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#DigitalAngus – Citizen Journalism and the Commonwealth Games

Last Saturday, I awoke at a time where most of Glasgow was going to sleep (5am!) to catch the first train to Dundee to meet my lift to Forfar for the Digital Angus conference being organised by Third Sector Lab and Angus Council around the themes of social media for community engagement.

As Angus was one of our areas where we were missing a cluster application for the Digital Commonwealth Schools’ programme, this was also an opportunity to come up and actually speak to people face to face to try and see if we could find a set of schools who would be up for joining the process.

Although the Commonwealth Games are based in Glasgow this year, there are also sporting events happening across Scotland; for instance the diving is in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth pool and the shooting is in Carnoustie (which is part of Angus) and has a lot of activity planned for around Games time – from sporting, volunteering, baton relay and educational perspective. Following on from my talk at Digital Agile CLD in Stirling earlier in the week, the fact that Angus was going to be teaming with events and activity on the run up to and during the Commonwealth Games, this would be a great opportunity to catalyse on the power of major events to encourage people to try citizen journalism or digital storytelling for the first time.

Just to change the direction of this post slightly – when I started to write it this morning, I got a tweet from Andy Dickinson about my previous blog post and we had a wee chat about the differences between citizen journalism and digital storytelling in this event context – so I pulled in a few of the tweets below as they got me thinking as I finish editing this post.

Anyway, these tweets plus writing about #digitalangus got me thinking more about the distinctions between citizen journalism (so how we defined Citizen Relay as a project, how we recruited and the type of training that we offered prior to the torch relay) and Digital Storytelling – something is used frequently that can cover quite a lot but we’ve had to nail down quite quickly in terms of producing materials, resources and recruiting volunteers for the project – Blogging, Video, Audio and Social Media as the 4 technical areas, with thematic areas and the ability to embed a community of practice within the process.

The notion of moving from formally training people to become a ‘citizen journalist’ to capture and report on what you see and/or already understand to be -so a major event is great for this as there is a lot of activity and people to capture – to actually developing a course of learning that will provide a set of skills where somebody can not only report on and be a citizen journalist during a particularly that can be used critically and ask questions about things beyond the major event itself – it is a catalyst for signing up and getting involved but what and how they learn will differ in the sense that it should last longer than the major event itself & encourage them to join a ever evolving and growing community of practice online. Building capacity in this way is an attempt to help people connect digitally using a context beyond instrumental function of say, changing to welfare system or using library computers to make a CV.

Anyway, I got a little distracted there – and it is getting late.

My session was a very quick introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project, what we have done so far and what we intend to do into the next 6 months (way!). I then did some simple introduction to making audio and video on your smartphone, focussing on some of the learning we’ve had with working with the Media Trust’s Local 360 project, Citizen’s Eye and  my own involvement with the Wester Hailes Digital Sentinel.

I even got my lovely lift Alison to volunteer to be an interviewee :-)

I managed to stay for the rest of the event, which was great – there is a Storify from the day here and there is an excellent blog post from the final speaker Kenny McDonald that summarises the day. My slides are available here.


Workshop: Social Media for Community Engagement, Fife Rights Forum (2nd May)

Last week Third Sector Lab’s Ross McCulloch and I were invited through to Kirkcaldy to host some workshops at the Fife Rights Forum event.

About FRF:

Fife Rights Forum is the partnership organisation for Fife’s advice and rights groups. Responsible for co-ordinating the strategic development of advice, rights and financial inclusion work in Fife, Fife Rights Forum strives to support the delivery of high quality advice, rights and financial inclusion services to the people of Fife by:

Promoting co-operation, information-sharing and joint-working across the sector
Sharing and promoting good practice in advice provision
Supporting the design, delivery and review of advice, rights and financial inclusion services
Liaising with other partnerships and networks to promote integrated, quality service delivery
Encouraging community involvement and engagement through effective client/agency interactions

Fife Rights Forum has more than 300 members and holds quarterly meetings to network, exchange information and discuss topical issues within the advice, rights and financial inclusion sector. The work of the Forum is guided by the FRF Partnership and is supported by the FRF Co-ordinator.

Below is the slides and notes from the workshop that I delivered based on some of the case studies that I’ve been working on in my role as a Community Media Development Worker at WHALE Arts Agency in Wester Hailes and through ongoing research/projects at the University of the West of Scotland.

Social Media for Community Engagement:


The increasing ubiquitous nature of social media and growth of emerging mobile technologies such as smart phones and tablet computing make it increasingly easier for people to access and produce their own media content in the form of digital storytelling. Using a variety of case studies, this workshop will focus on the importance of immediacy (of content generation and upload), connectedness (physically and virtually), locality (as the origin of stories), empowerment (to become media makers) and participation (the ethos of accessibility) as features of successful community engagement initiatives using social media.

Three case studies – talked about the 3 recent projects that I’ve been working on.

  • #citizenrelay (networked)
  • #digitalsentinel (hyper-local)
  • #celebrateitscot (national)

Describe the technical changes, from community newspapers/forums to a more fluid, networked approach (hashtags to pull together content, rather than the curation of the website by one or two people)

one to many -> many to many


  • content generation and upload, using mobile tools that are already connected to the internet so that you can find the story, capture it and get it online and reduces the time spent actually doing the technical parts of the content generation.

(use examples of #citizenrelay and the digital sentinel – perhaps even show videos from citizen’s eye as an example of the whys and the whats.)

  • the important qualities is capturing interesting story telling in a non-evasive manner.
  • Demonstrate how easy it is to do by interviewing a person and getting them to upload content?


  • Talk about local identity and how themes cut across location and topic (bedroom tax)
    • Citizen journalism (explanation)
      • ‘cutting edge of mundane’
  • You do not need to feel that you have to comment on the ‘big’ stories that the mainstream media focus on. It is about story telling (show the video from the homeless demostration – but also of the services)


  • Taking control of the message and developing an understanding of how media is made.
  • Show the video of John talking about the digital sentinel and how empowered he feels about the process. Breaking down some basic techniques so they can get over the fear of how the technology works and focus more constructing it back together. We have a basic understanding of video and the written word.


  • Meeting spaces, places to come together to work together (offline just as important as the online to keep the momentum going)
  • storytelling, why you are doing something and what prompts a person to tell stories about their community? needs a motivation
  • Make it accessible, it does not need to be big and fancy.
  • needs to be a purpose for the community, recruitment can be a challenge if project isn’t communicated successfully. Although organic, need to have some leadership.

Seminar: Collaborative learning, collaborative journalism: 6th of June 2013 (Birmingham)

Whilst I was at Birmingham City University I was involved in a research project called “Stories and Streams” which explored ways in which to encounter challenges to media pedagogy and unpick critical ways of teaching media practice subjects such as journalism and alternative media within changing education contexts (read: dirty filthy tories)

The research team (Jon HickmanPaul Bradshaw and myself) produced several academic presentations and publication over the last year – as well as Paul carrying on the process into a second year and completing an e-book on teaching journalism using peer-to-peer learning approaches.

We were lucky to be funded through internal monies from BCU last year to pursue the research – and BCU recently gained some follow-on money  from the Higher Education Academy to work with us (David McGillivray and myself) at UWS to host a seminar along similar themes a year on, building further on university-led collaborative journalism projects in and outside the classroom and using the stories and stream approach to actually host the workshops within the seminar.

It is a free event and can be booked using the HEA’s booking form available for download here and returned to

Collaborative learning, collaborative journalism

  • Date: 6 Jun 2013
  • Start Time: 10:00 am
  • Location/venue: Birmingham School of Media, Birmingham City University, City North Campus Franchise Street Perry Barr Birmingham , England, B42 2SU

Journalism is no longer a privileged domain. As the barriers between audience and media worker have broken down, the role of the professional, paid, journalist has changed. What does this mean for teaching and learning methods? This seminar addresses the use of collaborative learning and the teaching of collaborative journalism.

Collaborative methods are being increasingly used within the news industry, from Paul Lewis’s investigative work at The Guardian to Neal Mann’s field reporting for Sky, the Farmers’ Weekly team’s coverage of foot and mouth, and Andy Carvin’s coverage of the Arab Spring at NPR. They are also used within alternative media to generate more extensive community coverage, for example during the 2012 London Olympic summer the #media2012 movement used the olympic lens to encourage new community media hubs, best demonstrated by the #citizenrelay project.

This seminar builds upon previous work undertaken by the Birmingham School of Media and the University of the West of Scotland into the uses of peer learning and collaborative learning as a pedagocial approach to the teaching of collaborative journalism within professional and community media contexts.

As a part of this work we published an ebook resource for teaching collaborative journalism, using collaborative and peer learning as a central part of the pedagogic design. This resource offered journalism educators a model based on our own pilot project ‘stories & streams’. In this seminar three invited speakers will present talks on:

• collaborative journalism in a news industry context;

• collaborative journalism in a community media context;

• collaborative learning and teaching approaches – beyond journalism.

These talks are offered as an impetus for a collaborative afternoon session. During the working lunch delegates will suggest ideas for workshop streams that they will find valuable, and some will volunteer to facilitate learning sessions. In the afternoon a series of parallel streams will run based on the most popular topics. This format echoes the structure of the Stories & Streams methodology and so the exercise in itself informs the theme of the day.

It is hoped that this seminar will be a platform for further development of ideas and pedagogic experimentation and research.


Panel discussion: Birmingham School of Media Production Event (1st February, 2012)

Last week I was invited to speak on an industry panel at the launch of the Birmingham School of Media production event at Fazeley Studios, Digbeth.

The Production Event is a first year module in the BA Media and Communication degree at The Birmingham School of Media within Birmingham City University. As part of their studies all first year media students (around 180 of them) will be involved in organising a one day “event” which is based around a different theme each year. The idea is to give them an opportunity to practise the skills they have learned so far in as realistic a vocational environment as possible. Each year they have a different theme for the students to explore and the theme for 2012 will be “The 2012 London Olympiad” – allowing them to explore the alternative viewpoints of the games through the analysis of cultural events and impact, legacy and the cultural, political and social agendas at play, and fold them back into the event that they decide to deliver.

Alongside John Coster (@citizenseye) and Tina Barton (@somewhereto_EM) who I already work with quite closely in Leicester and through my research, we were also joined by Matt Lee from BBC West Midlands and Simon Flynn from Creative England, who presented on their own involvement with the Olympic Games.

I opened the event with an adapted version of the paper that I delivered at the International Olympic Academy in September, focusing on the complexity of the Olympic Games as a subject area and the tension between the mainstream narratives of the ‘movement’ and the impact that it has politically and socially on a community and a country. I also touched on the different types of media that are present during an olympiad and why this is important when considering an event during the run-up to games time, including their potential involvement with #media2012 West Midlands through their event.

My paper was followed on by presentations by Matt on the BBC’s involvement with local coverage in the area and John introducing citizen’s eye and their 2012 pledge. There were also interesting presentations about the film shorts cultural olympiad project and Tina’s (always engaging) somewhereto_ project, where she acts as the broker between 16-25 year olds and those who have empty and unused spaces, in order to encourage them to do something that they feel passionate about in those space.

The event itself will be in the 2nd week of May 2012 when the students will be producing newspapers, magazines or websites, television and radio programmes, photographic exhibitions, musical events etc – all focusing on issues around the 2012 London Olympiad. We will get to revisit the class in that time and see what they have came up with.


Presentation: What does a Citizen Journalist want?: Alternative Media and Activist Rhetoric in Cyberculture (#virtualfutures University of Warwick, 19th-20th June, 2011)

Last weekend saw the return of Virtual Futures, a cult conference at the University of Warwick that 15 years ago addressed some of the leading discussions in cyberculture and emerging technologies. I was honoured have a abstract accepted as part of the event, on a panel entitled “Socially Mediated Futures.” The first draft of the paper is on my PhD notebook (where I hope to expand some of these early ideas into some activities, rather than simply ‘research’ as part of the Third University) and the abstract and slides are below.


“One of the long standing debates about new media culture since the early 1990s has been whether it has disturbed the media hierarchy. This question has gathered renewed focus since the rise of social media. However, it is often answered so generically as to be near impossible to verify. Thus, various responses focus on media ownership, bandwidth, audience reach, or technological association.Instead, this paper focuses the debate on how citizen and social media functions as a vehicle for developing an alternative sphere through which the concepts of education, justice and media equality are problematized. It provides an overview of the opportunities that arise through participation within organized online networks which connect on the basis of shared, often conceptual ideas rather than location, occupation, or common leisure interests. In so doing, it highlights the tension between the institutionalized practices of mainstream media and the presumed autonomy of fragmented online spaces, arguing that these ephemeral activities and communities provide important, alternative narratives on contemporary culture. Yet, despite their subversive ideology, recognition from dominant media remains an objective of alternative media participation. This claim is evidenced by considering how people within online networks identify themselves and with each other and the ways in which they use media rhetoric to strengthen the authority of their position. In closing, this argument requires that future research into the transformative potential of digital culture must provide an understanding of who occupies these spaces of influence, the motivation to self- or co-produce media content and dominant narrative that is associated with discussion relating to alternative media contexts.”

Overall, the weekend was a real success, it was great to be around the energies of those key theorists/artists/practitioners that I’ve read and studied as part of my undergraduate, masters and PhD research – in particular how much has changed in 15 years, and how much has stayed the same.

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#Education (or what the University could learn from teh internetz) (Presentation @TeessideUni, 3rd March 2011)

I was invited by Derek Harding to speak at the University of Teesside last Thursday around the broad topic of my research and teaching practice. Based on the things that I’m up to at the moment, I decided to propose an argument around the basis of a hashtag learning environment (linking both my work on #media2012 and the 2nd Year alternative media module #mc539) and more recently discussions around open and co-operative education environment – partly through resistance to the cuts, partly through activities emerging through online environments, partly as a much needed reaction to outdated (and often unquestioned) rituals.

It was a useful exercise is trying to link up and synthesis some of the on-going activities which I’ve been part of, which may have not been joined together in the past. It has been quite difficult in the past to articulate my position on social media and education, partly because it is much easier to revert to the ‘technical’ person and/or the ‘pedagogical’ person and never really consider the subtle nature of what is actually happening.

I’ve recognised arguments which I encountered during my time at Leicester University (which sparked the need to hold the ‘uses and abuses‘ symposium) increasingly appear through discussion, which I myself have managed to work my way through, but there is always going to be at least some of the cycle reappear during difficult circumstances. This makes me think that some stuff that is considered ‘new’ isn’t really that new, it’s just not been taken up by the majority yet. Therefore, if you are going to sit on the periphery of institutions, then there might have to be a need to always have a standard set of answers/enquiries prepared in order to counter some of the more direct rejections of your more ‘creative’ notions of education. I could be talking the use of mobile devices, adapting and changing the space in which people learn, encouraging additional backchannels (instead of just a private VLE) or provoking discussions outside of the general curriculum (as in, University: it’s not all about assignments). At the same time, there is a need and desire to formalise experiences through education, which is why I’m glad I am taking part in a PGCE in Higher Education – in the future, it wouldn’t surprise me that this PGCE is considered more important than however many years of teaching I have under my belt.

This is a box that is ticked to make others feel comfortable about your process and ability. This is fine and I accept this – what I don’t accept is the encouragement of standardisation, and the limited stretch that is available to try new things. Luckily, I am in a position where I can take what is taught on the PGCE and adapt it to suit my own environment. There is a lot of valuable learning about teaching techniques and being able to put together class plans and module structures. Nevertheless, what I don’t agree with is the acceptance of what is being taught – it is almost ironic that the link between what is done through theory and what is actualised through practice is disrupted. The way in which the language of historic education theory is picked up and used casually when describing other people is a bit weird for me – sure, it is helpful to be able to recognise different people by certain characteristics, but I would expect more from even my students about critiquing such a blase approach to dealing with people. Therefore, I think what my issue is that it is all very well to have a course which touches on these topics – it’s not so great it feel like a indoctrination into a specific language with little negotiation.

Returning to the idea of using new education models or techniques, I’m not sure where the space is to actually integrate it into the discussions. I don’t know how helpful it is for one person who is barely on the payroll to bang their head off a wall about it – however – there is more than a hint that people are interested in trying new things and upgrading notions of learning practice. It’s obvious that it’s not a total realm of doom and gloom, perhaps the only thing stopping people to try stuff is this feeling of being the only one doing it. Furthermore, there a million factors which make sticking with the regular programming a much better route to follow (for one, the IT and campus facilities are geared for that world they’ve always knew).

At my own University, we are witnessing the uptake of twitter classroom back channels and the use of posterous for collaborative discussion about learning and teaching best practice. It sounds straight forward and pretty low on the radar, but for me, somebody who’s been around that University since 2002, it is totally transforming the ways in which we think about our school and our campuses. These little changes to the way others see themselves and where they link with the school are encouraging exciting things which reach beyond the ‘usual suspects’ (as in all the internet people together) I can only see as this network stretches into other colleague’s networks that the discussions with target, fragment and become normalised – something a bit like how twitter becomes part of both your vocabulary and your everyday activities.