MON: Writing tips for report writers globally by means of a blended learning approach (Carol Waites)

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Dr Carol Waites
8 January 2016

This project consists of a weekly emailed writing tip by subscription, which links back to a website with the writing tip topics further developed on it.  It is an open project suitable for any report writer globally. 

Rationale

Many United Nations staff members write reports daily and require support in their often solitary task.  For 12 years I have been the only trainer in Geneva to support these writers and my services are in too high a demand to meet the needs. With technology and more limited resources, United Nations trainers are now asked by the General Assembly to design courses online or in blended solutions accessible to staff members globally.  We should be more inclusive and efficient in our course offerings, combine our efforts across the duty stations and achieve this by 2017.   

The project

To bridge the gap, I have designed a website and email service with a weekly writing tip to whet writers’ appetites.  This website and email subscription will also serve as a way to make contact with those in the field, to help old students and new ones alike and to broaden my reach to any writer.   My theme is inclusion of staff globally, taking care to include those with disabilities too.    

This presentation describes the project and the steps taken to bring it to fruition.  It presents the challenges I encountered, and my efforts to make my website and service accessible to all. 

Ensuring accessibility is the greatest challenge of all, as accessing technology in emerging countries will present difficulties.  I will need to be flexible and creative to find solutions when faced with unexpected difficulties with clients located globally. 

The website

For the website, I selected weebly.com.  It is accessible on computers, mobile and smart phones, and a tablet.  This is important as many UN peacekeepers are located in Africa, which has some of the lowest fixed-broadband subscription rates in the world, and where mobile phones prevail and smart phones are entering the market.  It also seems to support the features of accessibility for people with various disabilities. 

Selecting content

First, I am basing my decision on what content to display by consulting the results of a needs survey I conducted.  It will also inform my decision on how to display the content. 

I will turn my manuals into webpages, using html instead of pdf.  According to feedback, I should make the weekly tips short in order to entice busy people into signing up. They will have a link to the website, which can give more information for those interested. 

Needs analysis and evaluation

As a networked practitioner, I carried out a needs survey and solicited feedback and informed my future clients through Twitter, Yammer, Unite Connections, my Facebook, a Facebook writers’ group, and through email mailings to old students, current students and to focal points in the United Nations.  Any unexpected opportunities or challenges that arose as a result of my extensive networking will also be reported on.

Keywords:  report writing, tips, email subscription, resources, United Nations, training, writing skills, website design, accessibility, inclusion, technology, mobile phones, emerging countries.

Extra content

United Nations 69th Session of the General Assembly in August 2015

Here are quotes from the resolution adopted by the United Nations 69th Session of the General Assembly in August 2015 which support my project.  Specifically, 

‘Item  46. Requests the Secretary-General to continue the efforts to ensure that training opportunities in the six official languages are equally available to all staff; ‘

‘Item 56. … encourages … the Department of Field Support and the Office of Human Resources

Management of the Secretariat to continue to cooperate closely, from within existing

resources, to support the language learning needs of staff in the field, …’

It also states that: ‘Recognizing further …  the importance of the capacity to communicate to the peoples of the world in their own languages, including in formats accessible to persons with disabilities.’

The main audience for this service is United Nations report writers globally, but I have adopted an open approach to broaden my reach. 

Reference:

UNITED NATIONS Sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly (A/69/L.86), 18 August 2015, Agenda item 122 on Multilingualism, item 46. [Online]. Available at <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/69/324>

Dr Carol Waites
07:28 on 14 January 2016 (Edited 07:52 on 14 January 2016)

Technology and geographical considerations.

Factors to consider for technological access include geographical location, internet connection requirements, bandwidth, what device the clients will use -  computers, cell phones or tablets (FAO, 2011, p.29, 54), and ensuring that the website is clear on a mobile device (Redish, 2012, pp.119-122).  In emerging countries where Peacekeepers and Human Rights officers are mostly stationed, this is a significant factor. 

According to Veselinovic and Clements (2015), most people in Africa use a mobile phone.  Africa has a weak land-line infrastructure, which makes connecting through a desktop computer difficult.  This research is further validated by PewGlobal.org, 2015 in Figure 10 below.  ‘A median of 84% across the 32 nations (surveyed) own a cell phone, not far off from the U.S. figure of 90%.

 PewGlobal.org (March, 2015) Internet seen as positive influence on education but negative on morality in emerging and developing nations   [Online]. Available at <http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/03/19/internet-seen-as-positive-influence-on-education-but-negative-influence-on-morality-in-emerging-and-developing-nations/technology-report-18/

See embedded content below the tapescript and survey of needs for the visual depiction of the percentages.  It is called 'Cell Phones Commonplace; Smartphone Ownership Varies'.

Dr Carol Waites
07:31 on 14 January 2016 (Edited 07:58 on 14 January 2016)

Here is the tapescript to accompany the poster:

Title:  Writing tips for report writers globally. 

Author:  Carol Waites, United Nations Staff Development and Learning Section, Geneva.  Project for H818 The networked practitioner, MAODE. 

Theme:  Inclusion.

Tapescript .

Slide 1.

Image: 

  • Writing tips for report writers globally.
  • Carol Waites, United Nations Staff Development and Learning Section.

 No audio.

Slide 2.

Image:   Photo of me at a computer in a training room in Entebbe.  Photo taken by colleague Jodi Nooyen using my mobile phone, Entebbe, October 2012 while conducting Training of Trainers in Writing Skills.  Permission given to use it.

 

Audio:

For 12 years I have conducted local workshops for Geneva staff in report writing skills.  I gave one workshop in the field for peacekeepers in 2012.  I realized their need was great and there was a lack of opportunities. 

Slide 3.

Image:  Photo taken of a workshop being conducted at the United Nations in November 2015.  It features my colleague, Fiona Munro, and two students are visible, permission given by all those who appear to have their photo on my slide. 

 

Audio:

Even locally many staff are excluded from our live workshops.  They travel, run meetings, their supervisors are unsupportive and they are unable to attend.  Wheelchair access to training rooms has also been a problem. 

Slide 4. 

Reference to document online:  UNITED NATIONS Sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly (A/69/L.86), 18 August 2015, Agenda item 122 on Multilingualism, item 46. [Online]. Available at <http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/69/324>  (last accessed 08/11/15)

 

Image:  Screenshots of the United Nations General Assembly document, where it

Requests the Secretary-General to continue the efforts to ensure that training opportunities in the six official languages are equally available to all staff.

 

Audio:

Now, suddenly our mandate has changed. 

With new technology, we are being asked:

  1. to consolidate our efforts at the different duty stations .
  2. to offer our courses online or in blended learning to reach staff globally.

We are requested to be more inclusive and equitable in our delivery. 

Slide 5.

Photo:  Photo from Pixabay.com CC showing a multi-coloured globe of the world.

 

Audio:

This should happen by 2017. For the next two years we are trying to meet these targets. 

Challenges we are dealing with while going local to global include:

  • Designing online courses.
  • Using WebEx.
  • How to enrol participants in the field.

 

In the meantime, I would like to test out a project, the idea of which was conceived with my last groups of students. 

Slide 5

Photo:  Screenshot of my Weebly.com website with the title ‘Writing tips for professional writers’.Tools, resources, grammar and style.  Sign up for writing tips. 

On the slide:  Project components.  

  • a website to display the information.
    • an email service.
    • a networked practitioner.

 

Audio:

I can use a website to place my writing tips and get people to sign up for a weekly email.  These weekly tips will link back to more detailed pages for those that want more information.

It will be a good review for past students, and be a help to those starved of training and assistance.  

With my network, I can reach far and wide in the field and fill in the training gap.  I can offer more and more writing assistance in this way.

Slide 6

Photo:  Screenshot of H818 2015 conference. 

On the slide:  OU H818 'The Networked Practitioner' Online Conference 2016
Mon. 15 Feb. at 18.30.

1. Show and tell of website and email service.

2. Challenges:

  • Is my website and email service accessible?
  • Do I reach my objectives?
  • How networked am I? 
  • Am I being inclusive?
  • What feedback am I getting?

Please come J.

 

Audio:

Come to my presentation in February 2016 at the H818 conference.

I will show you how my project is progressing. 

Challenges I will address at the H818 conference:

Is my website and email service accessible?

Do I reach my objectives?

How networked am I? 

Am I being inclusive?

What feedback am I getting?

I hope to see you there!!

End of the presentation.

 

 

Dr Carol Waites
07:38 on 14 January 2016

Survey of needs

Here is a link to the google form I used to survey the needs of a wide range of people.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1UsYOL9ASZYg1MM8E3i1c6mj333X8R-ksTmcMsfO09hU/viewform

I received 63 responses, among whom were responses from Human Rights officers in Guatemala, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Jamaica, Cambodia (as at 14/01/2016).

Here is a link to the detailed analytics of the survey, which will inform how I build my website and writing tips service.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1UsYOL9ASZYg1MM8E3i1c6mj333X8R-ksTmcMsfO09hU/viewanalytics


Dr Carol Waites
07:52 on 14 January 2016 (Edited 07:59 on 14 January 2016)

Embedded Content

Cell Phones Commonplace; Smartphone Ownership Varies

Cell Phones Commonplace;  Smartphone Ownership Varies">Cell Phones Commonplace; Smartphone Ownership Varies

added by Dr Carol Waites

Visit my website in progress here.

Visit my website in progress here.

added by Dr Carol Waites

Writing tips for professional writers using a blended learning approach

Writing tips for professional writers using a blended learning approach

Accessible Alternative
added by Dr Carol Waites

Contribute

Elaine Dalloway
10:49am 17 January 2016


Hi Carol, you are obviously a very effective networked practitioner - 63 responses to your survey is excellent!

I'm interested in the report writing tips (can we sign up outside UN?) and wondered what language UN reports are written in (I assume you are helping to write in UK English)  and are they made available in other languages.

Looking forward to your presentation.

Elaine

Dr Carol Waites
2:11pm 17 January 2016 (Edited 6:12pm 18 January 2016)


Hi Elaine  Thanks for your interest in my project!! 

Here is the website with sign up details: 

professionalwritingtips.weebly.com

I have left it open so you can view it anytime.  Obviously, I am now working on the website, so you will hopefully see many changes over the next few weeks.  I am experimenting with formats, with how to put text on it etc.  But of course, sign up and you can join the guinea pig group I will be contacting soon to help me. 

I am indeed helping report writers in UK English (as that is the one set in the Editorial Manual as you will see if you sign up).  The other official languages are Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian.  Here is a site with official documents and it shows the other languages at the top.

http://www.un.org/en/documents/ods/

All official documents go into English and French and then it depends for the other languages.  However, the General Assembly mandate is to reinforce the other languages, so this may change.  But with the same resources it may not be possible.  It is an interesting era to be living. 

Anna Orridge
4:11pm 18 January 2016


Hi Carol, I very much like the idea of the websites and the tip. To add some interactivity, could there be a weekly exercise. So, trainees could post a few sentences or a short paragraph on the site, in response to a task, for evaluation by the tutor or the learning community? it is tailored, detailed feedback which tends to be the most appreciated by writing students, in my experience. Unfortunately, this is also time intensive on the part of the trainer or teacher. Are there any ways your website can provide this?

Dr Carol Waites
5:34pm 18 January 2016


Great idea Anna.  They get tailored detailed feedback on their assignments when they do a course.  This is supposed to keep the neurons ticking following the course.  My idea was to have a forum where they can ask questions and answer them.  Someone suggested an 'Ask Carol' forum, but I think they should ask and answer each other.  I am planning on including some quizzes with answers on the website.  At the moment i have a blog where I will put the old posts.  Anyway, you are right that I should try to include some interactivity, and I will think about how without it involving me personally as I seem to spend my life with writing assignments and certainly don't want to add to the burden when it is something I want to do on top of my work.   Perhaps a task, as you suggest, and they do the feedback to each other and I can step in if I feel it is a good idea.  Not sure how to do it on the website, but that is the challenge!!

Chris Gray
6:00pm 24 January 2016 (Edited 6:01pm 24 January 2016)


Carol

I think this will be a really valuable resource for both new report writers and also established ones who want refreshers and updates.

Can I ask if consideration has been given to having different levels of tips? For example, someone at basic literacy level would have different requirements to those with higher skills.

In developing tips to be even more engaging, might you be considering features such as being able to uncover features to explore further or maybe to progress up through different levels, so individuals could find which level they are most comfortable at?

Dr Carol Waites
8:23am 27 January 2016


This is the email I sent out to my weekly writing tip cohort of volunteers - almost 50 people!  I have put the weekly writing tip first, followed by the email text.  Please add your feedback :)

Welcome to the weekly writing tip!

Be direct

Subject – verb – object
                  
Keep the subject as close as possible to the main verb.
              
Underline the main verb to see where it is.
 

Go to the website for further information:

http://professionalwritingtips.weebly.com/blog

Dear all

I thought I would give a little information about the weekly writing tips to help you when giving feedback.
1.  My students told me to keep them short - maximum two lines or people wouldn't read them.  Do you agree this is a good idea?
2.  By having only two lines, I don't give an example.  Did you understand the tip without one, or would you prefer a 'before and after' example?
3. Did you go to the link on the website to see more?  If so, did it fulfill your expectations?
4. The website is still being constructed and it is slower than expected by the firewall problems we have encountered, but any feedback is welcome.  Your impressions are important. 

Sorry about the website getting blocked by some organizations' firewalls.  You may have to look at it from home but I am trying to resolve it - at least with the United Nations.


Kiran Gawali
11:51pm 5 February 2016


Great work Carol and such useful resource! How do you envisage people finding a previous tip? Would another colour or a box around the tip help to make that text stand out and aid anyone just skimming for the ' main' content when browsing on the website?

Dr Carol Waites
6:04pm 7 February 2016


Thanks for the suggestion, Kiran.  I can't find a box so I have used a different size font and colour to distinguish where the tip starts.  Do you think it does the trick?

http://professionalwritingtips.weebly.com/writing-tips

Maxine Armstrong
5:07pm 9 February 2016


Hi Carol,

I have just had a look at your website and now realise that my English is appalling! I felt quite confident previously when I completed your survey. I have now signed up for my weekly tip.

I think you have thought through your project really well and I can see it being a well-used resource. I was pleased to see your section on writing for different purposes. I rarely have to write a report, but I do need to write for the web.

In your blog I initially had difficulty distinguishing between the examples and your explanations, for example see the blog post, 16 Jan 2016. Would you be able to use a change of font, colour or style to distinguish them?

I assume that people will receive the tips after they sign up. I was wondering how you would handle users starting at different stages? Do you anticipate that users will be signing up after an event or will they sign up if and when they become aware of the resource? Will this mean that tips cannot build on previous examples?

Will you be using categories or tags in the blog to help people search for previous tips etc.?

I am looking forward to your presentation on Monday and will look out for my weekly tip.

Best wishes, Maxine 

Dr Carol Waites
8:42pm 9 February 2016


Dear MaxineThanks for signing up!  As you can see, you are directed back to the website, and the previous writing tips are stored there in a section called - wait for it! - Writing Tips!  There is also a blog where I have started doing a commentary on the writing tip.  I think this is the best function for the blog.  At first I had mixed the two, but now I see that some of my areas are not very developed, so will warrant an additional comment on the blog.  I can also give a personal view on it. 

I have been struggling to fix up the fonts and colour to distinguish them, but see I haven't yet succeeded, so will keep trying. 

Thanks again.  Hope you got your weekly tip.  Carol

Patricia Daniels
9:09am 13 February 2016


Hello Carol,

I think this is a terrific project and certainly a resource that can be used by many. I'll be directing my language students to your page in the future.

To the aesthetics, I would aim for uniformity with font and style. I understand you highlighting metalanguage with colour but found this distracting in some cases. I also feel that increasing white space on some of the pages will be more appealing to your intended audience. I know how my stundents react when faced with complex texts and small print. You have acheived this in some parts Carol and as a reader I felt the impact immediately. The pages seem to breathe and everything looks lighter.

Regarding the use of metalanguage, I was wondering if the inclusion of a glossary might be of assistance to those who are not familiar with these terms. 

I love the tools page and also direct my students to these kind of resources. Carol, I found the concordance tool quite complex for language learners. I'm sure you show your students how to use these but what about the rest of your audience? I often recommend the British National Corpus, SkELL ( Skectch Engine) or Just The Word. 

Given that this module is about the Networked Practitioner and being open I was wondering if you've given any thought to adding a CC license with attribution ( CC BY), or a more restrictive license to your page. I find that this makes it so much easier when I want to make use of online material in class. This is of course your decision.

Overall, I found the site easy to use and informative. It's clear that it's still a work in progress. I look forward to seeing the final product and to listening to your presentation. 

Hope these suggestions are of some assistance.

Trish

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Carol Waites
12:58pm 14 February 2016


Thanks Trish

They certainly are very helpful indeed.  In fact, in addition to the comments about how easy it is to navigate or not, all of which I will look at carefully with my intern, your comments raise other issues:

Who is this website intended for?  Well, originally it was intended for my report writing students following the course, so the materials would be accessible.  But then, others pointed out that if it was on the web, anyone should be able to access it, and I agreed and decided to be open. 

However, the materials are from my courses, so they haven't really been properly reviewed to see which are the most suitable for open viewing, and your comments are valid. You have also led me to some interesting alternatives in web concordancers that I didn't know.  They are simpler to use and could serve a good purpose for a pre-course type of person.  So, thanks a lot for those - I will change my page in the near future when the assignments are finished and put in other resources. 

Just to let you know - recently I have been transferring the materials to an open Moodle area on our inhouse platform, so as to be able to use them without being blocked by the firewall with my courses.  So, that will help me sort out the level of difficulty and which to put where. 

A glossary could be a good thing to include too.  I always tell my students that I teach the metalanguage as then they can search online for more information.  However, for people who haven't yet done the course, it could be a bit bewildering at times so I will ponder this one. 

As for putting a CC licence on it - this is definitely one to consider and I will discuss it with Elaine, as she is the expert.  I will need to investigate how to do it.  And when I have thoroughly checked my content to make sure it is all properly referenced too - this is something I am doing now. 

 

Dr Simon Ball
11:16am 16 February 2016


Hi Carol

Here is a summary of the questions/comments from your presentation - please respond as you wish:

  • Do you feel that part of what you need to address is that your 'students' are peers, just with different functions across the UN?
  • The weekly email tips are great -what response do you get?
  • Clear theme in H818 is need to take risks in effective networking?
  • Good link to Saturday session on how to get others to contribute
  • Is there any scope for the weekly writing tips beyond the United Nations community?
  • How are experitmental webinars organised?

Dr Carol Waites
3:46pm 16 February 2016


Dear all

Thank you for your questions.  It is great to be able to answer with a bit of time to think! 

  1. Do you feel that part of what you need to address is that your 'students' are peers, just with different functions across the UN?
    The UN peers or colleagues all share a similar philosophy, we work in a microcosm, but we also have different backgrounds, different nationalities and different skills.  This is something that we respect and are used to.  People leave their hierarchy issues behind when they come to the training rooms.    
  2. The weekly email tips are great -what response do you get?
    Great enthusiasm, suggestions, requests to add others to the list ….  Some students suggested them in the first place, so they also feel a sense of pride.
  3. Clear theme in H818 is need to take risks in effective networking?
    In my talk, I said (from tapescript that I followed):  'I took a risk by exposing the website early on in the design process.  This was because of the short time I had for the project and I wanted to network and gain visibility from the outset to maximise its reach. I was inspired by Weller’s book ‘The Battle For Open’ and decided to take the risk. '  So, it was my personal decision.  I was inspired when reading Weller's book as he describes different types of openness, and I decided to be more open than before in my project to elicit maximum feedback and to see how effective broader networking could be.  In my final assignment I will critically review this. 
  4. Good link to Saturday session on how to get others to contribute.
    Nice to see links across projects.  I found quite a few commonalities across different projects:  Tommy’s collaborative learning forum, Anita’s website to encourage scholarly collaboration …
  5. Is there any scope for the weekly writing tips beyond the United Nations community?
    I have made my weekly writing tips available to anyone who is interested.  It started with the UN community, but as others seemed interested, I extended it.  I now have two possible audiences, so I am transferring the content to a Moodle platform where I will make it more UN focused and the weebly site more general. 
  6. How are experimental webinars organised?
    As I mentioned, I am designing my online report writing course to be launched in 2017, and I am experimenting with giving webinars.  These follow my face-to-face workshops and enable people who missed them to catch up.  I am the one experimenting.  But if I call it experimental, I can offer them free of charge and I am able to include people from the field.  They join for free, and if there are teething problems, everyone is sympathetic.  So far, 55 additional people from the field have put their names on my experimental webinar list. 

 

Kiran Gawali
8:16pm 16 February 2016


Hi Carol,

Following your project and your weekly tips has been facinating and enjoyable. Just a follow up comment and question on point 6. Have you prepared your webinars content any different from your workshops? I am doing a very similar thing in my project and I am assuming that my experience from OU will come very handy. What is your take on this? In my workshop wether its delivered online or face 2 face the content is the same but disseminated slightly differentley.

Dr Carol Waites
8:32pm 16 February 2016


Hi Kiran

Thanks for your feedback and comments.  I have tried recording the face 2 face workshops for those that miss them.  The last one it was snowing and some couldn't come.  But the students found them too hard to follow as the workshops are very interactive.  I also use a deductive approach with quizzes and discussion groups.  Too much was happening and the content is not always in a linear fashion.  I skip around according to how the discussion goes.  The content is also quite specialized.

So, in the webinars I decided to use PowerPoints and to share my screen when going to links or demonstrating.  I used a mix of present and practice, so they can participate in the chat box.  As the material I am presenting is on the screen and I am speaking directly to them, it is much clearer.  So, the content itself is the same, but I have slightly changed how I do it so I can present it all in a more linear fashion.  And I squeeze 3 hours of workshop into 1 hour of webinar.  Of course, I assume familiarity with the content at that stage.  For some it is a revision.  If I were to present it for the first time, it would be longer or more sessions.

I'll be watching yours tomorrow, and I have also enjoyed following your project on Open Studio.  I see you use Moodle as we do for our VLE.  Yesterday I learned about Moodlecloud.com for free hosting.  So many good ideas flying around!  Good luck for tomorrow.  Carol

Dr Simon Ball
9:06am 23 February 2016


Many Congratulations Carol! Your presentation has been voted by delegates to be one of the most effective of the H818 Online Conference 2016 and you are officially one of our H818 Presentation Star Open Badge Winners! Please see how to Apply for your Badge here: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/badge/view/33

Well done!

Simon

H818 Conference Organiser

Dr Carol Waites
8:03pm 23 February 2016


Thank you for voting for me.  I feel honoured.  I felt all the presentations were extremely interesting and of high quality.  Well done everyone!

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