Amplified Events for PhD Students at UWS (25th Feb, 2011)

Last October, the Innovation and Research Office at UWS asked if PhD students would like to give seminars to the research community based on their specialism. I offered to do a few sessions around social media and events (The first I wrote about here) and yesterday I delivered the rescheduled “Amplified Events” workshop for PhD students. The purpose of the session was to introduce some of the concepts behind academic conferences which might not be touched upon or indeed offered as part of a PhDs training process. Much in line with the Digital Researcher event at the British Library a few weeks ago, I wanted to be able to introduce some ideas and some tools – rather than offer the definitive package or ‘how to’ for such seminars. I have to admit, taking on a PGCert in Higher Education/working on education research projects has helped me be critical about methods that are often used to teach or disseminate information – but it is actually quite difficult to introduce such ideas to your peers in specific set contexts with specific expectations (I blogged my thoughts about this last night on my PhD posterous notebook.)

The session itself (which was designed after discussions with Martin Weller and Brian Kelly who offered some invaluable advise) introduced the concept of Amplified Events from the perspective of the participant, the speaker and the potential organiser (because organising events which incorporate the madness of a backchannel is something EVERYONE should have a go at ;-))

The slides are self explanatory – but essentially I just wanted to introduce a flavour of what could be done to enhance a presentation; for multiple benefits for the speaker, audience and the institution that the person is from. Furthermore, by offering different solutions to participating in an event, such as through online participation or presentation tools, there are a variety of ways in which busy PhD students can engage with their research community beyond the traditional academic event. It always surprises me that academia can feel so behind when it comes to capturing, sharing, reusing and remixing content generated from such events (which often need to be recorded just to go back through at a later date in order to pick out idea.) It’s not hard to do of course, that’s the main thing – so even using your mobile phone as a voice recorder – or sharing digital notes in public is the beginnings of increasing awareness for particular subject areas.

Overall, it was a good session and I was happy with the discussions that we had around the subject area. I guess my hidden agenda is two fold – as well as gathering experience around presenting my work to different levels, but also I genuinely would like to see and encourage UWS to excel in this area (especially embracing in-house expertise of which there are many). One of the reasons why I returned to do a PhD there was because there were opportunities to try, explore and lead new things -that isn’t always possible when you are in a larger, ‘more established’ institution.

The fact that these workshops can happen makes me very happy indeed – but there is always room for improvement in delivery, context and style. By being given the opportunity has already lay the foundation to explore even more areas (rather than just revisiting the typical web 2.0/social media tool-time courses) but instead incorporating digital literacy into existing and new modules as a skill, rather than an optional extra. That would be a nice goal point to work towards – rather than delegating the internet work to the internet work (and much of it isn’t really internet work but so much more), everybody feels comfortable approaching these areas as part of their daily practice.

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Reflections on “Amplified Events Workshop for PhD Students” and research cultures more generally. (Snappy title..)

After being postponed due to snow before Christmas (these things happen in Scotland) I finally got to deliver my workshop on Amplified Events to UWS’s PhD cohort. As expected, it wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be (I deliberately decided not to water it down with “WEB 2.0!!” and “SOCIAL MEDIA” buzzwords – perhaps I should have, but I hate tacking on 2.0 to things to make it sound like progress. The word ‘amplified‘ is misused enough.) Unlike last time (Academic 2.0 – #killmenow) which gathered 30+  – I had 10 registered and 5 turn up. If we were talking bums on seats, that would have been a big waste of resources – however- I had 5 really interesting and exciting people who were doing different and interesting things within the University – people I would have not have met had they not chose to sign up to the workshop. Certainly, I would have not been able to engage in the same way if it was like the last time – lots of people, abilities and expectations.

The last time it felt like I was participating in a tick box exercise (like – hey, you know how to work powerpoint [tick], you know how to make a academic poster [tick], you heard about social media being used in different contexts [tick]) and through discussions about learning and teaching strategies (in different contexts) I had an inclination that much of the stuff that I would like to really do wasn’t particular suited to this particular workshop environment.

Nevertheless, I had to go through this process (and the opportunity arose when there was some funds to facilitate PhDs training PhDs in their own skillset) before I could really make a judgement that this wasn’t going to work as the best way to facilitate a ‘digital’ research culture – at least amongst my peers. I use the term ‘digital’ loosely as it’s much more of a concept around pervasive technology, shifting attitudes – rather than simply an attempt to get people online and using twitter (the new common misconception) – it needs to stick, it needs to have a long term projection, it needs to fit as part of the University’s overall vision – otherwise it would be easier to just run “this is how to work twitter 101″ or “how to blog” events in the same frame as powerpoint workshops. This is a much bigger beastie than a couple of sessions on ‘web 2.0′ – this is a transformative step for where our school (@UWSCreative) can be at the heart of such discussions around campuses. 

Therefore, part of the overarching philosophy which is consistently framing the direction in which I would like to take my work practice is around the notion of open access. If there are only going to be 5 people in the room – arrived at through their interpretation of the way in which the workshop is promoted – then what is the harm in sticking the content and the workshop online for others to take part in. The training was funded out of a particular pot dedicated to training PhDs – not anything else. This raises questions of ownership and responsibility in terms of costs etc – BUT – What’s stopping the session being opened up the wider community at large, would it not be better to encourage a wider research community than it would be to treat social media as a tacked on session for a tacked on community of PhDs who actually would do no harm in integrating with everyone who is doing research, not just other PhD students. I’d say that that would/should be the next steps…

The irony is that the solution is being stared at in the face – the fact that workshops in social media (demonstrating the potential to ‘democratise’ structures that have never been seen in this way before – I always use extreme examples of occupied space or challenging the conventions through hacking or activism to case in point)  can’t result in social media being picked up, ran with and stuck is probably one of the reasons why investing frequent and often one sided workshops in social media is destined to fail (if to succeed is to see those attending actually trying something out and reporting back on it.) I can plant a few ideas in the heads of the people who are already using it (like today – most had interesting stories about bad conference presentations or ways in which media technology had enhanced their life/work) but it’s not really about them – we should be doing more with that in general anyway. It’s the many others who are reliant on fusty, controlled systems, locked down windows machines and the “stability” of the 9-5 physical workplace (and potentially still using internet explorer 6!) – too busy to engage new ideas or think critically about this existing practice. Their world is the university owned and controlled machine and the outlook email box that they can switch off at 5pm on a Friday (I certainly can’t imagine suggesting they blog at 10pm on a Friday night ;-)). And there is so much we could do to make that world a much more useful and efficient and a place where those who work in that environment are trusted to make their own decisions about what they do on their computers and with their online presence.

Through ongoing work at UWS, I know there is a real shift in the culture of our school. There are some existing ‘hubs’ (an overused word but the best way to describe what it is) – we’ve now got a space in Paisley, having always existed in Ayr, making the School visible to the other departments on the main campus. This is useful for a number of reasons, but with talks of developing a creative space to work and run sessions, it could be that drop in sessions and open door policy for people to stick their head in to ask questions and enquiry about the stuff that we do as a research centre/media academy is a better approach. 

Citizen’s Eye, for example, are already running informal sessions in Leicester where anyone can pop into particular coffee shops on certain days and learn how to use twitter in 20 minutes, facebook in 40 minutes – that’s all it really takes. It doesn’t need anymore than that – and often those who are trainees tend to be the trainers at the next session. They debunk the myths and it allows people to move forward with cooler things. It’s about planting seeds and hoping they take hold and grow, not filling people’s heads and melting their brains with as much as you can in three hours because that’s the only time we can do that. I can see the hub being a space where, amongst lots of other things, we can let it be known that there are people there who can help people help themselves. The emphasis being that it is an open space where this dialogue and relationship can happen and be seen. There really is so much potential and I know that with UWS these are open doors that can only really get wider. 

So really, I just wanted to write down my reflections from running the sessions, I’ll probably finish the ‘official’ post that goes with the slides at another point – so much stuff to just think about when moving towards some of these things being actualised in the future.


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Visit to the Foreign Office Digital Diplomacy Department.

In late November, I was asked by Hootsuite to give a presentation on their behalf to the digital engagement team at the Cabinet Office. I was later invited back by Alex Schillemore in my capacity as a researcher (especially around my work relating to digital media and the Olympics) to meet people from the digital diplomacy team from the Foreign Office and the digital engagement team from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport.

For me, it was good to see how those who worked in this area where using social media as part of their communication process, but more importantly how their roles had an active influence of how things ‘change’ within policy and awareness. For example, much of the innovation was encouraged by the Labour government – from campaigns (which weren’t government branded) to the use of informal ‘user generated’ style content where some was just David Milliband with a flip camera in the back of a taxi.

It was also interesting to hear how the new government have taken up some of these ideas, not because they essentially wanted to, but because due to new expectations about digital media and communications, they have no choice but to! Reminds me a lot of the research I’ve been doing around the IOC and their expectations of use of new media – almost like a floodgate that they can’t control or shut down, so therefore a presence is expected. The digital media usage has to be almost invisible – but there are still issues about where this fits in with more traditional communication plans. I think it is all going to a way in which the digital is sewing in ‘business as usual’ rather than the gimmicky or innovative thing – often seen as an extra or after thought – it is now becoming dominant.

It also was really interesting to see exactly what work is involved managing government twitter accounts – I think the Alex said there were over 70 to monitor and engage for the Foreign Office alone, as well as managing the different tones which are required with each of the accounts. It really helped to be on the ‘otherside’ of it – I also manage a few accounts which are of an ‘official’ nature (not as big and as visible as the government’s, but university-based) so to see this as such a scale really put into perspective how complex it must be to be the frontline voice of a government service using a predominantly social tool such as Twitter or Facebook (especially when you look at their role in circumstances such as Egypt and Bahrain) It’s much better to be shown it properly than it is to just read through endless policy and strategy documents.

Anyway, we got to have an interesting meeting about #media2012 and how we might plug some of our network into what DCMS need to do in terms of getting non-sport stories out there and whether there might be opportunities for citizen journalists to cover stories that the accredited media may be too distracted to pay attention to. It would be nice to see this grow, especially as if would provide some interesting things to cover for the community reporters who have already signed up to programs such as citizen’s eye.

Thanks to Alex for taking time out her day to show me around and put me in touch with people who are working on these projects. It was a really useful and insightful day.

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All Videos from Discourses of Dissent (February 16th, 2011)

Discourses of dissent was a afternoon symposium organised by some of the people behind the Campaign for the Public University, and was seen as a response to some of the protests, occupations and debates around the future of the university in its current state. Mark Carrigan (one of the organisers and a PhD student at Warwick) asked if I would help out with capturing of the content from the day and I happily obliged. It also gave me the chance to get some more practice capturing/editing down video from events (which I’ve not really done on an ad – basis, damn formal media production training freak out), as well as providing a full record of the day’s talks.

I was going to try and live blog it as well – but as you can see from the videos, much of this dialogue is much more complex than what can be captured as tweets (which got me thinking about all sorts of things about what happens when concepts are reduced to this form for concision and retweeting). Also, I think by capturing the talks in their pure form allows for the opportunity for dialogue which hasn’t been passed through the bias of a live-blogger.

Ah, increasingly meta as always. Anyway – all videos are available below. More details of future events of this nature will be posted on the discoursesofdissent.com website.

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Notes from #dr11: @aleksk’s keynote on social media and research


(Notes from the final keynote – not my opinion!)

Looking forward: How the Internet and social media will impact on the future of research.

What will the evolution look like – academics and researchers have always been ahead of the game when it comes to new technologies as the task requires the tools to be purposed built. The technologies have gone from high cost, high barrier technologies to the social media, which allows the web to ‘actualise’ that its function is to connect people together – before it was too hard, too many barriers.

The technology is no longer under the control of the ivory tower – which raises the questions by the ‘old guard’ about what these technologies allow to think about research. These social media tools would not be available if it wasn’t for the commercialisation (and a world beyond the researcher) had taken up the role of producing the platforms.

The development ‘philosophy’ of the tools (web 2.0 – O’Reilly) believes that failure is the way in which these technologies can move forward.

Printing press – revolution as access to knowledge. There are no longer gate keepers – knowledge retainers, promoted through their interpretation of the text. Allowed people the opportunity to publish and access the information themselves.

McLuhan (1962) – The printing press created the illusion of the ‘public’ Eisenstein (1979) Print culture – past from a fixed distance, culmutative advance of knowledge.

Printing press – Expensive, slow. Web publishing – giving everyone their own publishing press. Information overload.

Telgraph – connected people. Sped up the distribution of knowledge. The archive of connection.

Social media does it all – and then some. It combines the best of both worlds. 

Social Media Concerns: 

There are concerns in terms of researching and scientific communication – regardless of what happens online and what is published, you are putting your work online. The tools are delivered by commerical demands – but in terms of developing the critical consumer, it is not doing the job.

In the past, the dissemination of information was delivered by the ivory tower – that process is beginning to be opened up, they are beginning to be broken down. People are starting to question roles. Problem is that ‘like gathers like’ – we share similar views, where the potential for opening research knowledge becomes an echo chamber.

It makes people less critical about research findings, but more reliant on contemporary ideas of status (such as the number of followers a person has.)

Uses Ben Goldacre as an example: Couple of months ago, he did a quick calculation of the economy and posted it on twitter. There were so much backlash, and did not have an evidence based research. Because it was him, it was identifed as a ‘truth’ – he’s allowed to publish an opinion, but there was a lot of debate around the single tweet. People who were ‘consuming’ his feed was credible across all the contexts. 

This adds to the layer about the social media criticism and science communication – “credible” authority figures are held up accountable to all areas.

Remember that the audience will never be as critical as it needs to be as a research community.


The web and social media has produced fertile ground for research opportunities. Develop, collaborate, and publish in a creative way. We need to empower the consumer to challenge social media consumers to think better.

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Notes from #dr11: Group thoughts on being a digital researcher.


As part of the group project throughout today, we were firstly asked to think about our own personal learning networks, and secondly to think about how our own ideas as a digital researcher pull together as a group. As the wifi at the British Library is a bit flaky today, we decided to draw a post-digital picture of our joint ideas. Below are individual group thoughts. This blog post acts as a public response to the exercise to share with the wider group. 

*points at photograph of hand-drawn mind-map*
Digital researchers need to be resourceful to keep working when the Wifi is down ;-) (AV)

Is there just one type of digital researcher, or many? Different needs, different workflows, different tools (or different ways to use the same tools)… (AV)

Beyond the tools and the technical barriers, maybe the real challenge is for researchers to learn and explore new ways of working together? (AV)
Is there a fundamental difference between digital networking and “real life” networking? I’m still not sure! Individual interactions feel the same, but what with ubiquity, real-time-ness, and the vast amounts of people and data involved… Does it become an altogether different beast once a certain quantitative threshold is reached? It certainly does look as if certain strategies which may work on small networks (e.g. read everything, answer everything) don’t work anymore on big ones (AV)

There is nothing new here – it’s just that tools and platforms that we associate with social media amplify existing networks and practices. This is the scary part – once that part has been groked, it is easier to come to terms with some of the more interesting parts of using certain technologies as part of your research. (JJ)

I think the mainstream media has a lot to thank for in terms of breeding myths about technology. Of course there are going to be good and bad things which happen, but most of the stuff that is actually useful lies in the dull and mundane. When it starts to become boring and useful is when it starts to actually work for you. Although, even then you need maintain a certain level of curiousity and exploration so that you dont become too comfortable with the same formats. (JJ)

I think a lot of what the digital researcher is about is communication and networking – the digital tools that we have available these days makes it so much easier to be able to connect with other researchers and share and discuss ideas, as well as helping you organise all the information that you have into more manageable chunks. The danger is of course, probably in over sharing. Over sharers of their personal lives may annoy people. But over share your work, and it may have a more disastrous consequence. (IZ)
Dynamite digital places for info-maniacs, get it all, connect with the world of friends, colleagues, and especially those who share our research interests, open your world to others, and visit theirs.
But beware:
Of power shortages
Of connection drops
Of slow servers
Of having your work everywhere
Of having your friends at work
Missing the walks in nature, and the smell of roses
Of dropping your lap top in the bath tub (GG)

Cultivating your online identity:

Need to find your own voice and use different networking tools for different purposes, eg blog for more convential academic profile and facebook for social networking. These are  distinctive and can be overlapping. It depends what advantages your gain from each. (AS)

(Our group)


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