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Workshop: @UWSDigital Social Media Masterclass at Bournemouth University

Introduction

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.

Conclusions

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.

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Why Social Media Surgeries Work… @UWSDigital #uwsltas

Social Media Surgeries in Melrose on Flickr

Last week we completed the final set of social media surgeries, the first half of the project that I’ve been part of  in the south of Scotland. So far I’ve made 6 round trips (and about to make the 7th) to Scotland in 6 weeks (a new record even for me), equating to over 4000 miles on the project alone (not including the ad-hoc trips to London and Manchester in between). Of course, part of this is my doing, living in Loughborough and working in Birmingham one day a week – it could be easier if I just stayed in Ayr for duration – but then I could get to do what I do, Ayr’s too far away from everywhere else, including the rest of Scotland (believe me, I spent 21 years finding that out.) Which is ironic really, when I’ve been working on a project that very much concerns the local and the face-to-face and how the internet can help small organisations in part of Scotland that lack the same resources that I’ve been accustomed to over the past 5 years.

The project was spread across 3 areas, Dumfries, New Galloway and Melrose – all in very different locations and venues, all with a very different set of local businesses and organisations, different networks, who had their own needs, expectations and requirements around the use of social media. I’ve spoken to people who have a business without a website, to award-winning young entrepreneurs who are addicted to their iphone and what facebook has allowed them to do with their business. I’ve reassured people that they personally don’t need to use social media *at all* – but to respect that others that they work with might need their support and understanding in company meetings – and I’ve met many who have been locked into awful contracts with web development companies who have charged thousands, to have blocked access to administration rights to their own website.

In 4 weeks, I’ve personally spoken to 30 independent businesses – and I’ve learnt a great deal about each of the regions, the united force of those who already use social media to not only promote their businesses, but also the areas as a whole. I could not have done this if I was expected to deliver the support as a 30 spaces collective workshop. I would have not have been able to prepare a session that could help a golf course in the same way as a jewellery maker or a creative copywriter that was beyond simply talking about technicalities of tools. Each session that I did do was vastly different from the next, and there wasn’t a single moment where I felt as if I was repeating myself. I can’t say it solved all the problems of the world, but it was tailored and it was personalised. I had to think on my feet lots, which I prefer to rattling from a script, but overall it just worked and we left each time with an amazing buzz from spending time with a range of different and passionate people.

Now I wish to see how this can be taken further, or used in a different context. For instance, UWS are currently implementing a new learning, teaching and assessment strategy (#uwsltas on twitter) across the university – something where social media platforms have cropped up on several occasions, from using posterous as a tool for consultation, to having our library live-tweet the proceedings of ltas dialogues happening across campuses. I see social media as a bit of a trojan horse in a way, it is now at the stage where those who may have not looked at it previously are now asking for the crash course in adoption – and I think the notion of social media surgeries/drop-ins could work nicely in a higher education context. Having already ranting about social media workshops in previous posts, where sometimes attendance is shifty and expectations are varied, and the importance of research/teaching practice is lost in the shine of uncritical technology, drop in sessions would be a much better use of time both in terms of resolving specific issues and widening networks across faculties and services within the university. I could also see it happening in the classroom, as I write between student 1-2-1s in my own classroom, where I didn’t provide an opportunity to sign up for specific slots, I just be somewhere for a couple of hours and be online at the same time. I’ve had higher numbers than previous years – and I’ve still got another hour and a half to go.

Now the first part of the @UWSDigital project is over, we will be spending some time evaluating formally and presenting the finding back at the university as a model to take forward in future projects. The next part of the project is to work with two existing networks in the south of scotland to help build a long term term strategy through a series of workshops and hack-days in the region – it will move from one to one to many to many – allowing for each network to take ownership of their own web presence. More details are on the UWSDigital website.

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Update on @UWSDigital & Social Media for the South of Scotland Surgeries

We are at the half-way point of the first part of the research project I’ve been assisting with, providing social media support to communities in the south of Scotland. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve visited two locations, as part of the UWSDigital team in Dumfries and Galloway (Aston Hotel, Dumfries and The CatStrand (a community arts venue in New Galloway)) to provide one-to-one dedicated support to over 30 businesses in 4 days. We have two more sessions to run in The Town House Hotel, Melrose, situated in the Scottish Borders, at the end of November – but so far, we have had a great response and overall the experience has been incredibly useful in terms of how to engage with many individuals and groups, with varying technical experiences and completely different needs when it comes to thinking about how to use social media as both a small business owner and part of a community spread over a large region.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself in the process, especially when I think about how I embed technology in my own teaching practice. The group seminar just *doesn’t* work (more to follow on that in a while)- it needs to be reflective and it needs to tailored to personal practice. It’s been a lot of travelling for me, but it has been worth it – I feel that I’ve given an intense taster into the region, got hands on with that public engagement remit & I’m pleased that I can be part of a university outreach project (where we have a campus in Dumfries) that benefits the community in this way.

Press release from UWS’s Skillset Media Academy is below:

“University of the West of Scotland (UWS) is providing social media surgeries to companies throughout the South of Scotland as part of an initiative running in November and December 2011.

This project is being delivered by the University on behalf of South of Scotland Business Solutions to over 60 small and medium sized businesses during the next two months.

South of Scotland Business Solutions aims to encourage local companies to access the technical expertise, knowledge and research skills available within the colleges and universities in their area, to help their business develop and remain competitive.

The Social Media for the South of Scotland initiative aims to enhance skills and provide knowledge to individual businesses already engaged with social media as well as supporting the development of an integrated online presence for the business networks that already exist in the South of Scotland but require support to flourish.

This project sees UWS experts focusing on adding value to those businesses already using social media as part of their business operations, emphasising the importance of follow-up support and the development of easy-to-use interactive toolkits. The University has delivered surgeries in Dumfries and New Galloway and will deliver sessions in Melrose in the last week in November and the first week in December. These surgeries will see businesses getting quick, one-to-one support and advice on any aspects of their use of social media to promote and enhance their business.

Last year the University received Skillset Academy accreditation from Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media, which has responsibility for 60 per cent of the UK’s creative industries. This saw the creation of the UWS Skillset Media Academy, which is delivering this project.

The UWS Skillset Media Academy has a wealth of expertise in the use of social media for learning and teaching, research and business to business activity.

Dr David McGillivray of the UWS Skillset Media Academy is the key co-ordinator of the Social Media for the South of Scotland initiative.

He said: “The University is delighted to be able to deliver this project, which is already helping businesses in Dumfries and Galloway to make more effective use of social media. UWS, which has campuses in Ayr, Dumfries, Hamilton and Paisley, is committed to making a difference to its local communities. This project provides an exemplar of a local institution making a difference for local people.”

Clive Rumbold of ABC Recruitment benefitted from a social media surgery in Dumfries.

He said: “I am delighted to see how pro-active UWS is being in respect of integrating with the business community. This is the first time in 20 years of managing businesses that I have seen an educational establishment taking such a step. This pro-active integration makes UWS stand out as a champion from my perspective! I have been delighted with the work UWS has helped us with and would very highly recommend UWS to any business owner.”

The University is delighted to be able to deliver this project, which is already helping businesses in Dumfries and Galloway to make more effective use of social medial. UWS is committed to making a difference to the constituencies around its four regional campuses. This project provides an exemplar of a local institution making a difference for local people.”

Sharon Glendinning, Project Manager for South of Scotland Business Solutions said:

“The response we have received from local businesses in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders to the social media initiative has been excellent, with every available surgery fully booked. Through listening to local businesses and working in partnership with other business support agencies, we were able to identify that there was an increased awareness of social media but businesses were seeking the extra knowledge to apply this new way of communicating to their individual business needs. UWS has responded by developing and delivering an innovative customised solution which is receiving really positive feedback from local businesses.”

The Social Media for the South of Scotland initiative is supported by South of Scotland Business Solutions which is a partnership project funded by the Scottish Funding Council and European Regional Development Fund.”

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