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Social Media for Research: Open Resource and Reflection for #MASocialMedia

I would like to share the session that I had prepared for a guest workshop that I was to deliver to this year’s MA in Social Media. Something, judging on last year’s session – and the 6 other sessions that I’ve delivered over the last 3-4 weeks, I was looking forward to trying out and exploring using social media as a research context. As it never got past the initial discussion “what is research?”  I can safely say that it didn’t work well for this particular cohort’s expectations.

What I can do, instead, is offer up the entire workshop as a resource and hope that perhaps others might find it more useful. Below are slides, links to resources and readings and some reflection about teaching social media for research, can it be delivered as a simple one to many lecture?  the didactic opposite to what is explicitly implied about social media (participatory, conversational, interactive – all those sorts of words.)

Social Media for Research: Workshop Plan

Level: Masters/PhD

Overview

  1. Explore social media’s role when compiling a research methodology from an academic and commercial perspective. Examine the characteristics that differentiate it from ‘traditional’ research method (unpick the notion of ‘traditional’ in this context.)
  2. Examine the relationship between the technical uses of social media and social media as a research practice. Understand the need for a critical awareness of the platforms used through case studies of existing methodologies.
  3. Application of social media for research through case study [Olympic Games], examining the explicit and implicit roles that social media can have within a research project. Short workshop activity where students can apply a list of criteria to their own research projects, emphasizing the mixed method approach required.

Materials

  • Projector
  • Whiteboard paper and pens (if available)

Procedures

  • Discussion: What are the differences between social media research methods and ‘traditional’ research methods (to establish what they understand about research & notions of traditional)
  • List research methods that class are familiar with and agree on a couple to use as examples.
  • Discussion: Technical vs Practice (to establish what they do already technically and to separate out the reliance on tools so that they can be critically aware of platforms and respect the need to focus on research practices) Apply the use of the social media tool to the research method used.
  • Part 2: Discussion: What is social media practice? [How does social media change or affirm research scholarship?]
  • Toolkit: Show show examples, but not exhaustive and change all the time. Use twapperkeeper as a case study. Critical awareness of ephermal nature of freemium platforms.
  • Differences between listening, data collection, archiving and visualizing.
  • Case study: Olympics Case Study, take them through the contextual steps and how a mixed method approach has been used to organize data against an ethnographic background. [Slides - from a research presentation at Launch of #media2012 network] [List of resources discussed within the presentation here.]
  • Activity: Plan a research activity relating to their own research interest, emphasis on mixed method approach and the need to consider ‘traditional’ methods throughout.
  • Conclusions: Discuss student projects.
Slides:

Social Media Research

Reflection and Context

I’m always on that quest to find the ‘perfect’ way to teach this subject area, firstly because, in some cases, it is the new kid of the block, it is revolutionising the way that we consider research methods but it is often tacked on at the end when it is implemented within a research methods module or discussion relating to research practices. Similarly, it is often not considered in the context of other (existing) research methods – for instance, seminal texts on how to conducting face to face interviews or focus groups are challenged and updated through the use of skype or google+ hangouts – bringing their own conventions to the space; ethnographical research becomes multi-layered as you decide whether to you wish to be embedded on the ground, at a distance, through geographical data, through virtual spaces, network analysis or any of the above; or data is collected through questionnaires being transformed by the increased access to specific groups by demographic (using social networking sites), that often used to only occur through dedicated (and expensive) marketing research companies in the past. Truly, the notion that a methodological toolkit is analogue and restricted to sets of rules that were prepared in their own time, has been and can be challenged.

But in the same breathe, in order to understand the power and the potential of using social media for research is also the ability to understand and appreciate the years of scholarship and academic rigour that has came before and can go into preparing methods and implementing a research project. Standing on the shoulder of giants to borrow a term you won’t hear me say often. By ignoring this stage, and what has came before, instead of social media providing tools that can enhance your research practice, there is a chance that the technology will distract and often blind you in the process.

For example, It is all very well that devices such as Klout and PeerIndex exist to provide a measurement in order to compare particular user accounts on twitter, but if you don’t appreciate the rigour or critique of such ‘social algorithms’ – the measure of ‘influence’ (whatever that means, and if it can be) then critical scholarship is missing. As researchers, we should not only be prepared to carry out work to find , display and communicate results, we should also be prepared to ask questions about what exists already. This, for me, is what (should) differentiate social media for academic research from other instances, and why you take on an advanced course that asks you to explore and think critically about this space.

Of course, the search for the ‘perfect’ model for delivery is always destined to result in failure, there is no such thing as perfection. Just like there is no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to teaching a concept subjectively – where each individual in the room is going to produce a piece of work that will reflect their own perceptions, their own practice, social context and position. Again, the research methods model can act as a tool kit to work from, but it all done to the direction that the researcher choses to take, what they expose themselves to and if it is possible to recognise their position in the process.

For me, I’m always quite embedded in my research, where I’m not only a participant, I also take an active role in steering the results. You can see this through the tension through my position as a working journalist in Vancouver, the tension between being an activist vs academic, my coordinator role in #media2012 and the awareness of power and politics in all circumstances. It’s not the ‘traditional’ way of doing it, but it can be done and It is up to me to defend that in my writing and in my practice.

You can, instead, be removed from the process – you can observe from afar, collecting data online and never meet the participants and groups that you might end up researching. Many data experts can produce wonderful charts and network graphs that can visualise and display incidents that have occurred previous and being relayed online. They can show weak and close ties in the network to distinguish social groups, relationships and predict behaviour patterns. Again, if this process can be defended as a method, it is fair game and you can pass your assignment.

Importantly, there is no “right” answer in this. It should be encouraged to try new things, to experiment and to attempt to set new standards in using social media within a scholarly context. Aspire to do that. However, it should also be noted that much of this work is not “new” – it is a cycle, with newer tools perhaps replacing/updating what has came before. It is worth being critically aware of web platforms, that they will not provide the perfect solution to a problem, they will perform a task that can help you at that moment – that’s why learning software is not always the best way to do something. Being able to find, select and apply social media (or any tool, even if it is a pen and a flip-chart) to a research practice is the best advice that I can give that this stage. Good luck.

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Occupying the Olympics: What can be done? (From @tentcityuni) #occupy2012

It was timely to hold a session at the Tent City University within the Occupy London camp on the notion of occupying the Olympics a day prior to the Independent reporting that the government are looking to ban demonstrations during the games next year. It emphasised completely what is going to happen, and what will happen, as the government cannot afford to allow for the games to fail (both financially, politically and internationally) – they will move the (*cringe for sports-related metaphor*) goalposts, whatever they are currently, to ensure that when the eye of the (carefully briefed and paying-customers) world’s media is upon London next summer, there will be conflict-free games and tailored soft power and sponsorship messages to be viewed.

They will not fail. They will do what they can to make sure they don’t fail. Even if it involves state brutality of citizens and changes to long-standing bylaws such as the right to protest and  squatters rights (see Barcelona 1992) It doesn’t come to much surprise, considering they’ve been displacing communities in East London for the last 6 and half years (it takes 7 years to ‘prepare’ for an Olympiad) – and had put in the ‘planning permission’ to do so, long before the winning bid for 2012 were announced in Singapore 2005.

You see, it’s simple things contained within bidding document files (see gamesbids.com for archive.) that can highlight this in advance – 7-10 years in advance, BEFORE your city bids for the games. Figures such as having to show to the IOC that the city can provide over 170,000 hotel beds for visiting fans, are one of the reasons why those who reside in the poorest part of Vancouver were evicted by their landlords from their lower-cost bedsits so they could be renovated and turned into boutique hotels, so that vistors had a place to stay and Vancouver saw the highest level of homelessness during one set period (watch the documentary ‘Five Ring Circus‘ to learn more)

Occupy the Olympics

Photo by @aral

After a skype call with Olympic critic and activist Helen Lenskyj (who have wrote some excellent books on resisting the Olympic Industry) whilst I was at Occupy Nottingham on Friday, she left me thinking about the privatisation of public space and the contrast of the Occupy movement. You see, every ‘public’ mass event you go to (fireworks, the fair, football, carnivals, the royal wedding) gives authorities the opportunity to move in on your civil liberties, it sticks a fence around it and uses security to make you feel ‘safe’ – when in fact, what it is doing is reducing the amount of space where you can actually call it public. For instance, try taking a photograph in your local shopping mall, it won’t be long before you get asked to leave or accused on being a terrorist – that is a perfect example of the local authorities outsourcing land to private companies to manage. As a participant at Occupy Nottingham told me on Friday, the occupations reclaim and raise awareness to the fact that these spaces, are in fact, being occupied by the corporations – not the people. And the Olympics is the biggest, and the baddest, example of this. I’ve met too many people in the last 2.5 years who have lost their home, their communities for the benefits of a 17 day sporting competition. This is the social and political context I am going to work within for my thesis – and probably the hardest thing I have to write, as I do not want to treat these experiences as throw away data for the REF or some other academic medal. The politics is personal.

Olympic Movement/Industry

What differs the Olympic Games from other mega events of its nature is three-fold – the first, the Olympic charter, the second, its historical context – and the third, Olympic education (the device that I’ve experienced first hand) The fact that they refer to themselves as a ‘movement’ hints at what the charter might contain, it aspires, it claims and it suggests that the Olympics provides a blueprint for living. The movement is governed by an Olympic charter, explicitly laying out the philosophical concept of ‘olympism’ – a way of life. When I was at the International Olympic Academy in September, I wrote about the three assumptions that were being made on my behalf, when discussing the Olympic Charter as document for research:

“1) That we all think that sport is a morally good thing. That is bonds us across communities and it should be considered as something as powerful as saying it is a ‘human right’. The act of sport is a human right.

2) That we see the idea of Olympic education as being a force to carry the message of sport and to help build an understanding that sport is a human right. All people of the world should hear this message and the best way to do this is through education.

3) That through participating in an olympic education program, we are are all advocates for the olympic education movement and will return to our country to spread the universal messages of Olympism. This is why we are here.”

Now I’ve stepped out of that world, and had the time to critically reflect on those experiences, I’m still gravely concerned about what follows such idealistic claims about society, or indeed, the notion that an ideology can be institutionalised through a device such as sport. You see, sport is a sacred cow – it is very rarely critiqued, it is probably one of the last bastians of the 20th century that hasn’t been ripped through the apparent public accountability machine of the mainstream media (or even academia) for the way that it acts. I mean, for the media, even if you aren’t paying for the rights to broadcast the Olympics games, to challenge the sports machine could potentially lose you a quarter of your daily news (and the access that goes along with it.) Furthermore, sport is still very much a television broadcast that remains unfragmented – think about the way football gathers people in spaces, or how big events disrupt existing programming. It very much has to be watched live. Similarly, there are very few academics who find themselves studying the Olympic Games when they detest organised sport and everything that goes with it. There a lot of tensions that come into play – and that could be one of the reasons why sport is a good hiding place for corporations such as McDonalds and CocaCola, corporations that don’t have an ethical bone in their system.

But if you align with an organisation that comes prepackaged with its own philosophy, a philosophy that promotes a healthy body and healthy mind, that also requires a hell of a lot of money before it will part with those ideas (and more importantly, its symbolic ritual, it’s only product essentially) then you know that you are not only going to reach global audiences, you are going to have a better chance of looking and sounding more ethical. The perfect relationship. And that perfect relationship is detailed within the Olympic charter – directly after the bit about friendship, peace and solidarity.

The history of the Olympics

Another factor of distraction is the history of the games, tied up closing to the history of ancient Greece (where relics from 2000 years ago shown the rich greeks enjoyed their stadiums, plays and temples) and where the industry was conceived at the turn of the 20th century by Pierre de Coubertin, a entrepreneur that played on the notion of beauty, religion and sport to introduce the modern Olympic games to the “masses.” I could go on, but if you want to read about the link between resistance and the Olympics, right back to the first modern games in Athens 1896, download @currybet’s brief history of Olympic dissent. The reason why I’m mentioning this is to relate to the political and social context of the games origins – think end of 19th century, imperialism, europe-centric governance, military influence (I’m sure there are historians out there who can tell a better story about this than me, I’m the new media person, remember!)

Olympic Education

And finally, the thing that separates the Olympics from say, the World cup? The Olympics comes packages with an element of Olympic education. There are Olympic education centres all over the place (I live 1 mile away from Loughborough University, it is reeking of Olympic studies) – but also, rather than simply research centres at universities all around the world, you’ve the Olympic games in school – worldwide. The London Games were sold on the aspect of youth (and much of the legacy claims are about just that) and if you keep an eye out for it, you’ll see things like “Get Set” which is the official link between compulsory education and LOCOG. The Olympic movement is embedded in the curriculum, I’m sure if you are of a certain age, you’ll remember the exposure to previous games yourself, in fact – before I took on this topic as a PhD, I had never encountered the Olympics in any other way apart from watching it during the summer holidays. Because it is what you do. Why do you think the IOC want Olympic education in schools? I can’t help but think that it is all related – especially when I encountered G4S at the Podium Further and Higher Education Conference back in February and they asked me advice on using social media to encourage college kids to apply for security jobs during London 2012 (!)

What can be done?

From the discussion at the tent city university on Saturday, we talked about if the Olympics can be occupied next summer – something that somebody on Twitter declared would be a huge stunt that would result in public uproar. Correct. It would. But it also raises questions about what occupy means and who is occupying who. What can I advise – based on what I’ve seen, read and learned over the last two years?

Looking to past games

What is happening in the UK is not in isolation. It doesn’t take much digging around to realise that every games that have came before have came complete with their own set of challenge on the local, national and international scale. Something that the Olympics, in its current format of every 2 years, is good at is being about to neutralise resistance or to distract from a citizen-reclaimed legacy. Think about how a school term works with the student movement, time and organisation of time is good way of killing momentum towards a cause. As we approach each Olympics, we start to care more as it approaches our lens – but it has taken 7 years to get to this stage. Think about the people living on its doorstep, think about the laws that need to be changed to allow the games to happen, think about where the budgets are going and use the Olympics as a mechanism to critique the rest of the government’s strategy. You can do this better if you look at what has happened before. There are some accessible books that you can read, all available on gamesmonitor’s reading list.

Media responsibility

Credit to @aral via instagram

It was ironic that Jon Snow came into my session, right at the moment when we was discussing media responsibility and the games. You see, the media have no responsibility to report critically on the games. If you look at research on media events (Dayan and Katz, 1994) even the most critical of journalists (erm-hm) are suspected in critique around events of this nature. Do not expect them to tell your story. Even if they do, they are in the pocket of the event. They need that access. So they will spin it to suit the general frame. You must tell your own.

Citizen Media and the Games

That why citizen media, social media and independent journalists are your friends – and why no story is too small to be captured. You see, there is one thing that LOCOG and the government can’t control in terms of the Olympic narrative (and what is remembered) is the digital footprint that is left behind. They can evict the Occupy London camp, but the digital trail will tell us more than the statues that were discovered around ancient Greece. You had to win a race to be remembered, to be immortalised, but as long as there are GPS satellites in the sky, data that we leave behind could be the answer to decentralising the narrative around megaevents (read Capalan, 2010 for more.)

Staying safe

Returning to the independent article to conclude, the government and LOCOG are expecting resistance. They are bigger and more aggressive than you can ever imagine. If you take them head on, they will come down on you like a ton of bricks. We’ve seen it with the royal wedding earlier this year, preemptive arrests and threats of rubber bullets and water cannons (sparked from the response to August riots) – you need to and must stay safe. Know your rights, read load about what has happened before and be clever about how you subvert the games. As Chris Shaw advises (Prof. at University of British Columbia, member of the NOGAMES network – and author of the five ring circus, Vancouver’s story) the best way to stop the games is to stop them before you ‘win’ them, when they have been awarded, there is no going back (unless you are Denver 1976, the only games where the citizens stopped it happening) They will do whatever it takes to make sure it goes ahead. The best you can do is to stay safe and make sure that whatever you do this time can be passed on to the next city – a legacy of protest and resistance.

 

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On Citizen Media: Types, Governance and Education. #media2012

One of the groups who have got behind the #media2012 project in the North-West are a arts and media organisation called Let’s Go Global, based in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester . They’ve been using the #media2012 initiative as a mechanism for providing ‘citizen journalism’ training to volunteers from around the region, specifically focussing on covering arts and culture in the northwest during the Cultural Olympiad 2012 festival.

This evening I was invited to Manchester’s Cornerhouse, under my role as #media2012 coordinator, to give a quick talk about citizen media and the Olympics to the group and their volunteers and introduce the under-reported social and political context that the games are situated within. About how you can research and work within the Olympic context and totally detest competitive sport.

The second half of the session was broken up into small groups to discuss the next steps of the project – which brought to attention the need for a better website/platform for hosting content and empowering people to produce content, the focus on the themes and objectives of the group, where #media2012 is essential an umbrella, contextual hashtag and it is up to the individuals within an organization/group to decide amongst themselves about how and what they wish to cover, and the need for an element of formal and informal ‘training’, be it from ‘official’ sessions or through peer to peer learning (a huge focus for me next term, more to follow on that.)

From this, I’ve drawn on three areas of note for me, which I hope to address in my PhD thesis:

Types of citizen media;

 When I think of types, I am not thinking about the types of content (text, audio, video) nor am I thinking about production values – instead, I’m thinking of types as a form of motivation for the production of content. For instance, a citizen journalist that is embedded within an existing media organization, will use a rhetoric of citizen media associated with a particular style.  Or the media student might see citizen journalism as a route into “traditional” journalism (whatever that is!) They may produce media in this way (fast paced, shot on a flip cam, written up quickly or in real time) or they may ask for contributions in a speak-your-brains participation with a perceived audience. Alternatively, a citizen journalist may not even identify as being so, producing media as a response, because they feel that they have to in order to be situated within communities that they identify with, the media is the conversation. Or it might not even have the self-awareness of being a piece of journalism, but instead a record, a documentation that they were they and they were experiencing what was happening. Recording and archiving everything as a way of showing that they and the things that they were capturing ever existed. If those stories are not told, then there are little chance that they were ever be addressed. I think about the statues and historical records that we use to understand our past, if youtube, or even better, invisible geographical data, stands the test of time, then there might be a real possibilities of reclaiming histories from those who are in power and have access to the tools that hold records (think remains, museums, state-control documents, censuses etc) – it’s mind bending to think of it from the perspective that every tweet we make might leave a little bit of ourselves scattered around for other people to find.

Governance of citizen media;

How citizen media (or any) communities are organized are firstly governed by the existing  structures in place. It’s much easier to play by ear & just get excited by the fact that people are wanting to get together to just do something. That’s what I experience when I work with people like John Coster of Citizen’s Eye, who can have 2 to 100 people in a room at any one of the events/things that citizen’s eye do. It doesn’t matter, it the act of doing stuff. When funding comes in (be it through a grant or through employment at that organization) expectations and objectives start to come in, in order to justify that use of money for that particular thing. So then numbers start to become an issue, metrics and outcomes in order to convince the funders or the boss, when in fact the real impact comes from empowering the few that are there to go away and inspire others to join in outside that space. One thing that I’ve noticed that through doing workshops with citizen’s eye (around social media, digital technology and the olympics) that I’ve stopped caring about the quantity of attendees and, instead, about the quality of discussion and the conversations that emerge in each space. Hint – not one session has ever felt the same, unlike when I teach year on year… which brings me to…

The role of education in citizen media;

I tried to tackle the link between citizen media and education back in June when I presented at Virtual Futures at Warwick University. I wasn’t quite there, but it still comes back to haunt me, like the words are not yet formed yet. The fact that peer-to-peer learning has came up in three contexts in the last week, the first in discussion with Paul Bradshaw about the Online Journalism/Alternative Media module that we are going to run together at Birmingham City University next semester; tonight at #media2012 meeting where the topic of ‘skillsharing’ and informal learning took precedence over formal training (in the context of learning multimedia tools) and lastly around the praxi of alternative education models, something that I am going to explore over the course of the next two days at Occupy Nottingham (with the @thirduniversity) and the Tent City University @occupylsx.

I’ve seen and met people who are been genuinely empowered by the ability to use the internet to tell their story and to help other people do the same, I’ve helped people set up blogs and all sorts of platforms over the past few weeks through the social media surgeries in Dumfries and Galloway, but also as part of Community Media Week in Leicester, where I ran social media surgeries out of the Phoenix Square on Sunday and Monday.

I don’t want to hold onto this knowledge and only exchange it for something that suits me (££ ), I want to pass it on and see it as my way to contribute to the social movements around me, especially when I am taking from them in terms of getting a doctoral thesis nailed and an ‘academic career’ on the go. I still don’t feel using people as data is a fair exchange on their part, that’s why I’ve found myself choke during academic conferences and give up presenting in the ‘traditional’ “speaker-to-audience” half way through. I feel that if I am to be truly embedded and have people trust me (and befriend a lot of people in the process), I need to give back as much as I take from them. The role of education, for me, is more than feeding it back to my students in an ‘official’ lecturer to student role, or to write publisher protected, academic-prose in a researcher to peer role. It needs to be in constant exchange. It has to be.

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Occupying the Olympics: The Future of Education and #OccupyLSX

#occupylsx (photo credit: @andymiah)

Reposted from the Creative Futures Research Centre blog:

On Saturday 19th November, cf. Associate Jennifer Jones will give a talk at Tent City University, a space within the #OccupyLSX where people can “learn, share knowledge and develop skills through a wide series of workshops, lectures, debates, films, games, praxis and action.”

The Occupy movement has captured the attention of the world’s media in the last few months, drawing attention to the need for governments to reconsider how they organize the global economy. cf. Director Professor Andy Miah said:

“At the cf. we are committed to thinking of more responsible ways to redistribute resources in order to create a more just society. To have one of our Associates contributing to this programme is very important for us, as it highlights the need for academics to re-consider their positions within society, the possible impact they can have on communities and, even more crucially, their role in re-thinking Higher Education in a time of radical and controversial change.

“Jennifer’s work on the Olympic Games is perfectly aligned to some of the big questions that we face in society today, such as the overwhelming dominance of corporations within cultural affairs. There’s no doubt that cultural activities like the Games need private investment, but it’s crucial that these associations do not jeopardize the integrity of the things that really matter to people”

Speaking in advance of her workshop, Jennifer said

”Since the brutal enforcement of the Browne review, the changes to the UK’s higher education funding structure, I’ve been exploring radical alternatives and critical safe spaces within which to discuss the future of the university. As academics and educators, we need to have the courage to bring such discussions to the forefront of our research and teaching practice – especially at a time when the mainstream focus on higher education is only on debt and employability skills. We need to remember that the role of the university within society is greater than just awarding qualifications.

“For many people, the Occupy movement provides hope that there is still a politically engaged civil society out there. It also reminds people that they are not alone in these difficult times and that there is a lot that people will still do for free, given the right incentives. This is why critical spaces such as Tent City University is as important as the bricks and mortar of any other university. Indeed, many of its lecturers work in precisely these more traditional institutions.”

“The London 2012 Olympic Games will be a focal point for the kinds of debates that have circulated around the Occupy movement, as it is made possible largely by corporate sponsorship. At all recent Games, protests and activism have taken place and I expect there to be comparably more in London, due partly to the culture of Londoners, but also due to the extraordinary economic times within which we are living”

Jennifer’s talk is due to take place at University Tent, St Pauls, London on November 19th at 12pm and is titled ‘Occupying the Olympics’ (unless they are evicted before).

Q&A with Jennifer Jones

What will you be talking about at Tent City University?

I will be facilitating a discussion about how the internet has been used by activist groups at previous Games to subvert the dominant message of the Olympic Games. As we are already seeing, the Olympics is a complex, multi-faceted machine, built on carefully controlled messages, corporate relationships and the essence of soft power. However, what London 2012 has that previous games have not is the influx of both social media technologies and the potential for a critical mass of users to challenge the messages projected by essentially a 20th century mega-event phenomena.

Do you think that protests are inevitable at the London 2012 Olympic Games?

Yes, and I think they should happen. It would be a sad day if the right to protest was withdrawn at the behest of a 17 day sports competition. But stranger things have happened. What I would like to contribute, through the tent city university and several other alternative education collectives that I align with – Third University, really open university and the social science centre, lincoln – is a little myth-busting around the Olympic Games, so that those who resist the Games are aware of what has happened before 2012. This may help strength their arguments and allow them to work together more effectively – bringing singular campaigns under a common banner. This is where citizen media/social media can come in, making it easier to share these issues and to work together in solidarity against the wider neo-liberal context that phenomena like the Olympic Games is situated within.

What should be the role of conventional universities within this programme of activities?

Many of those who participate in alternative educational spaces often also work or study within existing universities. What they should do – if they aren’t already – is also have the courage to bring that critical pedagogy back into their ‘day’ jobs – there is no inside/outside here, it is just people, trying to challenge and resist changes brought on by the government, that are being enforced in an non-demoncratic manner. The way I see it, I’d do this anyway, but it’s even better when I can embed this way of thinking into my work. The conventional university can help by supporting this, instead of suppressing it, by acknowledging the dialogue.

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On why I will never *teach* social media again. #RP2NOTT #uwsltas

This is the second year that I’ve delivered social media workshops to the PhD student community at UWS through the Innovation and Research Office (IRO) – last year, I reflected on the content of the workshop, which although I encouraged IRO to let me teach people in the bar area of the student union (instead of in a classroom – I wanted to break the hierarchy that is enforced through teaching space, I was student teaching students and I was experimenting with what we had), it was still very much a workshop where I talked at people for 3hrs and my PhD colleagues (some of which had never taken their laptops out of the house) sat baffled by the whizzy and rather full prezi that I had prepared in advance.

I wasn’t happy about it, especially as I had to spend about an hour of the workshop, fixing everyone’s the wifi connection (which was proxied to hell) and just getting the poor buggers online. What we needed was something that was a pre-beginners social media drop-in, or even something that just discussed research practise in general, before I even started to convince PhD students that the internet and writing publicly (and often informally, like this post illustrates through the language I’ve chosen to use and the over reliance of winky faces ;-)) about the stuff that they are up to can be a good thing.

When I was asked to deliver them again, this time doing 4 instead of 2, I thought for a bit about what I might do – especially when I noticed that one of my beginners from last year had signed up again, and obvious sign that whatever I was doing (or whatever teaching practice I was employing) was just not working. Also, since then I’ve nailed a PGCert in Higher Ed, taught-out in various spaces and various contexts out-width the ‘university’ environment (such as the social media surgeries in Dumfries and Galloway) and had the chance to experiment with differing methods as a facilitator. Not to mention, I was still basking in the joy that was the Research Practices 2.0 event that I had attended the week previous, which felt like a real breakthrough when it came to thinking about how social media could be used as a vessel for something more than simply fetishing corporate technology (I wrote more about that at the time here.)

So this time, I have no slides. F*&k slides. Especially for a workshop that is about the people, not the things thatI have to say about technology. My internet usage is an anomaly. I have no dedicated resources for those sessions -and why should I, when there is a wonderful open educational resource as part of the Nottingham project, if  was to build my own, it would just be a rehash – and only one perspective, there are better opportunities to concentrate my efforts on the projects that I’m employed to do – such as UWSDigital.com – that I built and wrote myself in partnership with the research team that I am working with.

Secondly, I ripped up the workshop/training handbook, that is, base my class plan on the basis that all workshops of this nature should follow the same format – I repeated the exercise that we came up with at #RP2NOTT instead. I probably shocked a few people who thought that they were going to turn up for a workshop and use the 3 hours to switch off/check emails on the computers whilst I transfer knowledge to them. We had a discussion, based on finding similarities in research practices, and matched up the social media/internet platforms that they were already aware off to the practices. Once we had several lists of things where there was a mutual understanding to address, I was able to demonstrate the adequate tools in a way that was more suited to a tutorial, rather than trying to pre-guess what people might want at the beginning.

Lastly, this workshop could be repeated under different contexts, more niche/wider areas and it would have a different impact. Rather than talk people through various platforms (when really, there are plenty of those tutorials out there as part of the website’s existing functional elements) it was way more important to link them up to their daily practice. This was the only way that they were going to ever adopt it, and they could make that decision themselves – rather than use it because they it is expected of them.

I wanted to leave those who attended with a dialogue, not a piece of paper that they could file away on a PDP, e-portfolio site and tick that social media box. I wanted to be able to encourage and support people so they could feel comfortable/more confident to explore and critique the platforms on their own merit, not based on other factors such as the hysterical mainstream media & other colleagues who have probably never been trolled in their life.

Importantly, the most people using successfully social media at UWS, means that at relatively small university, we could punch above our weight when all the traditional metrics are set against us. We could manage our impact on the community better (don’t get me started on the Ayrshire Post!) and we can widen the grassroots academic commons that is beginning to emerge across the institution. Best practice is not just something that is spoken about, it’s emerges through the dialogue between colleagues (often spread out across 100 mile radius) – already beginning to see this as I connect to people I’ve never met before (and I’ve been at UWS, as a student, since 2002)

What holds us back, however, is restrictions in institutionalised technology – for instance, the second session looked at building an academic identity, where the participants decided they wanted to know how to set up a wordpress/posterous in the space of 3 hours. The machines couldn’t cope. Firstly, they ran IE, which wordpress didn’t like, secondly, I got modem error messages saying that we couldn’t set up so many accounts on the same IP address (all the computers in the lab I was using had the same log-in) thirdly, it felt a bit like I was teaching MS Word. It was boring. Especially when there is a resource online from WordPress that does it better than I could of the top of my head. Finally, if you’ve ever taught a program package in this way (a lab environment), you need to spend a lot of time darting around the room to look at individual screens – ignoring everyone else. A better way of doing it would have been for me to sit in a room for 3 hours and speak to people individually about their needs, rather than dragging everyone through that god awful lab experience.

So, in summary, 3 things I’ve learned:

1) Leaving with a dialogue is more important than ‘facts’ – it’s worth getting people to think about themselves, and chat it out – rather than slipping into the monotony/facade that a workshop facilitator is going to embark on some sort of clinical information drop off that will happen instantly & easily. If only it was so.

2) Space is important and how individuals use that can have a huge influence on what happens during the session. We ran into this issue at RP2NOTT too. Try and have a group discussion in a lecture theatre where everyone is looking down, facing the front – same thing, teaching social media in a computer lab makes it about as engaging as teaching word processing packages – people just get sapped into their own little world and you can only help them by stepping into that world personally. Something are best left for surgery/drop in style events.

3) It is pointless bulk ‘teaching’ a program that can’t be accessed on the university machines. For one, the mentality of calling IT to fix it before you google the problem yourself is only going to make the use of the more open source environments vilified even more. They don’t support it – and the system is not geared up. That raises a lot more questions than answers – but I think, instead of fighting that system and hitting a wall (which has a point), thinking of ways to put critical practice first (using social media as a hook in) is going to be more useful in the long terms.

It’s not about the platforms, essentially it is all to do with practice, which in turn will allow you to critique the platforms and therefore make they useful to you – and, that is, my dear, the reason why I’ve stopped teaching social media.

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Media Publication: In support for #nov9 #solidarity (for Guardian Higher Education Network)

Last week Eliza Anyangwe from the Guardian Higher Education network got in touch, asking if I would provide a vox-pop for an article “Professional perspectives on the student protests” (I’m a professional, lol!) – which I am always happy to oblige, especially in support for the recent protest on the 9th and the forthcoming strike action on the 30th of November. For me, as a final year PhD student, and part of the early career researcher community, we need to show a united front and work together to raise awareness in the discrepancies in not only the provision of cheap post-graduate labour, but also have the courage to be critical of what we are being told and what we are being asked to tell other (namely, the 9k-a-year students of the future.)

Academic courage seems to be a recurring theme of my recent discussions with friends and colleagues, and has much to do with why I am going to be teaching-out at Occupy Nottingham as part of the Third University this Friday – and running a session on occupying the Olympics (complete with my Team GB tracksuit) at the Tent City University within Occupy London on Saturday.