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Research Practices 2.0: Reflections on #RP2NOTT

Back in the summer, I was approached by Andy Coverdale to be interviewed and to help out on a project around social media for PhD students. The first part of the task was to be interviewed about how I use social media as part of my research practice, to be used as part of a web resource hosted by the University of Nottingham Graduate School. This was launched this week, ahead of an event in accompany the site.

The event, “Research Practices 2.0” was organized for PhD students and facilitated by PhD students – where alongside Andy, I was approached to join the exciting team of Kat Gupta, Warren Pearce, Claire Mann, Mark Carrigan and Emily Buchnea (who put together the interviews on the website.)

The event was made up on a range of PhD students from across the East Midlands (although there were some from Sheffield, Manchester and London) and divided across backgrounds (from fashion to biosciences) – with the format being designed to provoke and challenge the preconceptions of social media practice.

Of course, I’ve done a few of these events and training workshops before. I’m now approaching my second year of working with my own research and innovation office to provide ‘training’ in web 2.0 technologies to other PhDs, as well as offering ad-hock guest lectures to specific disciplines – such as screen acting, media studies and business studies. For me, being part of an ‘organizing committee’ rather than going it alone, was a good space to reflect on my own practices whilst also learning a lot from others.

I was charged with providing support in two seminar spaces. The first, an introduction to social media in research practice, was designed (after 2 hours discussion the week previously) with practice and individuality at the heart, deliberately moving away from fetishation of tools and technological commodities. That is, we would rather see what PhD student *do* – where they inhabit online and how they can match these spaces and behaviors together to see new things.

By doing this, both Mark (who I was working with in my session) and I were surprised by what actually came up. We are both familiar with the negative/challenging response that sometimes occur when trying to talk about social media in a space where you have no idea about the backgrounds, experience and expectations of the participants. Because often we are forced to focus on the tools.. “oh can you show the class how to use that twitter thing?” “can you give me some reasons why I should blog?” “I can’t image ever wanting to record podcasts about things.” This was different.

Through discussing what a PhD student actually does – and are expected to do, or think that they are expected to do, we got onto the issue of power, the reclamation of power and the restrictive nature of peer-reviewed journals through the formation of cliques and already established networks that have built around the publication of academic research. In the dawn of the post-Browne post-REF post-PhD world, it doesn’t take a roomful of budding Drs to see that the job market is bleak (the world is bleak), that the games that we play are engrained and the culture of ‘every person for themselves’ submission & fear are paramount for gaining and maintaining that golden career (that might not even exist to begin with!) – social media is more than a fancy buzzword that can be used a wedge to stuff existing concepts into newer shiny publications, it was a lifeline – potentially a device that can be and is being used to empower (for pockets of time certainly), to challenge and to bridge gaps – and blur lines of the linear path that we are expected to march down without question.

It was the discussion that I needed and helped me link up the different factors in my life. The praxi, the technical and the theoretical.

Methodology approaches 2.0

This conversation is ongoing – and was arrived at when we realised that people didn’t want methods when they were asked in advance, but found themselves at that point after the open plenary took us in that direction.

The thing that I always find hard when I’ve been asked to prepare something around social media methodology is the prescriptive nature of ‘methodology’. That is, we are asked (and we are asked when we teach) to treat certain methods as a ‘toolkit’ that we can select from when required. Need an audience reaction? Surveys. Need to search for bias in media? Content analysis. Etc. So when it comes to the discussion around using social media as a form of data collection & methodological approach, the sheer essence of fluid collaboration  and fluid identity online conflicts with the prescriptive nature of preparing and delivering workshops about a right/wrong way to do something expertly. Just look at anything that organizes itself around being ‘open’ – data, knowledge, source, access. To prescribe it is to fold it back into the system to be tacked on at the end of a conference, training manual & tick box exercise.

But there are grey shades in between which exist on the energy, motivation and the skills of the people who are involved at any one time. It cannot be prescribed, but it can be inspired. Through talking to others about shared issues, about helping each other out by sharing experiences and, in some cases, just f*&king doing it (which is always an issue if you are writing a grant application & working with ‘low cost’ tools..) things get done and solutions (even just for a brief pocket of time) are found. The amount of things we read, pass on and digest – that end up being more useful for others than ourselves directly conflicts with the notion we should only be watching our own back, our own institution, our own sector if we are to protect our own skin.

Social Media and Identity

Originally, I had prepared a abstract that looked like this:

“Much of social media education focuses on the need to embrace new technologies and to become competent with an array of online tools for practice. For some, the technical issue is not a problem – instead – it is the personal aspect of sharing information about yourself. Much of web 2.0 technology relies on an element of authenticity, immediacy of connection and the networking of individuals. Often, it is thought that to get the best out of the internet, you need to engage with technology on a personal and often, intimate, level. What does mean in an academic context, when often the conflict between professional and social, public and private comes into play. This interactive session will explore the challenges and opportunities that having an online identity can have. We will identify reasons to participate and issues of performing in public.”

And from that, I prepared a set of slides (like a nervous, over prepared academic tick). The fear of not knowing your audience, the fear that somebody else in the audience would make you look and feel stupid for not knowing their area through the medium of questions. Which was daft really – because it was meant to be informal – and I was working with people who responded the same way to these things as I do. But I still felt the need to prepare a wee talk, where I dropped my knowledge into the heads of other people – without engagement or room for discussion/critique.

After the morning, I decided to change it all during lunch. Instead, I got 6 screen captures from my own social media use. I brought out the good old ‘line up’ tool from my PGCert training (I knew it would come in useful when unprepared)  – and got participants to push all the tables back. Space was a big things at the event – it is difficult to critique and discuss when you are sitting like you are in primary school. All facing the ‘teacher’, waiting for knowledge to be delivered.

So it was simple. I showed the slideshow below – and asked people to move to one side (good) or the other (bad- like a sliding scale) if they felt that the activity was appropriate academic behaviour online. I took them through sharing slides, blog posts about events, dumping ideas, sharing a work-in-progress thesis online and a tweet which degraded the REF. All this metadata removed, all with timestamps & other signifiers missing.

The discussion, for me, was amazing. Especially as nobody clocked onto the fact that the things they were seeing all belonged to me. Which made the big reveal all the funnier, after a heated discussion about the dangers of using twitter and mixing professional/private life. I just couldn’t have done that without using myself as the target, it was too cruel to do otherwise – like in a space we have a moral superiority to judge behaviors out of context.

And this spontaneous exercise really made me think about the materials that I use in the sessions that I’ve delivered in the past – and how I’ve found myself getting into the loop of only showing best practice, good examples, metrics and levels of ‘success’ – when I get reflective that I realize the internet and the people I meet through these relationships and friends of friends are much more important than restricting myself to pretend I’m something more than I’m not. So.. if I’m going to tackle the issue of identity again (which I am on Friday for the PhD students at UWS) I’m going to rip up my rule book and start again.

The Research Practices 2.0 website has a wealth of resources on tools and practice, discussion and reflection and definitely worth visiting if you are thinking about running social media sessions in the future.

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Cultural Leadership Development in Istanbul: Working for the British Council

“Evening on Bosphorus” by andra_life shared under creative commons license.

Tomorrow I am heading to Istanbul to do some work with the British Council as part of a teamfrom Little Star, a digital production company from Manchester. We have been asked to cover a Cultural Leadership workshop, a event that brings together 47 cultural leaders worldwide to discuss individual and collective notions of responsibility in this area.

My role is to live-blog the event (which includes the speakers listed here), update the BC’s social media accounts, interview participants using audioboo and to help with the film making process. The event is being held during the 11th International Istanbul Biennale, so the participant’s afternoons are dedicated to culture walks and tours of the city. There will also be a chance to cover some of this more informal activity as well.

I’m quite excited about going as part of a ‘crew’ (which I have Julian to thank for!)- as I much prefer to be doing things during events rather than simply ‘consuming’ them. As well as that, I’ve never been to Istanbul before – and have heard wonderful things about it as a city, so look forward to both my official and my unofficial tour (as I’ll be meeting an IOA friend over there)

I’ll update this entry with more information about where I will be sharing content from the event – it’s going to be a busy week!

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What I’ve been working on: [October, 2011]

Last month I wrote about a research project that I’ve been working on with UWS where we would be running workshops and social media surgeries in the south of Scotland in partnership with South of Scotland Business Solutions.

I’ve been working on the website since August, which contains some informations about the events, some resources and will act as a hub over the course of the project. It is built using buddypress, rather than wordpress, so at later stage if we want to maintain a community beyond the session dates, we can use the social features and encourage users to sign up to profiles. We’ve launched it this week as now most of our slots for the first stage of surgeries are full – in Dumfries, Melrose and New Galloway. There is also a twitter account @UWSDigital which is worth following if you are based in the south of Scotland, as we’ll be tweeting about the events and the businesses who are involved.

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Hacking the Olympics. Guest Post for @scraperwiki #media2012

Reposted from a post I was asked to write for the Scraperwiki blog about #media2012 event at FACT Liverpool as part of AND Festival last Sunday.

Last weekend, Scraperwiki hosted a ‘hacks and hackers’ event at FACT in Liverpool as part of Abandon Normal Devices (AND) Festival, focusing on scraping data related to the Olympics for the #media2012 network.

There is plenty of information, plenty of activity and plenty of action that is happening and can be done in order to tell the untold stories and equip citizens with the skills and the tools to see beyond the sporting frame.

The #media2012 project, launched at the Cornerhouse in Manchester in October 2010, aims to do just that. Inspired by the increasing rise of a organized citizen media presence at the Games since 2000, plus the evolving media technology landscape in general, #media2012 intends to provides a platform to curate and facilitate a national network of independent media makers producing stories about London 2012 (using mobile platforms and social media)- and using the stories to create the first archive of a community-led new media and cultural legacy of the Olympic Games. Covering and amplifying anything and everything that will not be covered by the ‘official’ journalists and media organizations.

Already we have hubs in the North West, South West, East and West Midlands, Scotland and London that are connecting independent media individuals and collectives, volunteers, students and citizen journalists with the wider #media2012 network – and working to provide space for people to work together and to share their content online.

The scraperwiki event on Sunday was a perfect example of the ethos of #media2012. The short and fast-paced collaboration between journalists, academics and developers at the hack day demonstrated that it doesn’t take much to scrap the surface of the Olympic movement if you know where you should be looking. In 6 hours, we managed to produce 3 potential research projects/story ideas that would often take academics working on research relating to the games, months to achieve – as well as providing insight to those grey areas that are not often spoken about in the media.

What we are seeing now has never happened at an Olympic Games before, and there is a real possibility to see London 2012 as the first of its kind; rather a media event that we are supposed to sit back and consume passively, but a media festival that we can break down and take an active role in reproducing in own way. That’s why I encourage everyone to see beyond the sport and take advantage of hacking the olympics and making them their own.

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Conclusions from the International Olympic Academy, Postgraduate Session

For the last four weeks I was in Ancient Olympia studying at the International Olympic Academy as part of their 18th Postgraduate Session. The sessions were split by weekly topics (week 1: Ancient Greece/Olympics; week 2: Revival of the modern games/social, economic and sports management; week 3: Philosophy and Ethics; week 4: Conclusions) and at the end were asked as groups of 6-8 to prepare conclusions that would be presented during the final ‘closing ceremony’ and would be published, and eventually shared with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Although my work is closer to topics presented in week 2/week 3 (Philosophy and Social Sciences), I was included in Group 1 on Ancient Greece – so far removed from new media and social technology. However, one of the main things that I took away from the IOA was home much I enjoyed the lectures on the classics and ancient Greece, a subject area that I have never been exposed to or would have had any access to as a student in my field. The link between *being there* – walking around the ruins & seeing the artefacts first hand, as well as being in conversation with international professors was really inspiring. So much so, that I found that the most valuable session for me was definitely the one that I had the least amount of experience with.
During the closing ceremony, I created and presented the presentation below on behalf of the group, which was organised around the topics that were shared as part of the participant’s subject area papers (gender studies, nutrition, art history, media studies, linguistics, history etc.) We drew out three common themes – the links between the ancient and modern games, ideology and representation of ideology in history  and the important of space and place – and framed our conclusions around these core findings. We concluded that there was much to learn from seeing and living closely to ancient sites of Olympia, Nemea and Delphi – but we shouldn’t lose sight of the spectacle and observing such ideas through a modern capitalist lens.
Below is the prezi used – and the preliminary document that contains more details and descriptions of the week’s work.



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