KABT Bioblog: The beginning

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The leadership of Kansas Association of Biology Teachers (KABT) meets each winter at my father’s cabin at Kanopolis Lake. It’s quiet, often snowy and centrally located. I tag along as host—feeding the birds, deer and KABTer’s and making sure that the facilities are in working order. We sit around the woodstove out on our enclosed porch and have a good time talking biology—sometimes we even do some business.

At last winter’s meeting reports from the newsletter editor and discussions about our web presence led to a long and thoughtful discussion on the nature of professional society communication. How do we reach our members, recruit new members and most importantly positively affect biology education in Kansas? Obviously with dues around $15 and somewhere between 100 and 200 members we are not going to be financing large PR efforts. Like any small organization volunteer work is what makes our organization run. I imagine that like most, also, every meeting we all leave with good intentions in our heart to accomplish goals we discussed—and sometimes they are accomplished. However, time may even be more limited in today’s teaching environment than ever before. We are committed to our profession and our organization but sometimes the challenges are a bit daunting. Some general principles emerged in the discussion. Printed and mailed newsletters are nice but expensive and dated (especially if you only put out 4 issues a year). To keep costs down our newsletters are limited in page number and are printed in black and white. Web-based communication offers distinctd advantages. Everyone (or nearly every teacher) checks email and the web on daily or even hourly basis. Web based documents can be easily and cheaply enhanced with color photography, video and graphics. Our web site was dynamic and run voluntarily but most folks found it difficult to find the time to create web articles for posting and if they did find the time, they still had the hurdle of shipping it to the webmaster for posting. Todd C. even volunteered to have his executive assistant post items for us if she could just have access to the site. By the way, “dynamic” refers to the structure of the web site. After a brief flurry of activity early on the site just seemed to stagnate—a common occurrence. Folks gave all kinds of real and valid reasons why they were or were not contributing and helping out the editor and web master but mostly it boils down to time. In a small organization most all of the nitty-gritty is going to be done by a very few and they may not feel comfortable doing so much and having so much influence.

The year before I had challenged to the board to become active participants on a blog that I had created several years ago—Teaching Biology.

 

Teaching biology

The challenge was to make just one quick post every 2 weeks and build an ever expanding resource for all biology teachers. The results were predictable—a couple of posting by some but again no follow through. Still, I knew that blogging platforms offer some serious advantages to an organization like KABT. They are dynamic and interactive. The interactivity is the key—not only can individual board members post articles, easily but anyone viewing the site can write a comment to the postings. Blogs are very easy to set-up and maintain compared to a modern web-site. Blogs can be set up so that multiple authors or board members can post.

The discussion continued to play out; leading me to eventually, as a non-board member make a proposal. I didn’t want to give up on the idea of using a blogging platform to host our KABT website. I think that the problem with the “Teaching Biology” blog was that most of the posts dealt with ideas and stories—not news or information about biology teaching. With that in mind and Todd’s offer considered, I offered to purchase server space to house our website and set up and run the site. I again challenged the officers of KABT to get on the site and post ideas, news, introductions, etc. The meeting described took place in January. By the end of February I had the KABT BioBlog up and running with input from several board members. Last fall the site was successfully presented to the membership. To date we’ve had postings from several board members, occasional comments and we’ve established connections with former members.

Screenshot

At this fall’s NABT meeting there was quite a bit of interest and the folks at IABT have started a similar effort. I still have to put up too much of the content, myself but I think things are working well enough now to promote this as an idea for other organizations. At NABT, I was asked to consider making a presentation at next year’s meeting about creating an interactive website. I don’t want to wait that long so this is the first of a series of articles for NABT affiliates about using blogging platforms as their web presence.

BW

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