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Teaching as Protest (plus additional preample)

Preample

From my last post on building an open course for #media2012, I’ve had a few really interesting conversations with people about the ways in which I go about pulling together something like this. I think this is resulted in me thinking about my role as a researcher, my role as a teacher, my role as a coordinator and my role as the “angry activist” – I am all this but not to everyone. I am going to have to be clear with each role that I play in this discussion – as although things can cross over quite substancially, there are parts where I need to be reflective (is that right word?) to what my position is and the responsibility of the influence I might play.

For example, I am never been a member of a political party (and probably never will be)- and struggle to feel part of an institution, always trying to remain on the edge of many discussions, avoiding being trapped in the centre of one. I think the PhD process is already helping me come to terms with this (because things don’t need to be granular) and keeping myself at distance from locative identities (such as being ‘from a place’ or working at a specific organisation – something I find myself having to justify more when I am back in Scotland for instance) has gifted me the chance to work through things at a very unusual position as a PhD student. Notably, when I was at Leicester, the PhD was this process that required me to live near-by, work in an office with other PhDs and communicate research through seminar and/or paperwork – much of this in isolation from the department and communication with supervisor relied on shared dates where the physical face to face is required of both of us. This is not unique to Leicester (it is probably expected at most institutions, including UWS) but the decision to move campus and work fulltime, at a distance, with a University and supervisor I already knew, has opened up all these questions about what the experience of PhD should really be. Judging on the emails that I get from the institution (such as refusal to acknowledge my gmail account and the requirement to print, sign and post physical documents rather than simply accepting a electronic response) and the communication I have had with those students who do work on campus (some of which asking me if ‘academia’ approves of what I do??) it really makes me think about the future of what a PhD might entail. Certainly, I am no average research student – going by recent history, I really shouldn’t have made it here (and have been told that I don’t ‘belong’ in academia in past), and it has been a battle of my wit to convince myself that I should. But there more I think about it, the more I believe that the space in which I can do what I do has been so very precious – something that they can’t take away from me (the ability to spend time working on something entirely of your own, a self-fulfilling trajectory – but also can be of real value to the society you are explosed to) I don’t do this because I’m after the glory of having let another qualification or being an aqua song- I am doing it because right now, I couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else.

This is why I am scared for the future of the University – I was a dreadful student (I am also a dreadful “employee”), if it wasn’t for universities like UWS, I would have not found my escape route out of my own angst about the world, found a way to articulate it and explore ideas beyond my immediate location (because, really, it is ideal to just stay put with your school friends and neighbours – and if you don’t like it then you are nothing but a rabble rouser)- but at the same time, I am hopeful and excited about what we can achieve in this reawakening – whilst they are looking one way, or perhaps burying their heads in the sand – we can go and something with it.

So..

I’m going to split this blog post up into four, firstly focussing on the act of teaching as protest. (And it might be a bit waffley – so bare with me!)

What do we need to do?

In terms of my own research, I see real synergy between what the recent student occupations and what I think a citizen media network for the London games could achieve. I mean, we could be all ‘Olympic values” about it – most of which are lovely words about humanity, respect and dignity (a breeze for the PR dream city machine) and I guess, through social media and a professional interface, we could generate a national spectacle (but ‘citizen-led’) which interesting symbols, associations and use the power of the (now) well oiled communication network (with infleuncial nodes) that the Internet has already provenly facilitated in the past (I could point out specific examples but then I would be taking things off tangent) – an obvious mechanism would be use the frame of resistance to provoke discussion, or to generate an obvious “alternative” narrative – this was done in Vancouver quite successfully, where the notion of ‘the alternative’ was wrapped up with the emerging power of social media. Different activism groups (with different and sometimes conflicting messages) stood together under the same banner in order to protest against the Olympics (as a symbol of capitalism, as a force of community deconstruction, as a drain on the budget – it goes on) – if it was a success, it was unsure – but there was solidarity across groups for brief passings in time.

I think, however, there needs to be a real focus on the occupation of space and the physical action of doing so. Although the motivation to occupy space is different, there is much to be learned by how the occupation of Universities (and the non-occupation of some Universities – such as those that didn’t happen in Leicester, for instance – or BCU students joining University of Birmingham students because of the growing media attention around the great hall) came about, how they were critiqued and they connected/supported each other (and how the momentum gathered support online and off) – this is more than a carefully crafted media campaign, distruption or spectacle – but the act of using a context to pull together in the purest form. It’s not what happens online that matters, it is what it does to the lifes of the people involved and focus on the experience that they want to have. There is nobody really telling you what you can do here.

Teaching as protest

I can across this excellent post by PhD Student Guy Aitchison via Jamie Potter this morning, reflecting on the lessons learned from the UCL occupation and how they can help the movement progress. There were 4 points that rung true with me – but also have helped me articulate some further thoughts as teaching as form of protest (as in, the day job will be subjected to the commodification of the experience of education – and the expectations of those fast approaching this growing attitude are validated by the cycle that by doing/paying for a degree, they will get a well paid job at the end of it – and perhaps by raising the fees, will improve the quality/value of the degree but you have to be “really serious” to invest in that debt- therefore they already know what the benchmarks of what they need to know in terms of what they require a degree experience to be.) So what happens if you remove the commodity – by doing it anyway – the students who are there, are there for experience, not the commodification of the experience.

“Educate each other, disseminate skills.”

Guy believes that it is important that we must educate each other and disseminate skills – something I agree with profoundly. In the attempt to share my work with my peers,I have had PhD students bite off my hand in order to be ‘taught’ how to use social media as part of progression of their academic career. They want the step by step process of building, maintaining and projecting an academic career online – but still have expectations of it being delivered in a certain way. Of course, you could teach people how to do things step-by-step, formally, where you are the teacher and they are the students – a uniformed approach where by the end of it, they all have a collective idea of what their using social media should be. I have to deliver it in this way due to the expectations set by the University and those who signed up to the course – at the same time, I have to reduce my work into a managable chunks that be delivered to a general audience with their own set of experiences with the technology, purely descriptive – when really, the best way to do it is to just go and bloody do it. If you need to go on a course on the act of doing – then is it really worth exploring? It would probably make more sense to give them a project to do and to get on with it than it would be to attempt to lecture for 3 hours on generating “engagement” online. If you have a context worth fighting for/writing about (even if that context is just yourself!) then that’s half the battle.

So, if instead I share my skills (and learn from) people who have no expectations about what I can give them or what I can get from them, there is something more powerful happening there. By putting my thoughts in this space, for instance, there is hope that I can open dialogue with those who are interesting in furthering these conversations. This is the point where I would like to think more about how to reassess the education space/expectations.

“Keep it adventurous and creative.”

I recently went to a meeting with the Autonomous DMU group – which very much a meeting format – it wasn’t until after that I realised that we could have had a bit of impact if we gate crashed the DMU question time event in the other building. It felt a little bit like that we are conditioned to treat timeframes and spaces in such a way, so it is rude to not follow through with set plans and set expectations.

I love the University for Strategic Optimism and their hijacking of spaces such as Tesco and Lloyd TSB to give a public lecture. I was already brewing up ideas up ideas of holding seminar in the Walkers stadium about sport as a sin (but not yet) – The UfSO are already working towards “open” courses such as the forthcoming cultural studies and capitalism, where Goldsmiths are going to provide the space to bring on a semester long course on Marx’s Capital (Humanities is cheap lol) – there is also a call of papers to “Reimagine the University” – taking advantage of the collective resistance to the marketisation of Higher Education.

“The recent response to the marketisation of higher education has given a voice and a collective identity to a discontent stretching beyond funding constraints. It is now time to respond as well as create, looking for new action and dialogue for the future. We want to open up debate, not close it down.”

On the note of keeping in adventourous and creative, the Really Open University posted a really interesting post about the geographies of a kettle -

“The kettle of course seeks to divide the space of the city into spaces inside and outside the kettle and to isolate and manage disorder within a defined site in order to maintain it elsewhere. But what needs to be understood is that this spatial strategy of physical containment is also a media strategy which seeks to concentrate the spectacle of violent protest into a defined space precisely for the media. Thus the physical terrain of the kettled site is marshalled to produce violent spectacle for media consumption.

Partly the spectacle of action is important in terms of making the presence visible with the media – but it is currently, and will always be, in the hands of those in power – the act of protest, although very important, has potential to react against this predefined construct of the media. The post suggests ways in which to break down the expectations of ‘the mob’ and seperating movement (instead of a group of 10000 – 10 groups of 1000) in a clever, targetted way would do so – but so would be a clever way of taking on the media at its own game. This is what the ‘professionalism’ of a citizen media network could achieve – where education (such as how to break down media spectacles, to seek alternative sources and reject the mainstream media as nothing but a money making device – but perhaps in a way that is without my anger all over it ;)) where there are alternatives – and not only are there are alternatives, there are routes in which through knowing how these images and stories are constructed and told – as well as learning how to operate the tools requires to help rebuild “the alterative”, can also provide a social value to those involved. Again, a cataylst.

“Convince the wider student body.”

I think we not only have to convince the wider student body, but more the wider population – if only the issues that are emerging were just about the raise of tutition fees. It surprised me last night during #phdchat that there were postgraduate students were unsure about how the changes were going to affect them (some thought it was just an undergraduate issue.) I guess one solution would be to begin to consider a PhD in the same way MAs are being considered now – as a qualification that adds a bit of edge to your existing degree in order to help you get a job and be a better part of society. And if it is your money – as a self-funded route normally is – then what you choice to do as a PhD project does give you slightly more freedom that of those who are funded (I think that’s a myth at the moment – I’ve been both). But I think there is a major point being missed here – do we be progress down a route of academic research because we want to make loads of money? Do we even deserve an academic role at the end of our research journey? As far as I’m concerned, I need to be in this space – I need to be able to say these things in order to work things out. There are no right or wrong answers here.

Simply, there is a great issue ahead of us. There is a wider narrative being painted- those in education just now who are not convinced, are probably not going to think about education again until their kids need to go. They’ve got through the door before the shit really hits the fan (this was a general attitude when I was an undergraduate in Scotland – what with our free education and everythik, why should we protest against top up fees in England..) No really, we do need to care – and I’m glad there is an emergence of those who do. As I said previously, I have NO political party alliance – I will not buy a copy of the socialist times nor will turn down invites to meet with civil servants to talk about digital media policy – therefore I will try my best to remain open and respectful to anyone who behaves in the same manner. Thanks to the internet, I can find my like-minds – although, it’s difficult to find them any other way – so as Guy suggests there needs to be a level of facing outwards (that damn public engagement rhetoric that PhD students need to be thinking about – make you work accessible and on multiple levels and disiplines) Public talks, workshops and informal persuasion – much of which requires cracking stereotypes (some of which laid on by the media, some of which picked up generationally and/or as identity) This part will be hard, as already I feel this post is far too ‘academic’ for a general audience – but sometimes you need to be ‘academic’ and fluffy with things before you can untangle it further and beyond. Plus – I await being told that it is 2 days before xmas, why don’t you switch off and stop being so serious.

“Become a networked participant.”

I’m currently reading Joss Hand’s new book @ is for Activism – which is already stirring up much about the dicussions around online activism (a lovely xmas read) – there is also a good interview with Joss on New Left Project – I could ramble a lot about this (especially as my background is in New Media) but I think I’ve already touched on the importance of being a networked participant – and I think there is a wider debate to be had (where ironically, the value of the debate – therefore the digital part – comes from a meta space where you are using it to engage around.) I get my news and my judgement from my network – sometimes it brings me down, most of the time it keeps me afloat – and I find myself far more plugged in these days in order to avoid what is being said in the mainstream media. This can only continue – and I think by ending here, I can pick the next post up at the point of social media coordination and critiquing the discussion around the online environment.

What next?

Although I still don’t feel that I have reached a point where I am satisfied with this writing, I think it is a process in which by doing so, I can help myself unwrap that what I intend to do.

Posted via email from Jennifer Jones’ PhD Notebook

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Questions I use to summarise notes from a piece of literature #phdchat

This are the structure I use after I’ve read and made notes on a journal article (so after I’ve been through every page, noted themes, references of interest and copied down citations). Feel free to use – I can’t remember where I got it from originally!

(Included an example note from Beer, D. (2009) Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the Technological Unconscious. New Media and Society. Vol 11 (6). pp 982- 1002)What is the author trying to say?

Beer is suggesting that the development of Web 2.0 has sparked a wave of new media writers who assess the technology through anecdotes and experience-led discussion – relating to interactivity, participatory and collaborative visions of the future. Beer suggests that the dialogue and previous accounts of Web 2.0 (and other emerging technologies) should be filtered through existing literature in order to assess the historical and political implications of the technology. Furthermore, he suggests a prilimary framework – based on Lash’s “new new media ontology” – to apply to Web 2.0 discussion in order to facilitate deeper critique of the analysis.

How does the author say what they are trying to say?

The author keeps to a conceptual framework, referring to a range of authors whose work could be applied to the analysis of the developments within Web 2.0. He uses Lash’s work relating to post-hegemonic power as an example He maintains that any one of the authors could be used as an framework in this case. Furthermore, he suggests that this is only the start of something that requires much more research at this level of analysis.

Why is the author’s point important?

This point is important to a wider context as currently much Web 2.0 related research is done at superficial level – i.e. focusing on the product or the content created. To apply Beer’s framework and/or suggestions, would mean that the developments would be considered at a deeper level – in this case, thinking about the technological process, which has became invisible, rather than purely what is happening to the user online. Furthermore, Beer asks questions relating to the owners of the websites, the economics of the websites and how the software manages, organises and works with the personal data.

Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?
Yes… I have recently felt that Web 2.0 discussions have lacked critique and have been based on user opinions, experiences and self-proclaimed expertise of few. By applying critical theory of these analysis can allow for the construction of deeper research into the topic of web 2.0 and surrounding area.

How does this work connect with other work?

The work provides a brief literature review of key theorists to explore in relation to Web 2.0 developments in the context of culture shifts and politics of emerging technologies. There is scope to build on top of Beer’s framework and filter existing Web 2.0 discussion through it. He only suggests one way of doing it (via Lash) and even then, he states that it is only the start of thinking about Web 2.0 in this manner. It would be advised to return to this article at future points to reflect on the emerging tech discussions which have taken place.

Posted via email from Jennifer Jones’ PhD Notebook

Guest Workshop for @Stuart_Hepburn's Contemporary Screen Actors @UWSCreative (2nd Nov, 2010)

On Tuesday this week I was invited by Stuart Hepburn to speak to his 3rd year Contemporary Screen Acting class at UWS’s Ayr campus, about using the internet to help collaborate, promote and encourage creativity as part of their future assignment and careers. As a graduate of the school (and from Ayr originally), it was strange (but exciting) being back in the classroom, this time as a teacher rather than a student. 

The class became with a quick introduction to social web infrastructure (tracking the history from geocities to posterous), moving into reasons why it might be useful for those interested in becoming an actor to use the web as part of their career plans. Using case studies, such as Limmy.com, the discussion moved into some suggestions towards building multimedia content to promote themselves as individuals and for managing campaigns for future clients (part of their assignment of the course they need to build a notional concept where they work with real commercial clients in order to apply their acting to promotion artefacts.)

It was nice to see that from beginning the course five weeks ago, some who had never thought to use the web in this way where already uploading content to youtube and documenting their progression through the course – from this, we worked towards building each student a posterous blog as a front facing website in order to build their online presence. This exercise lasted about an hour and by the end of the session they had all managed to create, design and upload content to the web. 

We then decided to experiment with google documents in order to create collaborative documents for group work and preparing their assignments. This was one by creating one giant public document where they shared details on their new posterous blog and attempted to edit the same document at the same time. 

The benefits of using google documents as a class were three-fold. Firstly, they offered a free alternative to traditional word processing, which secondly, meant that whenever you want to access your files, they are stored online and available anywhere. Lastly, there was the potential to share and edit document between multiple users, making the idea of blackboard’s “behind a password” wiki collaboration a tad redundant (but I would say that).

By the end of the session, they had all set up blogs, posted to those blogs and worked with tools to help them collaborate as a group in the coming weeks. The next stage will involve mobile video editing and uploading material based on their earlier client ideas. As somebody who is not anywhere near an actress, it was really enlightening to approach my work from this angle. I genuinely look forward to seeing what they come up with in the coming weeks – especially now I’m following all their work online. It’s great to feel part of my University, even when I can’t always be around to take part in things.

More details of Stuart’s innovative course is here: http://www.uws.ac.uk/news/response-news.asp?id=1204 

Posted via email from Jennifer Jones’ PhD Notebook

Training Workshop "Academia 2.0" for UWS PhD Students (1st of November, 2010) – Details of future training sessions.

Earlier this week I was in Scotland to give two workshops at the University of the West of Scotland where I did my undergraduate (and now my PhD) degree. The first workshop was for PhD students as part of a series of training on social media delivered by myself and Ana Adi on a range of discussion around social media, teaching and research. The first session, “Academia 2.0″, really a broad introduction to social media and research, was designed to get PhD students to think about ways in which they can use free tools online to help investigate, promote and collaborate within different areas of their research practise.

The workshop was open to any level of PhD and from any department, which meant that there was a broad range across the disciplines from Chemistry, Business studies and Computer Science present at the session – with experience ranging from those who have never taken their laptop outside of the house right up to those who are building platforms of their own. The session began by reflecting on the historical context of social media, as well as making some predictions for the future that might be useful for PhD researchers. It then went on to show a number of ways in which the Internet can be used to compliment research and encourage collaboration through promoting work to wider audiences and networking with those from different disciplines – as well as demonstrating the different levels of engagement with tools (as in, you don’t need to jump straight into content making or adding people to social networks) There were also some case studies where social media can go wrong and where social media can be used within activities such as literature reviews or presentations. It concluded with a workshop exercise in order to encourage PhD students to begin their own blog to document their research online. This was a take away exercise on how to set up and write their first blog post on posterous.

Their were some initial questions which emerged around the use of social media as part of the PhD process, namely around the usefulness of trying new things outside traditional academic contexts – as well as the lack of critique around the subject, both of which could be expanded through further sessions which were more specifically based on academic rigour, rather than a training workshop. There was also a request for literature review specific workshops, where tools such as mendeley and cite-u-like can be introduced in more detail (in a similar format to existing endnote sessions) – the fact that these tools are not only free, but offer a new route to discovering related literature, as well as shaving time off citations, was a positive effect.

The next sessions will be by Ana on the 17th of November who will be looking at “Web 2.0 Research Tools” and “Social Media and the Classroom” more specifically. I will be holding a session on Amplifed Conferences and Events on the 9th of December.

Abstracts below:

 

Academia 2.0:

This 3 hour session will broadly explore the role of new media within academia from a research, teaching and promotional perspective. It will track the ongoing history of social online technologies, unpick the common myths associated with web 2.0 platforms and discuss the cycle of activity required in order to create and maintain an academic profile online. This workshop will provide you with an opportunity to brainstorm strategies surrounding the use of social media for promoting independent and group work.

This is recommended for all levels and is a trans-disciplinary activity, placing innovation and collaboration at the centre of the discussion. There will also be time dedicated to 1-2-1 clinics on specific technical tools for the final hour of the timetabled workshop.

Outcomes:
1. Provide a broad historical contexts of, and issues concerning, the development of new media in the context of academia.
2. Explore and examine the forms, methods of delivery, levels of engagement and technical specifics of emerging Internet technologies (such as blogging, content making and communication devices) for the purpose of a research career.
3. Work towards building strategies and exploring online tools for short, medium and long term profile management.

Bring your laptops and an open mind!

2. Social Media Tools for Research

This 3 (?) hour session will focus on how social media tools can be used to collect,  analyse and visualise data, whilst examining social routes to collaboration with other researcher – both in your field and between disciplines. It will debate the relevance of online data in the context of existing methodological approaches and how this new form can be used to supplement and transform existing results. There will be particular attention spent raising questions about ethics in the online world and how data can be protected and made sense of in a wider context.

Outcomes:
1. Provide an overview for tools (both free and paid for) currently available for online data collection, with a particular focus on how to assess and seek value in the ongoing emergence of these platforms.
2. Examine how online data can be used to support your existing research methods.
3. Explore online data collection in the context of existing methodologies – specifically looking at data protection, ethics and research context.

3. Social Media in the Classroom
This 3 (?) hour session will focus on two aspects: a)teaching about new media; b) teaching with new media to enhance students experience and ensure reach of learning outcomes. The first area will ask questions surrounding the practice of new media and explore whenever it should be integrated into courses, or to be taught as a separate module – using examples from business, communication and journalism studies. The second section will demonstrate tools and techniques that can be used to increase class participation, expand learning borders, increase student to student and student to lecturer interaction and methods to make information available beyond the classroom.

Outcomes:
1. Provide an overview of tools and techniques for teaching with social media through use of twitter, blogs, guest lectures and video streaming, collaborative platforms and personal learning environments (recording sessions, podcasts, screencasts)
2. Discussion around challenges, advantages and disadvantages of using new media in a university/education context
3. Explore case studies for developing social media policy for a classroom.

4. Amplified Events: Beyond the Academic Conference

This 3 hour session will focus on the realm of the academic conference – from the view point of an amplified participant, speaker and moving towards the process of organising an amplified event, where social media is used to increase online participation around the topic.) The workshop shall explore the concept of an event “back channel” using tools such as Smartphones, Twitter and CoveritLive. It will then move on to look at techniques for speakers to project their presentation beyond the conference room, using tools such as blogging, slide sharing and live-streaming video and audio. It will conclude by looking at considerations event organisers can explore when looking to facilitate an event using social media – from providing the tools to following up with archiving and research.

Outcomes:
1.Provide an overview of tools and techniques for using social media as a conference participant – focusing on the back-channel and mobile capturing.
2.Discussion around challenges, advantages and disadvantages of using social media within and beyond conference presentations
3. Explore case studies for developing social media policy around conference organising, before, during and after the event.

 

Presentations from the 1st of November:

Pa
rt 1:

Part 2:

Posted via email from Jennifer Jones’ PhD Notebook

Social Media Strategies: guest workshop at the BIAD, Birmingham (20th of July, 2010)

On the 20th of July, I was invited to host a workshop at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD) Research Summer School about using Social Media to promote research. As promised, I’m sticking the presentation online so that those who were there can get a little bit more information based on the discussions that were had during and after the session. 

The workshop’s abstract was as follows:
 
This 90 minute session will explore the use of social media tools for promoting creative practice. It will track the ongoing history of social online technologies, unpick the common myths associated with web 2.0 platforms and discuss the cycle of activity required in order to maintain a creative profile online. This workshop will provide you with an opportunity to brainstorm strategies surrounding the use of social media for promoting independent and group creative work.

 

 
Some useful links and further discussion:
 
Social Media for Research and Promotion
 
 
My PhD colleague Ana Adi, a PR and new media specialist, has many detailed resources about web 2.0 promoting, social media tools for research and data collection tools for social sciences and humanities research. These range from social timeline software for arranging historical texts to using social media in music promotion. A rich resource for exploring ways to integrate social media into your research practise. 
 
 
Some visuals which explains different tools and different statistics which relate to the growth of the social web. A nice way to look at some of the emerging discussions and challenges relating to social media.
 
Digital Britain
 
 
This relates to some of the questions that were asked about digital exclusion, inclusion and engagement (specifically the stats of users) – these are still very much for interpretation but it is worth looking into the work of the research centre interactive cultures within Birmingham’s Media School around the Digital Britain report and Digital Inclusion Plan
 
Twitterfalls (Pro and Cons)
 
http://pistachioconsulting.com/twitter-presentations/ (How to present while people are twittering)
(Some prelim research findings – with a lengthy bibliography – on twitter and conferences)
http://brodiesnotes.blogspot.com/2010/02/curated-posts-liveblogging-science.html (a fantastic curated list of pros and cons of twittering and using social media and conferences)
 
Social Media and Olympics
 
http://www.andymiah.net (My PhD Supervisor’s work)
http://www.andymiah.net/2010/07/17/media-blueprint-for-london-2012/ (Important reading – blueprint for Media 2012, a network of media hubs around the UK)
http://www.andfestival.org.uk/ (North West regional festival of new cinema and digital culture – working closely with the Media 2012 blueprint)
http://www.citizenseye.org (A Leicester citizen media hub – an excellent example of how local, citizen journalism has been taken up in my local area of Leicestershire – I will be working closely with them during the run up and during Games time)
 
http://www.creativetechnology.org (W2 Arts and Culture House – one of the case studies I used from Vancouver)
http://www.truenorthmediahouse.com (True North Media House – one of the case studies I used from Vancouver.)
 
For more up to date (or dynamic) information, I use delicious frequently to save and share interesting links – feel free to connect :-)
 
 
 
 
 

Posted via email from Jennifer Jones’s Posterous

The Depth of Digital Participation: Measuring the Unmeasurable, BCU: 19th July, 2010

On the 19th of July, Birmingham City University hosted a seminar on “Measuring the Unmeasurable” – a discussion led event to explore the meaning and the measurement of digital participation, focusing on the areas of reach, breadth and depth set out by the Digital Britain report. The event was targeted towards academics from broad “digital” media and cultural studies and policy makers, activists, community media workers and social media advisers.

Alongside presentations from Paul Watson (Director, Digital Economy Hub for Inclusion through the Digital Economy), Catherine Bunting (Director of Research, Arts Council England), Alison Preston (Senior Research Associate, Ofcom) there was also a panel discussion including Nick Booth (PodNosh) and Vishalakshi Roy (Senior Business Develop Manager, Audiences Central).

The afternoon session included a workshop breakout session which allowed participants to discuss the measurement of reach, breadth and depth further. This was a broad and open-ended session – which is reflected in the terminology around the digital participation plan itself. I was asked to facilitate the workshop on Depth, which is defined in the Digital Participation Plan were as follows:

Depth of use refers to using social networks and content creation and sharing, including user-generated content and self-publishing.

Depth of use will be monitored through levels of confidence, understanding of types of content, perceptions of personal benefits both economic and social, and knowledge of risks and how to mitigate them.

The Depth workshop turned out to be the most popular of the three terms (which makes for interesting discussion within its own right) – and as the session was so busy, it was quite difficult in the time allowed to have a focused discussion with larger numbers. Instead, the group of 30+ was split into smaller groups to discuss the group proposed issues of motivation, accessibility, funding and attendance.

After 20-30 minutes of discussion, groups were asked to then write down on post it notes measurement of successes and measurement of challenges relating to their chosen topic. Unsurprisingly, there were few measurements of successes – with much of the focus being made towards the challenges of measuring the depth of digital participation through solely looking at user generated content and social networking.

As there was so much to be discussed, in a rather short period of time, what can be said is that there is a definite pull towards “depth” research. I’d associated this particular type of research as being majorly qualitative (or as one speaker referred to as being “informal” research) where much of the questions and challenges posed were incapable of being answered using statistics or survey data. We were referring to case studies relating to our own separate industries, with many cross overs between personal reflections and conversations with those who are affected with the issues suggested. From this, I personally enjoyed seeing the indirect request for more qualitative research (but I am interested in ethnographic practice (;) – and the links between being innovative with funds and resources to avoid being sucked in the box ticking trap. The larger goal of getting different sectors to talk and work together was reinforced across the group.

What I did promise was to share the notes and scribbles from the session so that those who attended the depth session could unpick my handwriting and use it within their own reflections. I’ve added them below as part of a flickr slideshow for this purpose:

More to follow…