For a number of reasons, 2017 was not a banner year for me, personally or professionally. But one of the things that I started working on this year that was somewhat successful was separating my online professional life from my online personal life. I set up a separate digital identity (EdTech Factotum) which included this site, a new twitter account, and a Facebook page where I can better control the overlap of my personal and professional lives.
To go along with that, one of the new initiatives I started this year was a weekly newsletter. The idea being that I wanted a mechanism to be able to more deeply engage with what I was reading each week. I've found that, as the volume of information coming at me seems to be exponentially increasing each year and I was falling into a bad habit of skim and move on. Skim and move on. I didn't like it, so I thought that a weekly newsletter synthesizing and summarizing 3 articles I read each week would be a motivator to help me engage more deeply with articles, studies and posts I was reading. And, as a networked professional, I like the idea of writing for an audience as a way to make my learning transparent and open. And available for others to comment on.
In the spring I started the newsletter and it did exactly what I wanted it to. I was hitting a great routine where, during the week I would skim and read as usual, but would stick things in Pocket that I wanted to revisit for my newsletter. Every Friday morning, I would sit down, go through the articles in Pocket, read them more closely, write up a summary and publish the newsletter. It was work, often taking much of my Friday morning, but work I was immensely enjoying.
This summer things went off the rails for me personally and I had to attend to a family crisis (it's ok now). The reading stopped. The newsletter stopped. In September, my position at BCcampus changed and I took on two major new duties. I became the BCcampus Community Steward for ETUG, and took over leadership of the 2 person BCcampus Dev/Ops technical team. Both are really fantastic additions to my portfolio, but have had me on a steep learning curve, especially managing the Dev/Ops team. Some of the projects they work on are more straight up web development projects that are outside the EdTech or OpenEd work I am accustomed to. Plus, they are fully subscribed to Agile methodology and have implemented a suite of modern web development applications, workflows and automation protocols that are all new to me. Exciting stuff, to be sure, but it is a deeper dive into the Dev/Ops world than I have ever taken before. In addition to learning how to manage an Agile team, there are a plethora of new technologies that, while I don't have to know intimately, I do have to know what their purpose is in order to manage this team and the work they do.
All this is a long winded excuse for why the newsletter has fallen off. I want to change that in the new year and get back onto the weekly newsletter. But I want to make a few changes.
Moving from TinyLetter to Self Hosted
First things first, bye bye to TinyLetter. I started using the newsletter service because I wasn't sure how my shared hosting service would handle sending out a weekly newsletter – whether it would get past spam filters and such. But this December, I set up the ETUG 12 Apps of Christmas site on my shared hosting provider and it seemed to handle the daily emails (about 250 each day) just fine. So, I am confident it can handle my low volume newsletter. Also, the TinyLetter authoring interface is blech. I found I was battling it, often authoring in another platform and copy/pasting to TinyLetter. I couldn't just save a template that could be applied to the newsletter week after week and give it a consistent look and feel, leading to a lot of work just manually duplicating the same formatting each week. And, well, it is a free hosted service. Someone else is in control, and we all know how this story could end.
So, I've installed the WordPress MailPoet plugin and am importing my meager newsletter email list into this site to use WordPress/MailPoet as my newsletter distribution list. This also means that I can build the newsletter from blog posts I write. So, I can now have the best of both the blog and the newsletter world. I'll be writing individual blog posts as a summary of an article I read, then build the weekly newsletter from 3 blog posts. This way, I can both blog and have a weekly newsletter. And you can leave comments & conversations can happen, which wasn't the case with the TinyLetter newsletters.
If you are subscribed to my weekly EdTechFactotum newsletter, I'll be migrating your subscription info to this site. Look for a note from me in the next few weeks explaining that the weekly newsletter email will be coming from my blog and not from TinyLetter. I'll also send information on how to unsubscribe from the newsletter in case you want to unsubscribe.
I'm looking forward to rebooting this newsletter, and getting back into the weekly habit of synthesizing & writing. I hope you find it useful, and will stick around if there are a few hiccups along the way as the transition to a new workflow and technolgy happens.