Social Media and UoL DMC

Last Wednesday I was made aware of some departmental money that was to go towards something relating to PhDs, events and conferences (holding and/or attending one) so between my supervisor and I, we’ve knocked up a proposal for a one day event in June time with the working title “Social Media: Uses and Abuses” – with mega emphasis on using social media at the event itself. Yes, we need money for housekeeping (catering + travel expenses, for example) but I if we get the funding, I am keen to hand back a fair chunk of the money at the end, almost as proof that we should be doing more grassroots, creative events along these lines.

On return from Liverpool a few weeks ago, I made some notes based on my own experience of using social media at an event. The decision to live-blog using twitter came naturally, and it was good to see that others were tweeting (and using the hashtag) – I kind of slipped into the role of tweeting information constantly, mainly as a form of taking open, searchable conference notes that could be used by myself and others – but more importantly, invite discussion from those who also using twitter at the event and to direct the conversation out with the room and to those who couldn’t be there and/or had stumbled across the the discussion by accident. Finally, it acted as a very powerful demonstration, for those who were wavering on using Twitter, of one of the many useful functions that Twitter has to offer as a platform.

In relation to my constant tweeting at whatdoyougetif; it was inspired by those who genuinely interested in engaging with the discussion and were even spreading the word by retweeting towards their networks and, in turn, drew my attention to others who were interested in similar topics of discussion and wanted to contribute and/or just listen to and engage with what was being said.

Another nice touch is the effect that face to face events (aka meeting people in real life/offline – however ye’d call it..) has on the quality of your twitter network. When I attended Amplifed 08 back in November, I got to chat to a selection of really interesting people, the sort of people that weren’t quite on my twitter list yet, but it was like tapping into London’s “twitterati” and getting first hand experience of what was going on- there were swapping on business cards and sharing of twitter identities and off we went. That evening, the focus of my network shifted away from just Ayr, Leicester and reptiles, it was now facing directly into London and now within my direct vision, there was a whole new wave of connections linked to London and its social media scene.

A similar thing happened in Liverpool. Yes, there were causalities from constant event tweeting (I lost about 20 followers – some of which were people I had met in London and had enjoyed following myself) however, I had gained about 30, a third of which were people I had met at FACT. This minor network shift potentially distilled my network, pointing me in the direction of information that was/is relevant for me in that particular context.

I’ve always struggled to maintain relationships on sites such as myspace/facebook – there is about 30 percent of people there that probably wouldn’t stop for a conversation in the street (however if I remove them, it goes without question that it would be potentially more awkward because of who knows who – joys of a small town upbringing unfortunately) – so such interactions and fluidity of relationships on twitter is certainly a positive thing when it comes to using it as a tool during conferences and other “professional” networking events – add, remove, add, remove without angst and/or guilt – everything is public anyway so it is a free for all in terms of making sense of the data.

I am hoping to demonstrate this at our event in June by briefing the PhD students before, finding those who are using it currently and attempting to aggregate the content together to present to our head of department that this is something the department and the University should be investing in (even if the word “investment” just means “giving it a chance and approaching it with an open mind”) We’ll see, fingers crossed before I get given the go ahead to go mad and be a creative as possible. Right now I feel like suggesting I make the sandwiches and scotch eggs if it will just get the PhD community to start talking and working together…

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Three Projects, One Outcome

Here is a brief summary of some of the projects/ideas I may be working on over the next couple of month:

CharityMatch: Mentioned previously, I am working on a pilot scheme linked to the student learning centre that involves organising an event and fund-raising money for a charity of my choice. I am keen to use social/creative/new media as the focus on my event/fundraising – and after speaking with Alan yesterday, we’ve arranged a meeting today about possibly running a QR Code treasure hunt -encompassing several different projects which are on the go. More on this come.

we20Leicester: Jamie Potter got in touch with me about setting up a we20 event here in Leicester. We’ve set up a wiki for it, and the basic blurb for the event follows:

The G20 leaders meet in London on 2nd April. 20 world leaders. 20 people together making plans that will affect our future.

we20 is a project that aims to mobilise people around the world into holding their own meetings of friends and strangers to plan our own futures.

You may have ideas to change your neighbourhood or ideas to change the world. Whatever change you want to create – it matters to we20.

More to follow on this as well.

Finally, Leicestertwesta: Further discussion has opened up (semi-based on my rant about Curve on twitter the other night) about how we can utalise Leicestertwesta and make some happen from it. We’ve been talking about holding a evening to discuss this face-to-face and perhaps link social media to social events – creating a social dictionary for Leicester. There seems to be so much culture, so many events, so many attempts to put Leicester on the creative map – but it still takes so long to “get” what Leicester is actually about. This project ain’t as immediately obvious as the first two, so this one will probably be the one that will require much more work .

And of course, there is all my PhD work that is ticking a long slowly (and I’m in desperate need of a meeting with my supervisor soon – next week hopefully) Got a few blog entries that need finishing off, so should be drip feeding my blog over the next week or so. I feel the process of the PhD starting to “shape” my mind a bit better, going on researcher training conference in Birmingham in a few weeks – make the most of the training sessions being offered.

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What do you get if?

I’m off to Liverpool on Monday to take part in a two day Social Technology workshop at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) I’ve been kindly invited by my undergraduate supervisor, Prof. Andy Miah who was one of my main influences for pursuing new media research.

The event is split into Arts Engagement and Health – I’m hopefully going to be trying my first bit of live-blogging – only if my battery holds up, of course.. I’ve always got my G1 for tweeting. Should be quite fun as it’s my first proper conference since enrolling as a PhD student – plus, I’ve not been to Liverpool in a long while. It’s an awesome city and I’m keen to see the changes since I was last there (being city of culture and aw’ that!)

For more information, the event’s blog is here.

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Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Although, ironically, today’s research methods seminar that I was teaching on SPSS was probably the smoothest session I’ve held in the last 6 weeks.

I have an intrinsic fear of SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Scientists) after my near failure of the exam we had during our masters last year. At the time of the exam, I wasn’t scared – in fact, I was scarily confident that anything involving computer software and formulae wouldn’t be too stressful (I got an A for my higher maths yah de yah de yah and this was social sciences la de da! </ignorance>) When we had our stats seminar session, I battered through the coursework in record time and spend the rest of the session helping out the others.

Sods law, I completely mucked up the exam assessment (didn’t pay as much detail to the procedure write up and did percentages in my head instead of using SPSS) and by not showing how I got the answers, I got a lovely mark of 53% – enough for me to delete it from my university computer account and swear blind that I would never touch quantitative analysis again.

Of course, when I was offer the teaching assistant contract for the research methods class, I knew the format of the classes would be similar to the MA research methods module. Throughout the last six weeks we’ve covered literature reviews, content analysis, discourse analysis, semiotic analysis and surveys and questionnaires – I knowing full well that I was approaching the dreaded SPSS session.

The department prepared me a set of exercises to hand out with the SPSS instruction booklets – which meant that I didn’t need to worry too much about preparing the exercises – however, I still had to guide the students through the process. To begin with I handed out the exercises and got them to all work on their own. It was interesting because as the session progressed, we all ended up helping each other out. There were some obvious characters that took to SPSS almost immediately and had completed everything in under an hour (a bit like myself when I did it the first time around) – I checked their results and let them head off to work on their group research project.

The rest worked through the sheets systematically; when things didn’t work they asked each other and worked with the results that others had got. There were familiar cries of “OMG I HATE SPSS” beginning to surface – it was nice to see that we were all on the same page – however, many were asking about getting a copy for their own machine so they can get used to it before their dissertation and to complete the exercises in their own time(result!)

So, overall, teaching SPSS is better than “doing” SPSS – but more importantly, despite generating a lot of angst, it isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. There isn’t much class work time dedicated to SPSS – so the fact that some were keen to practise it at home was a good outcome.

But I still wouldn’t use it! Yuk, hiss, spit, etc!

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Charity Match

Mentioned in a previous post, I recently signed up to be part of the pilot Charity Match project at the University. It is billed as an opportunity for post graduate and post doc researchers to build on team working, project management and fundraising skills in aid of a chosen charity.

To begin with, I had no idea why I decided in this instance to say “Yes!” to this project. I’ve already sat through 3-4 sessions dictating to me the importance of focussing on your thesis and getting the PhD done. And here is me, 2 months in, and I’m already distracting myself with new projects and charity work.

Well, after my difficult encounters with some of my colleagues, I felt I needed a bit of training and experience in group work (I do not count what I did as an undergraduate as “group work experience” – it was a giant farce and a cover up for the ones that spend too long in the union and less time in the library </bitter>) – and with the charity match, there was the underlying theme of working on a project to help others and raise money for a good cause – not bickering over who gets to hold the camera, or who did the most paperwork.

It wasn’t until today did I realise how significant my PhD work is in a practical, “real world” sense. It’s all very well attending student research seminar groups, discussing the abstract details of theoretical concepts of new media and the Internet, but what was the point if you can’t apply that to projects related to things like future employment and indeed, charity fundraising. And I think this is what I have been missing in my life (sounds so cheesy…) – but I’ve been getting so stressed out over how to cope with the negatives, instead of focussing my efforts into doing something positive.

So from this, we’ve formed a group. I dealt with the bloke in the previous post by suggesting we make it boys against girls (ah, what a way to abuse gender relations) and that our first meeting was going to be at a charity clothes swapping event for Rainbow this Saturday afternoon (again, there may have been some manipulation there!) – From this we will sort out our charity and start working out our proposal that is due at the end of March.

I intend on getting my twitter contacts on board, utilising groups such as the student union and #Leicestertwesta and really demonstrating that social media can generate a lot of support and resources. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I honestly think this is an opportunity to prove the value of new media in this context.

Stay tuned!

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