On Thursday and Friday of last week (16th and 17th of February) David McGillivray and I were invited to Bournemouth University, School of Tourism to deliver a full day workshop around social media and higher education for their staff and students in the department.
The day was split between a two hour workshop designed to demystify some of the risks and opportunities of social media in the university environment through a (short) presentation of some conceptual ideas about online identity and talking through some examples of projects and websites that we have recently used at UWSCreative.
This was quite an honest experience, as it hasn’t always been a smooth ride in terms of being ‘allowed’ to manage our own presence as a school, but I think by reflecting and tracking of the process of where we have came from and what we have achieved in terms of negotiation with corporate communications and wider spread uniformed strategies of the university, was useful for both us and for our Bournemouth colleagues to see.
WordPress, oh lovely WordPress.
For example, we have had to rely on external WordPress websites (either on WordPress.com or on staff’s own servers) to host project websites that need a more dynamic, realtime online environment that the corporate website. This is because there is not currently a server within the institution that can handle multiple WordPress installs (so I’m told) and there are a number of restrictions on the current website that allows for full integration with social media platforms (beyond share buttons and embedded content.)
Bournemouth, like DMU and Lincoln, already have a WordPress ‘blog’ system at play, so we spent much of the workshop explaining the language of the system and how to ask for things that you want from the people who are charged with looking after the system. Through speaking to staff individually, we learned how they came about getting the wordpress system installed and how it is referenced to within the university (important for arguing the case for it at UWS) and they learned how to utilise it a bit better in terms of what a school might want from having access to individual, module, subject area websites and how powerful it can be when you have access (as a tool and as a learning experience.)
Social Media Surgeries revisited.
Again, like the work we did in the South of Scotland before Christmas, the 1-2-1 social media surgeries that we held in the afternoon were a good opportunity to focus specifically on each attendee, rather than simply rely on a 1-2-many workshop for disseminating information. They allow for interested participants to ask questions in an informal space, perhaps about things that they may not feel comfortable asking in a larger group.
Never a dumb question…
Interestingly, the ‘dumb’ questions that people think they are throwing at you, actually vary so much that it is impossible to say that there is a particular level of social media expertise that people need to work towards. In fact, it is more down to curiosity and willingness to learn than it is to ticking a box to say you are now an competence in social media.
One person’s idea of a ‘dumb’ question is another person’s aspiration and you can see that very clearly when you exposure yourself to them in the same space. Ideally, groups of people who work under the banner of an institution need a support network, rather an individual technical person, for it to work as a long term movement. As always, I’m happy to try and fix things for people, but I’m even happier if I can empower people to try things out themselves.
Hell, I need to ask around to solve most problems online, social media as a departmental tool relies on individuals to work together and seek out the best practice in their area. Twitter (and other platforms) allow you to monitor it, but the best solution can sometimes always be sitting down and having a coffee (other drinks are available) and a chat with a person. Social media can encourage that, which often leads to better, more open work environments through the act of communicating better and more often with others in your area.
Overall, it was useful for me to try out the ‘workshop/surgery’ model in a university, my home territories, as I’ve been struggling with the pedagogy teaching such a subject area and managing the expectations of those who have signed up to come along. There is something interesting in teaching social media in itself, as it isn’t just about tools and practices. The closeness to a person’s identity to the subject area can play a huge part in the usefulness, and I don’t like objectifying it away, you, the person is as important as the tools that you select. The personal is political and will dominate the fact you prefer LinkedIn to Facebook for instance, and dominate the predijuces you may have against how other people chose to use it.
I always say to people that you have to give yourself permission to use the web in a way that you feel most comfortable. I’m not going to say you ‘have’ to do certain things, but it is always worth noting that it isn’t going to go away *at the moment*, if there is a way that you can use it to make your workplace, your social life, your interests a happier place to be, then the benefits will emerge on their own.