Editing non-native English: academic editing

2017 update: the latest players in academic editing

eCPD Webinars’ follow-up to Editing non-native English with Joy Burrough-Boenisch looked specifically at academic and scientific texts:

With so many non-native-English university students, academics and scientists expected to write in English there is huge demand for proofreaders and authors’ editors to make their texts fit for purpose. The presenter will discuss the nature of this work: what it entails, methods and techniques to use, and resources to deploy. Attention will also be given to the ethics of editing texts that are to be assessed by academic institutions and/or are intended to be published in pursuit of academic or scientific kudos.

To recap, typical ‘non-native’ features that need to be corrected include learner English problems and transfers from the author’s language and culture.

A growing number of non-native English (NNE) higher education students are required to write in English because they are studying in Anglophone countries or their courses are being taught in English (not always by native English speakers). Scientists are publishing more in English than in their own language.

Both individuals and companies offers editing help. See American Manuscript Editors, who offer to “correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. He or she will also improve the flow of your paper, eliminate any awkward sentences or phrasing, and ensure that the writing is clear and concise while meeting the formatting requirements of the targeted journal”. This is not just copy or language editing, and could be considered invasive.

In UK universities the language correction services offered to students as ‘proofreading’ (not to be confused with the reading of galley proofs or electronic texts to detect and correct minor errors before the text is published) are often provided by academically trained and generally not commercially-oriented persons.

This term proofreading, which historically the term only applied to the final check of galley proofs against marked-up text, is now used for checking final or near-final version of text and rectifying minor shortcomings. How minor is minor? See True Editing’s Academic Services for details of what they will do.

educateIf the text is to be graded or assessed, there are ethical issues, as writing skills may be part of the assessment. Editing hence entails correcting wrong or strange English, plus addressing other shortcomings.

If the text is an article for a peer reviewed journal or similar the usual aim of editing is to give that person a credible voice in the academic community, and hence editing entails correcting any wrong or strange English and non-Anglophone conventions, plus addressing other shortcomings.

You can choose to edit to educate – the third circle of the Venn diagram.

Ethical editing for students involves fixing language-related errors and flagging errors you think the student should be able to fix. Consider teaching via comments, either via marginal comments or as inline comments inserted in the text, forcing the author to engage with comments and remove them manually.

A further issue is plagiarism – keep an eye open for unexpected changes in style.

Universities are starting to develop policies on proofreading aka academic editing, eg LSE’s Statement on editorial help, Essex on proofreading, which bans noticeboard ads from proofreaders and has developed a register of proofreaders, with regular meetings for ‘control’. Their policy includes, for example, reformatting only a section of a bibliography as an appropriate level of intervention, but rewriting sections, reordering paragraphs or correcting factual errors as not. Substantive or structural editing is the role of the student’s supervisor. (Lots more on this plus examples in slides 57-62. See also Guardian article.

Professional organisation are also beginning to offer guidance. See the Institute of Professional Editors (PDF; 2001; see IPEd) in Australia and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), who have published a guide to checking the language of theses and dissertations.

Bottom line: the editor’s contribution should always be acknowledged. It should be clear whether the editor was responsible for the final or near-final draft. (Authors may ‘improve’ the edited manuscript without consulting the editor.) Examples on slides 65-68.

To edit academic texts you should:

  • be familiar with the jargon and discourse conventions of the given field of science (the ‘tribal language’)
  • know the style and conventions of the text genre (eg research article, grant proposal)
  • for journal articles, be acquainted with the journal’s instructions for authors

Google Scholar (dansk) can be used to check that words and phrases are acceptable jargon in both the SL and the TL. If it is only used in the SL try Google Translate. Alternatively a specialist corpus such as Springer Exemplar can be used – it shows the country or usage, over time etc. (Sometimes words do make it out of the SL into broader usage.) If this does not resolve the issue, ask the author!

From the Q&A:

  • to calculate how long it might take, translate 1K words and add on a margin – if it takes 4 hours, you are going to have to re-examine your level of edit and find a compromise; JBB goes with four double spaced pages of text/hour + 1 page wriggle room
  • state that will charge less if takes a shorter time; what if more?
  • the PhD issue – technical translators don’t usually have PhDs in the subject; you can be self educated due to an interest and gain background knowledge cf Karen Shashok, the main thing is to be linguistically gifted, there are techniques you can use; once you specialise in a field you start to feel comfortable with the ‘tribal language’
  • can’t they get away with dodgy English? – one country’s NNE may not be understood by NNSs from another country, the whole thing will get lost in translation; an international norm is needed which is understandable to all; lowering the bar perpetuates errors and may well lead to dodgy English getting into a corpus, or becoming the norm for a tribe, see EU English

Clearly the further you move up the editing scale the more you can charge. Academic proofreading prices range roughly from £16 for a 2,000-word essay to £600 for a doctoral thesis (from ghostwriting article), but Harwood found offers varied widely, with some charging by the hour and some by the word. JBB charges by the hour for editing, but by the word for translating. EASE allegedly charges £29.60/hour (low), while Libro charges (2014) from £6 per 1000 words (standard) and £9 per 1000 words (urgent).


See also my post on academic writing, which includes some English for Academic Purposes and style links.

Who does it?


Editing non-native English

eCPD Webinars’ introduction to editing non-native English took place at 12:30 CET on 10 February:

The many types of non-native written English have common characteristics that academic language professionals tasked with editing or proofreading should know to look out for. Focusing mainly on European languages, the presenter will give examples of non-native-English textual features and explain why authors produce them. Understanding what drives the author is only part of the story, so we will also look at what drives the editor or proofreader to change text. Though aimed primarily at novices, the presentation will also benefit more seasoned practitioners, by consolidating their knowledge and enabling them to put their editing in perspective.

Led by Joy Burrough-Boenisch (LinkedIn), who doesn’t look like a novice, so I gave it a whirl, along with ~27 other attendees. It still feels weird to pay for a webinar, but this one was interesting and thought provoking.

I’ve worked as an editor for many a year so I was interested in what would be highlighted as specific to editing non-native English, as opposed to poor English, or even English written in a different style from that required. And what are the particular pitfalls in editing the English written by someone whose language you do not know? (That sentence could do with a little help.)

Like me, but unlike most of the webinar participants, Joy came into translating via editing. She stated however that the translation angle gives you a different way of looking at things.

Useful skills:

  • subject knowledge – gives you access to jargon and ‘tribal usage’
  • cultural knowledge – but bear in mind how personal and other factors can affect your editing, including your knowledge of a language (cf going Dutch)

From old friend NASA’s Levels of edit (1980):

[the levels are] not applicable to editing copy by a foreign born person who is not familiar with idiomatic English usage

This is a non- professionalised field – many people who edit non-native English are not necessarily experienced in the types of editing that professional editors perform. Equally, the English word ‘editing’ means different things to different people, depending on their mother tongue and their field of work. Different connotations are attached to editing and the terminology to describe text processing, even within the language professions (journalism, publishing, copywriting and translation, for example). (See Copyediting and proofreading: similar yet different and Can you pass a proofreading test?)

Traits of non-native English:

  • the writing of non-native authors of English is likely to have faults and inadequacies common to all draft texts, such as typos, spelling errors, omissions and inaccuracies, tautology and redundancy, poor writing – ie the same as in native English, which can be a comfort to the non-native author
  • specifically ‘non-native’ characteristics can be grouped into two categories:
    • learner English problems, not always picked up by spelling and grammar checkers, such as limited vocabulary and inappropriate register
    • transfers from the author’s language and culture, such as idioms, ‘airing cupboards’ (cultural things which need explanation), The Egg of Columbus
  • it helps to be able to speak, or at least to be familiar with the author’s language: ie to be able to use translation strategies
  • language transfers – spelling a word according to how you ‘hear’ it
  • convention transfer – punctuation, eg Danish comma rules, overuse of !; Dutch/German paragraphs (incidentally, are English paras universally still indented?)
  • limited vocabulary, leading to overuse and repetition
  • formal vs informal
  • US vs UK English
  • false friends
  • differing usage of Latin words – someone’s probably written a paper on that
  • different writing cultures – sentence length, linking words (English uses lots, eg moreover, in addition), ways of emphasising words
  • absences may also be transferred – in/definite articles, tenses, gender pronouns, lack of a precise word

Strategies for problem solving:

  • consult web resources on common errors made by writers sharing your author’s native language
  • think laterally
  • back-translate – Google Translate can help here

Usage of corpora was bigged up. Ideally the corpus should cover the area you are editing, but you can always create your own.

Editing skills:

  • general editorial principles – remove redundancy, ensure accuracy, edit to achieve clarity of expression and logic of presentation
  • importance of consistency – adhere to a self-imposed or prescribed style (spelling, the use of abbreviations, the formatting of references, appropriate standards for international symbols for units of measurement)
  • follow a style manual which prescribes spelling, punctuation, use of typefaces (italics, for example), capitalisation etc
  • be aware of conventions and practices of both main forms of English (in practice, many non-native-speaker authors write in a mixture of British and American English)
  • consult publicly accessible corpora and build up own corpora of published texts
  • awareness of genre theory – analysing and comparing genres from the author’s culture with the equivalent genres in English can be revealing (eg meeting minutes tense)
  • usage of the mark-up techniques used by (proper) copyeditors is not essential

Translation skills:

  • familiarisation with differences between the source language and the target language acquired from translation means you become particularly alert to false friends and other linguistic and cultural transfers
  • comparing style guides in English with style guides in the author’s language (sprogpolitik) reveals differences in conventions (punctuation, alphabetisation and usage of Latin)
  • back-translating ‘nonsense’ sentences or phrases into the author’s language.  The Internet translation tool will reveal alternative translations for a highlighted word, and this can lead the editor directly or indirectly (via a false friend) to the editorial solution

Some of the above comes from Joy’s article on editing non-native English. See also Supporting research writing: roles and challenges in multilingual settings (co-editor with V Matarese). Finally, membership of  SENSE (Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors; mainly NL, has some DK members) and MET (Mediterranean Editors & Translators; lots of lovely links) can help avoid language attrition, and also be good for networking.

Translating architecture

Spotting that eCPD Webinars (@eCPDWebinars) were offering a series on translating architecture I signed up for the first session on architexts. The series was led by Pierre Fuentes (@ArcTranslations | Proz), a qualified architect living in Edinburgh.

The webinar used GoToWebinar, and took place at 15:30 CET, closing at 16:50. Now I’ve attended any number of webinars for free, and my issues with the format are well documented – see in particular Video video, The webinar experience and In class. I’ve also participated in any number of MOOCs. Clearly as a priced product eCPD’s webinars have a different economic model, and not least need to be rather more closed than a MOOC, however I do wonder if more interactivity could be built around the sessions, particularly as in this case they took the form of a series. While there were opportunities to interact at the start and beginning in the form of polls, it was not a social event – there was no chat during the session and no invitation to take things forward afterwards.

The session took the form of a lecture, with much of the time spent on the presentation of slides with bulleted lists of (fairly basic) information, lacking pace and drive. (As they say on R4’s Just a minute: “he’s listing again!”) These could have been sent to participants beforehand, allowing more of the session to be spent on substantive issues actually related to translation and the skills required in this particular field, or even to go into more depth on some aspects of the information – it’s a waste of a webinar to use it mainly for knowledge transmission (what rather than why), and the end result is not very engaging. I switched to surfing with half an ear mode after about 15 minutes.

Post webinar I received an email with the slides and a four page list of resources to cover the whole series, mainly relating to French, with two pages taken up by a list of texts about architecture from Plato’s Republic onwards. Hrmph. In total I received six emails relating to the webinar, from four different email addresses.

Following an email exchange with eCPD Webinars I decided not to attend the rest of the series, which didn’t seem to be what I was looking for, suggesting that a flipped webinar might have been more substantial. I will however be giving the webinar on editing non-native English next week a go – stand by!

Below is an overview of the #archiseries gleaned from the website and Twitter.


Building on translation studies theory, we will look at who ‘writes’ architecture and what text types they produce. Some particular genres, which occur more regularly in the workload of translators, will be looked at in more detail.

Translation is “about guiding the intended co-operation over cultural barriers enabling functionally oriented communication”. This quote from guru Jeremy Munday’s Introducing translation studies (2001/13) from Holz-Mänttäri (1984:8) is useful, as it encapsulates an issue around both translation and non-native English – cultural differences may get in the way of what you are trying to say.

Different types of texts (or genres) are shaped by three functional characteristics, ie the purpose of the text:

  • informative – content focus
  • expressive – aesthetic focus
  • operative – reader focus, reactive

All three may be present, but one will predominate. See diagram presenting how different text types relate to this classification:


See also Katharina Reiss’ ‘Type, kind and individuality of text: decision making in translation’, in L Venuti, The translation studies reader, London: Routledge, 2000.

The webinar was informative, where it could have been more operative : D To offer more meat Pierre could have started with the diagram and then moved on to how different linguistic devices relate to the process of translation.

Translating graphic communication is an issue – this uses tight and particular language aka jargon and specialised terminology, with lots of acronyms and abbreviations.  One to one literal translations will often not do. It may be presented as a PDF, which is a pain, or worse! as a drawing, requiring special software. (No hints offered on what to do about this.)


What is this ‘technicality’ that translators are all talking about? What does this term imply for texts related to architecture? We will identify the links between architecture and technical fields such as engineering, design, law, property, sustainability, etc – from fancy pedantry to essential jargon. A picture being worth a thousands words, we will also discuss how to translate drawings (or not).

The mother art

Architecture and translation are both about design, but there is a fine line between skills and style. Using architects’ favourite figure of speech, the analogy, this presentation will look at recurrent stylistic problems and how to approach them.

From proportion to moderation: a brief history of architecture

Architecture is older than literature. It has shaped human life as soon as the human soul sought means to protect its cell, the body. It has shaped the dimensions of the chairs we sit on as well as the borders between some of our countries, sometimes more radically than nature itself. Through a brief history of western architectural theory, this final presentation will define what architecture has meant, means and might mean to people.

More useful was an article on terminology found on @sandersonkim’s website:

  • source text (ST): a 1911 German dissertation on Le Corbusier’s writings on German urban planning sources for a client in New Zealand – so that’s how and where requests may come from!
  • how far should your target text (TT) be country specific, in particular if you don’t know the jargon aka canon of specialist vocabulary in that country? and bear in mind the time the text was written in – in this case the TT should not sound too modern
  • have the texts referred to been translated before? usage may be established in this way
  • what to call the discipline itself? In French ‘urbanisme’, in German ‘Städtebau’, while in English there is a choice between town/city/urban, planning/design – again, what is/are the convention/s?
  • ditto re ‘ville’ or ‘Stadt’ – UK English tends to favour ‘town’ and US English ‘city’ planning, while ‘urban’ covers both
  • do ‘rues’/’Straßen’ translate as streets or roads? do the two English terms cover different ranges of meaning? checking usage in architectural texts can help
  • ingenuity and lateral thinking may be more important than deep subject knowledge and technical expertise – architects tend to creative use of language, making architrans where ‘art’ meets ‘technical’ translation

Capturing the learning experience: footprints of emergence

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 24 Feb 2015.)

At #altc 2013 I got a bit more to grips with footprints of emergence (examples), a visualisation technique for learning, which I first encountered on Jenny Mackness’ blog. At first sight it looked a bit onerous but an interesting idea, so I was eager to listen in on the Capturing the learning experience webinars, held on the SCoPE platform on 19 and 26 November.

19 November: emergent learning

  • recording (Blackboard) and materials | Jenny’s follow-up post
  • issues: is it possible to assess emergent learning? how do you ‘capture’ learning that is not expected? how do you measure or value it? are these the right questions or are they flawed? thread

26 November: drawing a footprint

footprint palette

footprint palette

Cut to the chase with Lisa Lane’s blog post.


  • the topography of the 2D palette almost makes sense –  it’s not necessarily a dichotomy (unlike Visitors/Residents?), rather a balancing act which may vary according to time, inclination, eg sometimes you may feel more warm towards the outer circle of chaos (Dante?) and risk, with its leanings towards innovation, while at other times this may feel too confusing, with too much information
  • a 3D version has prescribed learning as a valley in between ridges of emergence – both have a value
  • it’s a mapping not a scoring
  • it’s a palette not a template – not all factors may apply, new factors can be added
  • can be completed from two perspectives: learner or designer
  • learners: consider how each factor affected 1) you 2) your learning

The webinar participants seemed to struggle with the tech, making the whole process seem very very hard…some work defo still needed on this. Many of the factors are still opaque to me, use jargon and are just not clear to non edtech pple – it is hard to describe learning, but I’m sensing some over-thinking going on. The whole thing just doesn’t feel very intuitive. Would some writing for the web help and simplification make the process feel more engaging and inviting?

I’ve taken the MOOC approach to the discussion forum and not tried to read the lot : D but a post from Nick Kearney in the metaphors for emergent learning thread sums up the issues:

Footprints are a step in the right direction, in that they help to visualise the situation, but in the wrong direction in the sense that that serious engagement with them requires a whole new literacy. So, I see it as a great research tool but forget ease of use. Just a quick look at this makes me think I would hesitate to use it even if I could dedicate a couple of months to it:) It is very very rich, but there are more than 20 elements to assimilate in this particular version, and then the way the data is visually represented.

I would echo a question from Roy Williams’ response:  Is this an ‘app’, and should it be an app that can be downloaded and used in the first 5 minutes, or is it a new tool that requires two webinars and two weeks of discussion to use?

Can’t it be both? I’m really keen to apply the footprint approach to my latest MOOCs, in particular #kierkegaard with its implied special approach to learning, and to compare it with Jenny Connected’s #modpo experiences. I see it as an alternative approach to my lengthy blog posts, which may surface tacit knowledge and move my reflections on a step. Unfortunately, without Word this is not a straightforward process, but Jenny has offered to help out. We shall see how I get on! Answer: not too well, although I did present an alternative #kierkegaard footprint.

Update, September 2014: Jenny presented a new footprint platform at a recent conference.

In class: engaging a community

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

@RichMillington, author of the FeverBee blog and a community management expert, offered a free one week masterclass on community engagement from 7-10 May. The class was run in Lore (formerly Coursekit), a free online course platform/learning management system (LMS) geared at social learning, with daily webinars held in GoTo Webinar. Nearly 350 people signed up.

This is my reflective diary on participating in the course as a time shifted anti-social participant.


  • reading (24 page PDF file) available on Lore
  • webinar on converting newcomers to regulars – recording here

As the webinars are being held at 6pm CPH time (not ideal) I didn’t catch up with this one until Tuesday morning, when I largely listened while getting on with other things. The sole components were slides and a tiny question box, no talking head. The slides are not being made available, which is OK as I suspect most of them are in the PDF file.

First impressions are that the target group is those already running largish communities. I still need a definition of community in this context – versus a network say, but also versus a community of practice. It’s probably all on the FeverBee blog somewhere…found it! And, like buses, another one popped up handily this week to help clarify the issues.

Much stress was put on the use of data (buzzword of the year?) to back up community development. Which is great if you’ve got a community producing data, but can seem like making a lot out of a little sometimes. The softer stuff around interventions etc seemed pretty self evident.

So in the end a bit of a strange mix. But I did pick up on the notion of a community designed for lurkers  – ie where members aim to fulfill their information rather than social needs.

Use of the Twitter hashtag #cmgr was recommended rather than the question facility in GoToWebinar,  but as this is a general tag after several hours it’s not easy to pinpoint relevant tweets.


  • open clinic, “an hour talking about online communities and answering any questions you might have”

The session was uploaded to Lore as an mp4 file, but an mp3 would have been fine as there were no visuals, not even a talking head – is that the norm with GoToWebinar? I sat down to listen/watch, but with one speaker and no visuals it’s not very engaging. Really really needed a transcript – there may well be some pearls in the mixed bag of questions, but as it is this knowledge is pretty much lost.

Three ways of participating available – via #cmgr, via the question box on GoToWebinar, and outside class via chat on Lore. The first two would have benefited from curation, while the third is apparently buggy.


  • reading (35 page PDF file) available on Lore
  • webinar on moderation – recording here

Sat in on around 30 minutes of the moderation webinar. Usual issues – felt faintly ridiculous waiting for the start, then slow to get going, difficult to twin screen on a netbook, teeny tiny window for questions (one way – couldn’t see what other people were contributing), couldn’t see who was logged in, chat over on Twitter.

Some polls were used this time to engage – good idea, especially with closed questions. My brain closed down when requested to define engagement in 30 seconds, but apparently 25 people gave it a go, either via Twitter or in the questions box (couldn’t see those ones).

One hour has to be the maximum in terms of concentration IMO. This session was stuffed with information and over-ran by 40 minutes, which must have been completely exhausting for all concerned!

I left Tweetchat running throughout the session and favourited the content heavy tweets. On Thursday morning I hurled these into Storify for a closer look – see Everything in moderation.


  • webinar by guest speaker Elisabeth Joyce (recording not available due to technical problems)
  • two articles (PDF files) by Elisabeth available on Lore

I was not able to attend the webinar, so no notes today!

The Lore platform 

The people behind Lore chose the name as it means “knowledge shared between people”, and according to an article in Poynter its innovation is the stream, making it like “Facebook for academia”.

Lore screenshot

My reactions:

  • the stream _is_ useful and it’s easy to post something, with a range of options including notes, questions or blogs
  • individual items, for example in the calendar and stream, open in a separate window on the right, easy to miss
  • don’t really get the browse options – probably need more content to be meaningful
  • the various parts of the page are weird – some scroll and some don’t, and it’s not obvious which
  • the resources section grew throughout the week and includes files, links and books in a long list – needs another look to be usable

It always takes a wee while to work out how a new platform fits together and it’s the first time I’ve used an LMS, but Lore certainly has potential.


What was striking throughout the week was how much information management is needed to ensure a class hangs together. The same issues come up as with event amplification, for example the need for curation to ensure the useful stuff is most visible, how to cater for people who aren’t able to attend an event live, or don’t have equal access to tools.

The class was offered as a taster for the full Pillar Summit and also as an opportunity to try out Lore (the course is currently offered using BuddyPress). As a free class there was a lot of content on offer, and there were a couple of indications that it was too dense – maybe not suited to the webinar format? Webinars and social learning are In, but you still need to put in the  individual effort, for example to do justice to the reading files. Perhaps a flipped classroom model would be more successful in terms of generating interaction between the participants.

Webinars can be presented as a lecture, a seminar or in a flipped classroom scenario, with the last of these equating most to the aims of social learning. It is perhaps instructive to compare the GoToWebinar experience with a recording of a recent webinar held in Collaborate on digital literacy in the EU. A range of formats are offered so the time shifted participant can shape their own experience – on this occasion I fired up Collaborate to recreate the live experience as closely as possible, and the selection of material on offer, including synchronised chat, made for a more complete experience:

Collaborate webinar console

No doubt Rich is taking his own medicine – Feverbee posts during the week included How to optimise an online community platform, lots of tips there, and Identifying and articulating the benefit of the community, highlighting the dangers of content driven strategies. I’d like to thank him and his team for sharing their knowledge and also giving me the opportunity to try out the Lore platform.

#vandr: the webinar experience

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

Updates and postscripts: Visitors and Residents is a concept which just won’t go away – see the foot of the post. And, Jakob Nielsen debunks teenagers as digital natives (Feb 2013).

On 9 December I tuned into the #vandr webinar, presenting findings from the JISC/OCLC Visitors and Residents project.

To get the most out of a webinar, or any webcast for that matter, you need to engage – either synchronously by contributing to the chat or livetweeting, or asychronously by reflecting later in a blog post like this one (what used to be called writing up your notes.) For that the session needs to be engaging, in terms of both content and delivery.

The visitors and residents continuum: the content

The content of the webinar centred around digital literacy and in particular students’ engagement with the digital information environment in higher education. Digital natives or no, according to JISC’s Developing Digital Literacies Programme Manager “it’s easy to overstate the digital competence of today’s undergraduate students and even postgraduate researchers”.

At the heart of the project is the visitors and residents continuum, which has Visitors, unseen, instrumental, functional and individual, at one end and Residents, visible, networked, communicative and communal, at the other. So, visitors lurk or consume, while residents participate and produce.

I’ve previously commented on the visitors and residents concept,  which I find problematic, in particular in relation to my own concept of the anti-social social networker. Not least do most people lurk (see the 90% rule), but there are also different ways of using the same tool, for example Twitter can be used for information sharing and gathering (sometimes classed as broadcasting) or for conversation – both methods result in learning. While I ‘lurked’ during the webinar (to concentrate on the task) I have now produced a blog post – where does that place me on the continuum?

However in his First Monday paper on a new typology for online engagement Dave White states: “the visitors and residents continuum accounts for people behaving in different ways when using technology, depending on their motivation and context” (my emphasis). The paper explores in detail concepts of ‘tool’ and ‘place’, allowing for a range of other factors which may affect behaviour – for example, the researchers have added a personal:institutional axis in order to plot a student’s online learning activity (described further in a post on the learning black market), and other axes could be added, perhaps consumer vs producer, individual vs social learners…the concept of a typology is more attractive than that of a continuum, which to me implies a progression.

The paper concludes that the majority of Internet use, including doubtless my own, takes place in the middle of the continuum. On that basis the visitors and residents paradigm may well have relevance in contexts beyond that of digital literacy – for example those promoting purely task based website architectures might like to consider that such approaches may only fit the behaviour of a minority of visitors (rather than Visitors).

The social webinar: the delivery

The chat during the webinar, which I downloaded and scanned afterwards, was pretty lively and added a lot to my understanding of the core concepts.  I suspect the most vocal of the 55 attendees were already familiar with the research – there’s no way I could have followed both the presentation and the chat, not least because of the constraints imposed by a netbook screen.

the #vandr webinar experience

multi-tasking on a netbook can be a challenge

Is lively chat a sign of a successful webinar, or was the presentation in effect providing background for a chatroom? In the same way as a conventional seminar should not consist solely of a presentation a webinar should offer opportunities for interaction – the idea of the flipped webinar takes this a step further, proposing a social webinar model where a short formal presentation is followed by a longer collaborative section.

The post-webinar page offers slides, audio and a recording of the session, but no summing up of the chat or listing of blog posts (I’ve found three – from Dave White, Helen Beetham and Alan Cann). This is a similar approach to that which prevails for most amplified events, and similarly a participant has done some of the job instead – see @digitalfingerprint’s live notes.


The #vandr webinar took place in Blackboard Collaborate (was Elluminate). The first time I attended a webinar I was initially slightly bemused, but the average Visitor (or Resident) should be able to tune in without needing specific guidance. Having said that it’s useful to be aware of the following:

  • you may need to install new applications or update them, so test your setup prior to the start of the session
  • other potential barriers to entry include firewalls, broadband speed and incompatible operating systems
  • the session takes place in a desktop console typically made up of windows for participants, chat (maximise to be usable), audio (ie take mike), whiteboard (for slides etc), video (talking head)
  • if you want to participate actively you may well need two screens to accommodate all the windows

Marieke Guy has written useful reviews of using both Adobe Connect and BB Collaborate (plus its predecessor Elluminate). These are high cost products for institutional use, with features such as VoIP, webcams and screensharing, but lower end systems exist, such as the open source Big Blue Button, GoToWebinar, Panopto…

Turning to the organiser’s side of things, it’s helpful to keep participants updated with what’s going on and what resources will be available from the webinar – here’s an excellent example from JISC.  After the session, consider preparing a summary, drawing in the main themes from the chat and linking to any blog posts or other social media, in particular for those of little patience with video or who simply don’t have the time to relive the whole thing. And, although I don’t think I’ve come across it yet, in order to make your webinar accessible add a transcript or subtitles. It’s not over when you turn off the mic!

Other webinars I’ve attended:

  • webinar about webinars by Ole Bach Anderson (på dansk) – nicely done post summing up the main points plus a lot of background information. Recording  on Vimeo.
  • couple by Gerry McGovern – dispappointing; uses GoToWebinar with just slides and audio, no chat or other interaction. While a talking head doesn’t really offer that much, you do need something to engage with.


Video video – and update

(Posts copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

Updates: read Videos as knowledge products for another video-sceptic take (20 May 2011). In defence of video, I’d Rather be Writing makes the point that the more familiar you are with something, the less instruction you need (19 August 2011) .

Two tweets popped up in my stream this week on the topic of preferring reading to watching a video or listening to a podcast. Hurrah! I thought it was just me. The information to value ratio for both seems too low.

The tweets:

The Joy of Text (or “Is it just me who hates webinars and video”) – I like to think I keep up with the times. @ianbrodie, linking to his blog post The Joy of Text (or “Is it just me who hates webinars and video”)


Arggh. Can’t take having to watch 10-minute video interviews with content that’d take me 1-2 minutes to read in text form. @peterkretzman, RTd in the run up to this week’s #tcchat on the use of video in documentation.

Both discussions continued over the next couple of days. One response was that information should be offered in a range of formats, to compensate for varying learning styles. I tend to feel this is bending over backwards – in the real world this just may not be feasible. But is it worthwhile offering a talking head video, just because it’s the latest thing?

Another response is that video can offer something over text – showing rather than telling. For example, the #tcchat discussion (see the transcript) highlighted how videos might be appropriate for visual inspection, detail or tasks not otherwise apparent or easily described, such as medical device industry can use vids to train staff how to clean devices. The chat went on to discuss issues around subtitling/captioning, the need to have a transcript, tables of contents within vids…all rather a long way from an organisation shoving up a vid, and calling for resources and skills beyond the reach of many. Is an amateurish vid actually damaging, affecting a website and hence an organisation’s credibilty?

With a lot of podcasts, it shows why professional broadcasters are just that – many sound like they are reading from a script or blokey banter that is a waste of time.

Another issue is the myth of learning styles. Having worked in legal education for several years I was a bit of a learning styles disciple, but a recent Ignite slidecast – oh the irony! – I came across rather pulled the rug out from under me on that one and I’ve kinda gone back to a version of Ranganathan’s a book for every reader – a format for every type of info. See Wikipedia on learning styles entry for more on this. In sum, it appears that catering for differing learning styes generally doesn’t improve learning outcomes or the retention of information.

This may all be part of the change in reading habits, another topic I want to write on. Ian states that statistics show that a lot of people prefer video and audio, and some search on YouTube rather than Google – oh the horror!

Video video revisited, 25 Oct 2012

Update, 6 June: see Using video: from passive viewing to active learning gives some useful examples, including flipping the classroom

Over a year ago I wrote the post above about my uneasy relationship with video. I’ve been watching loads lately, mainly for the MOOCs I’ve registered for, and I’m coming to the conclusion that often ‘just’ one medium is not enough.

Two examples of what I mean…for me, the video experience at events works better with slides, tweets or other commentary alongside in a kind of mashup, while the videos for Coursera’s Social Network Analysis course are such hard work that while I can absorb a little from a first view of much more use are the slides and transcript, where I can zero in on key points. I’m becoming quite a transcript fan – they offer scanability.

And can video (and audio) perhaps better tell the story of an event than word words words? Conference Basics puts forward the concept of the video sprint, which seems to have caught on in Denmark at least – see TedX CPH, the European Sustainable Events Conference and VIBES 2012. Event radio, as heard at ALT-C Live and Pontydysgu’s Sounds of the Bazaar, are the same sort of thing.

So, is it worth going to the trouble of streaming and recording your conference in full? In taking stock of video the Event Amplifier states she is “seeing a worrying trend towards low viewer numbers”, going on to look at measuring video ROI and increasing this over time. In part it’s a content strategy issue – starting with promoting your live stream through to ensuring your videos are integrated into your knowledge base as a whole.

Watching a video represents a time commitment – and if it’s too short, it may raise the question of whether it’s worth the bother. Evidence-based, informative and on YouTube? makes the point that the time you feel you need to communicate to an audience is much greater than the time you are willing to spend watching others, and puts forward some ideas on how to make video more digestible.