5 Lessons I learned from teaching Digital Literacies in Scottish Schools

Through my role as project coordinator for the Digital Commonwealth, I’ve had to spend a lot of time this year behind my laptop, coordinating, making sure that the right people are in the right location learning the right things from the right people.

Working alongside the project’s education coordinator Alison McCandlish, the project developed a Scotland wide digital literacy programme that was to be delivered across all local authorities, to transition learners between p6, p7, s1 and s2 level – as well as a community media and creative voices element for adult learners to explore digital technology through creative practice.

That was the vision anyway – those who work in education, local government, digital, community learning, literacy training will understand that experiences when working across different contexts, sectors, authorities will vary tremendously, but when it works and factors comes together then it can be incredibly rewarding for those taking part.

Although my role has been mainly project management, recruitment and advocacy, due to the sheer scale off project like this, I actually managed to get out and deliver some of our sessions as a trainer in a couple of local authorities. Meaning that I would actually have to experience using the resources we had developed, tested and discussed in the office in an actual real life classroom with real life learners. As well as getting the chance to teach young people, rather than adults – a good opportunity to learn some new tricks in classroom management.

No pressure eh?

Anyway (being an Ayrshire lass) when I was offered Rothesay Primary on the Isle of Bute as my first school to deliver training to, I was on that 8am ferry as fast as a commonwealth games related athletic pun. I got to deliver 2 sessions to the primary 7s on blogging and audio recording.

Post games, I’ve been working with Our Lady of the Missions Primary down the road in Giffnock – and both these experiences made me think that I should write up some quick reflections on delivering digital literacy training in schools – from the chalkface, as they say.

So here we go, 5 lessons from my experience as a frontline trainer on the project…

1) Communicating Expectations

Managing expectations of all the people involved, the learners, the teacher, the trainer and the overall aims of the specific project that the workshops were addressing is probably the most important factor of ensuring the that the workshop and the contents produced at the workshops were a success.

As the workshops each focused on a different element of digital storytelling (blogging, audio, video and social media) each week had to have a distinct flavour, but at the same time had to work towards a final “product” that had hopefully been defined by the school in their application to take part in the project.

“Digital” can mean all things to all folk, so one person’s expectation of a blogging 101 session could vary vastly from producing content, web development or even building websites from scratch. How you do it, well, that could vary, but if you don’t have anything to talk about it is going to be difficult to write – no matter what technology you use. Trying to write a blog post from scratch is no different from trying to start an essay, write an email or begin a novel.

That why our commonwealth themes were important, they tied things together, they allowed us to explore ideas conceptually before having an attempt at writing down experiences. A blank page is scary no matter how scary you are, so much of the workshop was about getting people to think about what is possible, not just the art of sitting on a computer learning a new tool for word publishing.

We tried to avoid that at all costs, but that where expectations come in – I learned that you need to be super clear about the purpose of the workshop, the role of the technology in sessions (ie we will be doing things that are not on computers, in fact practice is more important than the tech you are using) and gaining access to it.

Which takes me to my second lesson…

2) Technology

When we began this project in October last year, a few people asked us at the launch event if we would be giving away tech to those participating. Judging by the range of equipment that the schools and community groups we were working with already had, many projects do come with a capital spend for technology for the activity, often leaving behind the legacy of some kit to carry on using later.

The problem is that this can often be a block in continuation of digital literacy projects. If we focus too much on the kit that we desire, without thinking about why we desire it, there is every chance that when a project concludes, that kit will sit at the back of the cupboard unused – with nobody around to take responsibility for its advocacy.

The ethos of our project was to encourage people to use what they already have. This is great in theory – as it allows for the groups in questions to conduct a mini-tech audit and activity reflect on what they have, dig it out and try using it again – BUT – it does make it challenging when delivering consistency.

Every local authority we visited had different set of tools to work with – when I went to Rothesay, I was greeted to a roomful of primary 7s who each had a wifi enabled laptop in front of them – where as in other schools, we did a fantastic job at planning blog posts using mini whiteboards, paper and pens and easispeak recorders – even if we couldn’t access certain social media sites. It just depended on what the school had access to, how the comfortable the teachers felt using the equipment and how much access to websites they had in the classroom.

Which takes me to my next part…

3) Flexibility

Delivering workshops of this nature, as an external project – across multiple local authority areas – is going to be challenging at the best of times, however, the most important factor of delivery was the ability to be flexible and be open to work collectively with the teacher(s) to ensure that the content that the learners make can actually happen.

We’ve all been there -walked into a room with a workshop plan, ready to take on a well prepared 3 hour session to a roomful of eager participants – only to find out that the entire internet is blocked and the projector doesn’t work. It’s not the end of the world.

For me, the heart of the Digital Commonwealth project was in teaching skills that allow to make your engagement with tech better. We prepared exercises in interview skills, all which can be done without a single piece of technology – we developed ‘paper tweets’ using post-it notes that allowed for the learners to talk about social media without having to be all over social media and developed scripts and storyboards for film and audio production. Flexibility was key – and having 4 sessions to develop a product meant that we could work closely with the teachers to ensure that we could find a solution around some of the more sticky technical challenges.

Which relies heavily on point number 4…

4) Relationships

The success in the workshops was all in the planning and communications with those involved. In some cases there were nearly 5-6 people involved in getting the workshops up and running in each area; local authority people, teachers, head teachers, cultural leads, legacy people. This involves a lot of phone-calls, emails and multiple cups of tea. What we must remember is that what we are developing and piloting here is new ways to understanding digital literacy in this context. When I started this job, it was a lot to get my head round in terms of communicating it to key stakeholders and participants – and now we are 2 months post games, it can become too easy to rest on hindsight, it was a long slog to convince people to work with us, but those who did, did so with great enthusiasm. Relationships are such an important factor – and I certainly hope that over the coming months that we continue to build on these connections to build and improve strategies around being able to teach digital literacies in these varying contexts.


5) Empowerment (through demystifying risk)

This is possibly my most radical learning outcome from my experience as a trainer. Equipping and supporting those on the frontline with the language required to challenge and shape some of the existing practices associated with digital media in the classroom. I’m an ‘outsider’, I exist on the fringes of a lot of different things. I’m not a teacher – my role was to deliver this project, but my ‘outsiderness’ allows me to met with many people, share best practice, recommend techniques and strategies for overcoming blocks, matching up people across conventional work networks and be able to share this with the people I encounter.

That’s why I’m writing this blog post – I wanted to share these thoughts with you. Pass it on, add to it, but most importantly continue the dialogue around digital literacies. Like most things in the last few weeks, the more we talk to each other about these challenges and opportunities, the more confident other people feel about telling their stories within this context – and the more risk can be demystified.

With this in mind, does anybody have anything they wish to add or feel like I missed?

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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:

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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:

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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)

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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.

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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 – 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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