Using #OpenBadges for the Digital Commonwealth Project

As part of my role as project coordinator for the Digital Commonwealth project, I have been working with the project team to develop a set of educational resources which will be used to support trainers and learners within the schools programme and the community media cluster activity. I have spent some time researching Open Badges to help support a proposal to use them as a vehicle for evidence based, granular accreditation for the training elements of the project – not just for the formal sessions but as a way on monitoring content produced and shared by all our projects and collecting evidence of learning and community of practices.

The paper I prepared below was initially to help me get my head around the concept of Open Badges for the team, but now I’m wanting to open it up wider so to help further discussion as we produce our education resources for both schools and community setting and to allow those we have been engaging with the project to get to see a wee bit more about what we are up to.

I’d like to thank the team at Snook who came out to UWS to chat to me about their ongoing badge maker project and to Doug Belshaw who has been pointing the right people in my direction in Scotland.

We are now onto the next steps of working out the formalities, but I am really interested in opening up discussion at this stage about the project and seeking comment and advice if there are similarities at this stage. Personally, I am finding this “developing educational resources” for the project a pretty exciting prospect, and the legacy of such means that the materials we produce (I hope) should be structured in such a way that they can be used beyond the scope of the Commonwealth Games.


This post will provide an overview of Open Badges, propose how Open Badges can be used within the Digital Commonwealth (DCW) project and detail the process of being able to deliver them through a team of trainers. It will offer a walk-through how Open Badges might fit within the production of the education resources and will provide a content proposal for the school’s sessions in terms of providing digital literacy skills across the areas of audio and video production, blogging and social media skills. It will include strategic tasks to consider whilst developing the education resources in the context of Open Badges before January 2014. It will conclude by offering recommendations for the technical specifies for the project in order to build in the set-up of school blogs, content sections and channels for content.

What are Open Badges?

Since their soft launch in 2011, Open Badges have been generating interest within technology and education sectors as a digital solution of recognising real-life skills and achievements which may not be captured through formal learning practices. The Mozilla foundation, core developers of the initial Open Badges concept, have no dedicated budget for the promotion of Open Badges, but have engaged organisations such as NASA, US Dept. of Education, IBM, Disney-Pixar  – and closer to home, the Scottish Qualification Authority, The Big Lottery Fund (through projects such as Somewhereto_ working with Badge the UK) and various schools, colleges and universities across the United Kingdom.

The Mozilla foundation, core developers of the initial Open Badge concept define the process as follows:

“A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned. Open Badges take that concept one step further, and allows you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations. And because the system is based on an open standard, you can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of your achievements — both online and off. Display your badges wherever you want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.” (Mozilla Foundation, 2013)

According to Mozilla, Open Badges are a ‘granular, evidence-based and transferable’ way of providing recognition of a skill and/or an achievement which isn’t or may not be possible to include a series of formal learning and accreditation. It is a mechanism that not only allows for the learner to communicate and manage extra-curricular achievements, whilst seeking on-going recognition for further achievement, but can also provide a framework for monitoring, evaluating and tracking participation through evidence based modules that link and is embedded within the badges themselves.

Rationale for the Digital Commonwealth:

The Digital Commonwealth project needs a mechanism to evaluate and capture the training process and outcomes so that the team, funding body and those who consume the content know that those who participate in the Digital Commonwealth project have received a core set of skills, are able to contribute their stories to the project with an awareness of the project principles and to demonstrate levels of understanding of being able to use the four mediums of digital storytelling – audio, video, blogging and social media- with confidence and relevance to the project themes.

 Furthermore, the Digital Commonwealth schools programme is situated between formal learning through devices such as the Curriculum for Excellence, core learning around the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth themes in general, and the skills development required around engaging in digital literacies practice. These skills are also transferable across sectors, such as in community development strategic inventions (such as community media training), third sector support and amplifying existing community and voluntary action funded by Commonwealth schemes.

The benefits of using Open Badges for the Digital Commonwealth project are three-fold:

  • Firstly, it allows for the recognition of any skill or achievement based on any set of criteria set by the awarding body, therefore, it can provide a framework to capture the activity of the Digital Commonwealth, based on the process and contribution that each of the pupils, teachers, trainers and participants makes to the project. It will not only track how far each of the participants have reached through the formal education materials and workshop support, but it will also rely on them contributing their own evidence (blog posts, videos etc) so that the project team and others can see & refer to what was done to claim participation in the Digital Commonwealth project.

  • Secondly, if done thoroughly, it will allow for those who are ‘external’ to any pre-arranged activity (such as the schools programme or the community media workshops) to engage with training materials online, to arrange their own meet-ups and to submit content which can go towards a Digital Commonwealth badge. This will allow the badges to become transferable, not just with how they are recognised within an accreditation framework, but also who can ‘do’ them and also who can recommend them as part of a training programme or form of life-wide learning.

 The ‘openness’ of the badge means that those who are interested in participating in the Digital Commonwealth project, but do not fall within the region and criteria of formal delivery, can work towards the same badge(s), increasing the reach of the project and offering more people the opportunity to contribute in line with DCW principles and themes. This will be important when we receive more enquiries to take part as content from each of the DCW projects begins to appear online and is shared on public channels.

  • This leads into the third and final benefit of Open Badges for the Digital Commonwealth project; legacy and capacity beyond the scope of the project itself. The outcome of the open badges should not stop at the delivery of the Commonwealth element of the project, but should be designed with longevity in mind. The core set of skills promoted by the proposed DCW badges are specific to digital literacy through media technology, the major event associated with them is catalytic rather than essential to contribute. This would allow us to produce a set of resources that will not only help for us to cover a unique event such as the Commonwealth Games, but also allow the badge to become generic to allow other organisations to use them in their training. One suggestion would be to work with our partners, the Big Lottery Fund and the Media Trust, to prepare badges in such a way so that they can be tested for sustainability and distributed beyond the scope of the Digital Commonwealth delivery targets and timescales.

Although Open Badges are not included in the criteria for developing the DCW educational resources, the production of generic versions of the badges should be considered so that they can be used once the project is in evaluation and dissemination stages. For instance, Borders College who have been funded by JISC have an example of a project-specific badge that has been made generic on their website, allowing for others to explore the concept and see how the model can be adapted for different contexts.

The Open Badges approach does not intend to be disruptive to existing learning practices, nor to challenge or interfere with existing delivery with schools or formal training sessions, these will still require us to develop teaching resources, exercises, workshop plans and directed study for the project. Instead it is an innovative way of looking at credentials that do not need to fall within existing accreditation structures (such as exams or coursework), they provide a method of demonstrating participation and show an on-going value in contributing to projects that don’t fall within traditional activity. They also can provide pathways to other opportunities or badges that are related,  pathways that participants may not have realised were possible previously and gives them the opportunity to continue to make and produce digital content beyond the Digital Commonwealth project.

Developing Open Badges in the context of formal resources:

The formal delivery of the Digital Commonwealth training sessions in audio, video, blogging and social media will require a blended approach, incorporating a resource document or workbook, exercises to be included as part of the workshop and as directed activity between sessions and an online space to display content and badges that are related to the participant’s existing online profiles, the Digital Commonwealth online infrastructure and the public social media channels that the content will be hosted on.

The formal resources can consist of a booklet and/or .pdf file which takes the trainers and the learners through the process of the Digital Commonwealth digital storytelling training scheme. The first section of the book will outline the project, the principles and themes that will be explored and the Open badges that can be earned from the project. This will emphasis the granular and transferable elements of the project, where badges can be completed based on individuals providing unique evidence through the online platforms, rather than through standardised exams or coursework. This means that those who participate can build and earn their own badges based on their interest and speciality, as well as allowing for teachers and trainers to contribute to the badgemaker process by suggesting relevant additions that may be relevant to their group or a particular focus that they think that the earners may be interested in learning.

The resource, a ‘Handbook for Digital Storytelling’, will provide guidelines and learning outcomes related to the delivery of the four media elements of the project; audio, video, blogging and social media. Each set of guidelines and learning outcomes will correspond to each week of delivery and will provide a context related to the digital tool, how it can be used, best practice case studies, exercises for the classroom and exercises that can be worked on between each workshop and uploaded to the school’s existing webspace, a dedicated space for each school or community media cluster and shared by the Digital Commonwealth team on social media.

Co-production of Badge Design: “Design the badge you wish to earn.”

A badge block will be awarded for each of the elements required by the formal resources, and a badge will be completed when a set of 4-6 elements have been completed. The badges can be customised by the participants, with an agreed baseline learning, such as acknowledgement of principles, developing a project relating to the Commonwealth themes or developing basic skills in audio, video, blogging and social media – and the addition of elements which might focus specifically on the participant’s interest, which could be podcasting, documentary, writing skills or citizen journalism. These elements can all be developed separately to the badges, and are hosted externally from the printed booklet, to allow for the learner to build on initial skills and to develop a speciality within the project. If a trainer or teacher wishes to develop a block in addition to those produced by the Digital Commonwealth team (or project partners), these can be hosted and shared within this infrastructure, allowing for the other groups who are participating in the project to earn blocks from other areas, opening up the potential to share resources between each local authority, community media cluster and external activity.

Infrastructure and Resources recommendations:

In order to ensure that Open Badges can provide a credential framework for developing a quality product that has the DCW project principles and themes embedded throughout, the DCW team needs to begin to develop an educational resource pack (for trainers, teachers and pupils) that details each of the taught elements of the training sessions.

This should include an overview of the project, the rationale for digital literacies, an introduction to Open Badges, a section for each of the workshops relevant to the media technology being taught, links to further resources and details of how to access the online areas of the project. This will include a blog site for each of the schools cluster and a representative cluster page for the community media areas in order to map the activity across Scotland. This will host the blog posts, the social media accounts and the badges earned for each of the project hubs. The activities and exercises that are prepared for both the sessions and the directed study will link to an online area to the available badge blocks for each media, allowing for customisation of each DCW badge available. The participant will select the block they want to earn, work to provide evidence of that block and share it on their hub when completed.

The open badges infrastructure allow for completed badges to be hosted on a number of platforms. These include WordPress (the content management system that the Digital Commonwealth site is designed on), Moodle, Blackboard and Mozilla’s own tool, the Mozilla Backpack. This allows for the badges to be displayed in a way which is transferable across virtual learning environments, project and school-related blogging platforms and participant’s own websites.

Further Reading:

The DigiLit Leicester Project: JISC funded city-wide project to evaluate digital literacies in schools:

The Badges Design Principles Documentation Project:

The DigitalMe OpenBadges Design Canvas:

Design Principles for assessing learning with Digital Badges:

Token slides shot.

Presentation: CILIPS 2013 Annual Conference: Social Media for Community Engagement

After their annual gathering in October 2012, I was invited to return and speak to delegates at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Scotland (CILIPS) Annual Conference in Dundee on the 3rd and 4th of June. I’ve had a good working relationship with CILIPS over the last year, working closely (and enjoying cakes.. whilst plotting hard of course) with Cathy, their director – doing several social media workshops for them at events and taking over some of the web work in the office before they hired their new web and policy officer, Sean McNamara.


Dundee at 5am from my hotel room.

This time I was asked to speak to a larger audience at their annual conference (I expected a workshop of 20 odd in October, and ended up with standing room only and librarians sitting crossed legged at my feet :-) ) and to focus on practical case studies where I have used social media for elements of community engagement – such as citizen journalism projects, peer-to-peer support and digital inclusion projects.


Speaking in the ‘big room’.

It was the largest room I’ve presented to in a very long time, certainly since I took time out from my PhD, so it was good to get flung back into the deep-end in terms of presenting work to larger audiences. It was also good to be able to use the presentation as an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between library and information services and the projects I’ve been working on in the last year since #citizenrelay.

As I’ve done something around social media before, I was keen not only to review some of the underlying principles that I had discussed previously in the libraries conference context – but also to ensure that I had time to talk about some of the living, breathing examples that were happening at the moment. I’m often introduced as the person who is going to talk about the new fangle technologies, like social media and the internet is a new thing that needs to be considered – which is ironic really when the first group of people I followed when I started using twitter “properly” in 2008 (been a user since Jan 2007) were librarians.

Similarly, pretty much all of the speakers at this year’s event had online and social media activity embedded as part of what they were talking about, rather than an optional extra tacked on at the end. Therefore, I took time to emphasis the evolution of the online environment and the empheral nature of online services as tools become more ubiquitous, get bought up, chewed up and re-appropriated. We just need to think about the fact that O’Reilly’s (often over-used) definition of “Web 2.0″ is approaching its 10th anniversary!

With reference to social media surgeries, citizen journalism, community new channels and projects such as Our Digital Planet, I emphasised that some of the best projects that incorporate the use of social media as those which focus on developing a critical practice around the tools, especially when they challenge existing ways of working and that often social media as a community engagement tool tends to amplify existing activity – be in an event, an organisation or peer-to-peer learning activity – rather than starting from scratch, or isolating it within a vacuum.

I’ve embedded the prezi from the presentation below for more information:

Screen Shot 2012-04-06 at 16.35.12

Presentation: Stories and Streams at the University of the West of Scotland Learning & Teaching Conference.

Stories and Streams was a project that I have blogged a lot about last semester whilst at Birmingham City University, where I have taught new media theory, alternative media and web production for the last 3 years. We (Jon Hickman, Paul Bradshaw and myself) were funded by the centre of excellent in learning and teaching within BCU to evaluate and transform the pedagogy of teaching media practice modules (such as online journalism, alternative media and web production) and to develop modules that reflect on the nature of the topic, rather than replicating traditional learning structures of classrooms, lectures and workshops. We also managed to hire some student research assistants to blog and capture the classroom activity. That’s the bit I particularly like.

Here is a (nitty gritty urban) video of me chatting about the project with David McGillivray:

Last week I was drafted in to the University of the West of Scotland Annual Learning and Teaching Conference to talk about this project. It has already toured to Winchester University’s Exploring Collaborative Approaches in Media Studies event in April with more outputs to be produced in the coming months for the Higher Education Academy and Media Education publications. Already, we are plotting the next year’s activity, where I am now living in Glasgow (and not able to work in Birmingham anymore) so we are giving up my teaching fee to be managed and spent by the students. Because as they say, students are customers and they obviously know more about what they think they need to know about media practice than me right?

I jest.

but I think it is important to think about what is going to happen in September with the fee regime changing and we are talking serious money/debt to do a degree. And the purpose and point of a university in this space. And all of that in the context of Scottish HE as well now. More to follow.

More on Stories and Streams:

Slides from UWS.
Link to project website
Audioboo with Cameron King about the presentation at UWS

Media2012 West Midlands, 29th-30th June (event born from Luke Seager (a student on the program) assessment brief)


Reflection: Education for the crisis? Notes from #e4c, 29th March

This blog post has been burning in my head since last week, feeling (rightly so) equally troubled, inspired and generally itchy about the whole subject area so excuse me if I get all ramble-y in places, I’m still working this out in my own head.

Last week I was invited along (with around 40 others) to be part of a discussion group that was looking at education for the crisis. There were some people there who are good friends, people who I had never met but been following for twitter (in some cases, for years), some who I had came across at events and others who I had never met. They ranged from academics, activists and artists (which always seems to go well together) and aimed to open up chatter around particular topics related to technology, economics, social issues and sustainability in education.


The format was designed not to see if we could provide solutions, but instead to simply talk in a capacity that might often not happen in our existing environments. There were a few ice breakers (where I found out that I was the only Scottish person in the room) and many break out sessions which started as discussions around particular pre-defined topics and then around personal suggestions from members of the group. The final session was focused on action, that is, things that were already happening, could happen or should happen after we left the room.


I’ve been to and followed online a few events of this theme over the last 2 years, mainly as a curious observer, and mostly around pre-occupy education-related activities and more recently, anti-Olympic meets and reactions to changes in HE policy in England.

The link between higher education and, for now, the forthcoming Olympic Games have been a constant for me throughout my PhD, perhaps because it is so close to me in terms of lifestyle, research and online discussions – or just general political context of the UK in 2012, the use of the games as a political tool (or a societal shock doctrine in terms of using mega events implement policy etc) and the almost exact repetition of similar news stories and media themes ahead of the last Olympic Games in Vancouver and the same before that in Beijing in 2008. It is difficult to predict what the impact of direct action might be against the forces of the biggest PR machines in the world.


I’ve thought long and hard about my role in fighting/challenging/resisting/opposing the current changes in higher eduction, and more, recently, if I even want to, at least in this way. Not that I am saying I agree with what might happen, but I’m finding myself increasingly intimidated by being in rooms with people who have read more critical theory than others, speak about wanting change, then speaking in a language that turns off supporters (like myself – and I’ve done 3.5 years of a PhD!), let alone reaches out to the people they articulate they want to help – young people predominantly. Very rarely have I seen young people in these spaces, and when I do, they are kept elsewhere whilst the ‘adults’ are speaking. And often being the youngest in the room, at a ripe old age of 27, I feel like I have more in common and therefore, more to say, to the teenagers outside, fiddling with their ipods, than the rest of the group discussing the future. I’ve often walked out of ‘open spaces’ because they make me feel more claustrophobic, drained in fact, than ever, despite finding the subject areas discussed interesting and valuable and entirely appropriate.

Citizen Media in this space.

From spending time working with community media groups such as Citizens Eye, which is grounded heavily in social support and community engagement (such as the work of WotBox Consultancies in schools and the array of news agencies that cover widely personal politics of individuals and brings them together across Leicestershire) as before the actual act of producing media, I’ve learned that one of the best use of energy that I can give is to work in these spaces, with the people who make it feel so rewarding.

The wider networks of citizen media makers that I’ve encountered through these projects (in the UK and further afield) leave me feeling energised and like we can use forward and achieve something, whatever that something is, if something if just waking up in the morning and not wanting to spend it hiding under the covers. Of course, these experiences on their own are not the wider solutions, or even the processes for working towards an ‘alternative’ discourse (that we can somehow own) about how we think about our planet, but in someway, neither is through imposing a new phrase regime to the same old problems.

I’m struggling here. I know, deep down, I am a more useful, passionate person when I go and stand next to somebody who is doing things that gets my gears going. I’m not interested in dominating the agenda at meetings, or to be part of a committee, or trying to force people to think the same as me or the group I have attached myself to. I prefer, and I keep reminding myself this, to take the best bits of what I observe and bring it back into the spaces where so feel like I can actually do something, rather than speak about doing it. Sometimes this works, like teaching and research, and sometimes it doesn’t, in the ways I constantly have to stretch my eyes open with matchsticks and force myself to be places because I know it will be important in the longer run.


Anyway, eduction for the crisis really did confirm for me where I need to be on the scale, and it is out and about doing and carrying on doing stuff, and not worrying too much about the current definition of what things are or might be. It was nice, as an academic like person, to be around others who were doing amazing cross overs between art and media production (if they are one and the same) with political agendas in full scope. Challenging difficult areas and putting young people at the heart of the discussion. Not, as one participant put it, seeing young people as an emerging community that needs to be changed or transformed in understand what it is that might happen in the future. Instead working, in what ever way, to help them feel empowered to challenge that dominant idea that young people need to be schooled to think a different way, either through the system as it stands, or through some alternative system that reflects the politics of ‘the left.’

We do that through citizen media, and currently, reclamation of the olympic games as a context and a reason, but others will definitely have other methods and reasons that work for them. It doesn’t have a grand alternative narrative that can replace the current one(s), but for some people who chose to engage, it’s those tiny little stories that are worth the while. Just like the way that I type this blog post, saying what I wish I could have articulated on the day but struggled to for whatever reason, it might not seem big and important and save the planet in the end, but it’s a platform in a media saturated world that allows one to make sense of it on their own terms. For some, that is an unbelievably massive thing and that is probably what I could bring and emphasis if there is to be further discussions and meet ups of this network.


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 – 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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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.