask Specific Questions. Include an Element of Fun.  I'd have to say I would like to see all three true in online courses. 

Having come from the K-12 world before higher ed, I learned quickly that consistency in my teaching was critical. That was true about lesson presentation, grading, discipline and all the rules that are on the syllabus and that come up throughout the year. Consistency builds a kind of trust in student expectations. It helps avoid situations where you might be accused of treating some students better or worse than others. My middle school classroom had a pretty much daily routine that became so natural that when I did depart from it my students immediately noticed it. That can sound a little boring and occasional "inconsistencies" and spontaneous teachable moments are certainly also needed.

As a reviewer of online courses, I try to put myself in the place of a new student in the course and I often find that instructions for assignments and even discussion questions are just not very clear. Ask Specific Questions is very important. Teachers know that a question in a classroom such as "Are there any questions?" or "Does everyone understand that?" are terrible ways to elicit responses and a terrible way to check on learning. 

Including an "Element of Fun" sounds great and yet I know that if I suggest that to many professors I will get a doctoral stare from them. Sadly, I have learned that there are too many teachers who think that real learning should NOT be fun. In fact, they seem to associate suffering with learning, as in the equally stupid mantra of "No pain, no gain." The best learning experiences are enjoyable ones. That's why gamification became a hot topic in education. It's not that everything in a course should be like playing a video game, but what makes games on and offline engaging should certainly be considered.

Create a Club-Like Experience. "Club" isn't the right word in education, but online you will often hear that you need to build an online "community." Social media sites are very good at this. They gain followers who check sites every day, post, like, and comment. Isn't that what you want in your online class community? 

I always tell the faculty that they need to personalize their courses and that they need to have a social presence there. Video is a great way to do this with things like a syllabus and course walkthrough video using screen capture and your voice. You should also let students see you. The experience shouldn't be like hearing a voice on the radio that you can't attach to any actual human. A short (less than 5 minutes) welcome video for the course is easy to record using anything from your phone to whatever your school provides. It can be shot in your office or from your couch. But what if it is a video of you at the park with your dog, or you in your lab on campus? Either is more interesting and would also present another side of you.

Beyond the rules, there are also many tips and suggestions to increase engagement. One suggestion is to encourage conversations with audience triggers. The "trigger" term might trigger things associations like pain points. These sparks(?) for conversation have nothing to do with the topic of your content or your primary value but use the personal likes/dislikes of your audience. Of course, you first need to know those likes/dislikes. Then, you can use hobbies and other interests, such as movies, pets or sports, as a pathway to content. (This might be your entry into "fun.")

Using visuals is hardly new in presenting in face-to-face situations but it is still lacking in many online courses that are very text-based.  (BTW, putting text on PowerPoint slides is NOT visual - even when you insert some gratuitous clip art.)

There are plenty of articles on increasing engagement online ( a few below) but I am suggesting that you also look to how engagement is encouraged online by advertisers, game makers and the stars of social media.