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Innovation award for @HousingAccess

 

Last July, I delivered 2 days of training for DPHS (Fife) (Disabled Persons Housing Service) in social media, digital storytelling and mobile film making with staff and board members. This morning I found out that they have won an innovation award from Voluntary Action Fife for their Housing 55+ Mentoring programme – and have been blogging, tweeting and making videos since. Well done guys! :-)

Here are the slides that I used for the first part of the training, available on Prezi.

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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.

Finally…

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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Workshop: 6 things learned during social media training for Renfrewshire Council

Over the last six months, Gayle McPherson and I have been doing some work with Renfrewshire Council (the local authority that our campus of the University of West of Scotland sits within) around social media for event evaluation and have recently concluded introductory training for council employees. It was delivered as part of a larger evaluation report of the Paisley Spree Festival which ran in October 2012 (and is ongoing). The prezi above is what we used for the training sessions that happened at the end of March, with a follow on session this week.

I’ve done a few social media training sessions now which cross between higher education, 3rd sector, libraries and information management now but this is my first that has encountered directly the challenges and opportunities that local government employees face when using social media within their day to day work practice. Most of my experiences working with local authorities has been from the fringe, through working with librarians, some of the #localgov chat on twitter and engagement through community journalism projects.

The results from the evaluation of the Spree will be available once published, however I wanted to write a quick blog post reflecting on some of the key points that emerged during the sessions that we delivered to Renfrewshire employees.

Thinking about social media and local authorities:

Support and empower “digital champions”: I know that expression sounds totally lame (cringing as type) but bare with me. Having worked on a few projects now that have perhaps included volunteers from other sectors (such as the library or public services), through chatting and sharing similar stories, what emerges are tales of the struggle to convince their managers that social media or indeed, ‘trying something new using the internet’ is a good thing for their role/department/organisation.

Many success stories within an organisation have emerged when people have taken initiative to do their own thing, often eating into time outside of working hours, often bending the rules, often using their own devices and generally spending time experimenting with alternative ways of doing the same task more effectively. Especially if there are firewalls in place preventing the use of social media on the premises.

These are the people that should be supported (and therefore empowered) to become ‘champions’ within the organisation (who can then go on and support others ‘in-house’) rather expecting an entire workforce to want to take up this ‘social media’ thing in one go. This can often be met with criticism and turns the process from an exciting one to something that that is seen as a chore or an additional task onto top of already busy work schedules. It is much better to capitalise on enthusiasm and let it spread rather than shutting it down dead out of fear (rather than the managing) of risk. This is because it…

The Internet cannot be ignored: This should be an obvious one – but even in 2013, increasingly hearing more stories about the layers of reporting that is required before an employee is allowed to set up social media accounts for the department or event they are organising or managing – then there is still every chance that particular services are not allowed to be used, even thought there is evidence of a core audience of service users present on them. I’m not saying that controlling the message is necessary a bad thing, but as the information flow only increases, allowing for decentralisation across departments (or even to an individual level) means that the central communication team are much more likely to be provided with up to date information “from the horses mouth” and the message can spread and be more targeted to appropriate networks. It’s ok to have multiple accounts for different services, that’s the beautiful of the platform – and these can be monitored just as effectively as requests to share individual stories.

Start small, deliver them well: One of the common issues when embedding social media within an organisation such as a university or a local authority is overcoming the fear of it becoming a massive task, often delegated to a specific job, often within corporate communications. It is positive to hear that  steps are being taken to try out new things, often with a reporting procedure attached. This is all good news and allows for records to be kept of progress. I guess the best advice I can give is baby steps. Small projects, delivered well – often as pilots, are much better than trying to take on every network, every platform, every new fangled technology. Success means becoming the ‘cutting edge of mundane’ – the process will become so seamless you’ll wonder whatever the fuss was about.

Archives can be used to develop wider case studies: Using tools like Storify to archive content produced by audiences and service users allow for employees to pull together case studies of user populations around their particular job role. These can remain private and simple enough to pull together, contextualise in order to hold together a report and as a referencing system for a particular event or context. I love using the Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Research Practices 2.0: Reflections on #RP2NOTT

Back in the summer, I was approached by Andy Coverdale to be interviewed and to help out on a project around social media for PhD students. The first part of the task was to be interviewed about how I use social media as part of my research practice, to be used as part of a web resource hosted by the University of Nottingham Graduate School. This was launched this week, ahead of an event in accompany the site.

The event, “Research Practices 2.0” was organized for PhD students and facilitated by PhD students – where alongside Andy, I was approached to join the exciting team of Kat Gupta, Warren Pearce, Claire Mann, Mark Carrigan and Emily Buchnea (who put together the interviews on the website.)

The event was made up on a range of PhD students from across the East Midlands (although there were some from Sheffield, Manchester and London) and divided across backgrounds (from fashion to biosciences) – with the format being designed to provoke and challenge the preconceptions of social media practice.

Of course, I’ve done a few of these events and training workshops before. I’m now approaching my second year of working with my own research and innovation office to provide ‘training’ in web 2.0 technologies to other PhDs, as well as offering ad-hock guest lectures to specific disciplines – such as screen acting, media studies and business studies. For me, being part of an ‘organizing committee’ rather than going it alone, was a good space to reflect on my own practices whilst also learning a lot from others.

I was charged with providing support in two seminar spaces. The first, an introduction to social media in research practice, was designed (after 2 hours discussion the week previously) with practice and individuality at the heart, deliberately moving away from fetishation of tools and technological commodities. That is, we would rather see what PhD student *do* – where they inhabit online and how they can match these spaces and behaviors together to see new things.

By doing this, both Mark (who I was working with in my session) and I were surprised by what actually came up. We are both familiar with the negative/challenging response that sometimes occur when trying to talk about social media in a space where you have no idea about the backgrounds, experience and expectations of the participants. Because often we are forced to focus on the tools.. “oh can you show the class how to use that twitter thing?” “can you give me some reasons why I should blog?” “I can’t image ever wanting to record podcasts about things.” This was different.

Through discussing what a PhD student actually does – and are expected to do, or think that they are expected to do, we got onto the issue of power, the reclamation of power and the restrictive nature of peer-reviewed journals through the formation of cliques and already established networks that have built around the publication of academic research. In the dawn of the post-Browne post-REF post-PhD world, it doesn’t take a roomful of budding Drs to see that the job market is bleak (the world is bleak), that the games that we play are engrained and the culture of ‘every person for themselves’ submission & fear are paramount for gaining and maintaining that golden career (that might not even exist to begin with!) – social media is more than a fancy buzzword that can be used a wedge to stuff existing concepts into newer shiny publications, it was a lifeline – potentially a device that can be and is being used to empower (for pockets of time certainly), to challenge and to bridge gaps – and blur lines of the linear path that we are expected to march down without question.

It was the discussion that I needed and helped me link up the different factors in my life. The praxi, the technical and the theoretical.

Methodology approaches 2.0

This conversation is ongoing – and was arrived at when we realised that people didn’t want methods when they were asked in advance, but found themselves at that point after the open plenary took us in that direction.

The thing that I always find hard when I’ve been asked to prepare something around social media methodology is the prescriptive nature of ‘methodology’. That is, we are asked (and we are asked when we teach) to treat certain methods as a ‘toolkit’ that we can select from when required. Need an audience reaction? Surveys. Need to search for bias in media? Content analysis. Etc. So when it comes to the discussion around using social media as a form of data collection & methodological approach, the sheer essence of fluid collaboration  and fluid identity online conflicts with the prescriptive nature of preparing and delivering workshops about a right/wrong way to do something expertly. Just look at anything that organizes itself around being ‘open’ – data, knowledge, source, access. To prescribe it is to fold it back into the system to be tacked on at the end of a conference, training manual & tick box exercise.

But there are grey shades in between which exist on the energy, motivation and the skills of the people who are involved at any one time. It cannot be prescribed, but it can be inspired. Through talking to others about shared issues, about helping each other out by sharing experiences and, in some cases, just f*&king doing it (which is always an issue if you are writing a grant application & working with ‘low cost’ tools..) things get done and solutions (even just for a brief pocket of time) are found. The amount of things we read, pass on and digest – that end up being more useful for others than ourselves directly conflicts with the notion we should only be watching our own back, our own institution, our own sector if we are to protect our own skin.

Social Media and Identity

Originally, I had prepared a abstract that looked like this:

“Much of social media education focuses on the need to embrace new technologies and to become competent with an array of online tools for practice. For some, the technical issue is not a problem – instead – it is the personal aspect of sharing information about yourself. Much of web 2.0 technology relies on an element of authenticity, immediacy of connection and the networking of individuals. Often, it is thought that to get the best out of the internet, you need to engage with technology on a personal and often, intimate, level. What does mean in an academic context, when often the conflict between professional and social, public and private comes into play. This interactive session will explore the challenges and opportunities that having an online identity can have. We will identify reasons to participate and issues of performing in public.”

And from that, I prepared a set of slides (like a nervous, over prepared academic tick). The fear of not knowing your audience, the fear that somebody else in the audience would make you look and feel stupid for not knowing their area through the medium of questions. Which was daft really – because it was meant to be informal – and I was working with people who responded the same way to these things as I do. But I still felt the need to prepare a wee talk, where I dropped my knowledge into the heads of other people – without engagement or room for discussion/critique.

After the morning, I decided to change it all during lunch. Instead, I got 6 screen captures from my own social media use. I brought out the good old ‘line up’ tool from my PGCert training (I knew it would come in useful when unprepared)  – and got participants to push all the tables back. Space was a big things at the event – it is difficult to critique and discuss when you are sitting like you are in primary school. All facing the ‘teacher’, waiting for knowledge to be delivered.

So it was simple. I showed the slideshow below – and asked people to move to one side (good) or the other (bad- like a sliding scale) if they felt that the activity was appropriate academic behaviour online. I took them through sharing slides, blog posts about events, dumping ideas, sharing a work-in-progress thesis online and a tweet which degraded the REF. All this metadata removed, all with timestamps & other signifiers missing.

The discussion, for me, was amazing. Especially as nobody clocked onto the fact that the things they were seeing all belonged to me. Which made the big reveal all the funnier, after a heated discussion about the dangers of using twitter and mixing professional/private life. I just couldn’t have done that without using myself as the target, it was too cruel to do otherwise – like in a space we have a moral superiority to judge behaviors out of context.

And this spontaneous exercise really made me think about the materials that I use in the sessions that I’ve delivered in the past – and how I’ve found myself getting into the loop of only showing best practice, good examples, metrics and levels of ‘success’ – when I get reflective that I realize the internet and the people I meet through these relationships and friends of friends are much more important than restricting myself to pretend I’m something more than I’m not. So.. if I’m going to tackle the issue of identity again (which I am on Friday for the PhD students at UWS) I’m going to rip up my rule book and start again.

The Research Practices 2.0 website has a wealth of resources on tools and practice, discussion and reflection and definitely worth visiting if you are thinking about running social media sessions in the future.

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