After discussing what community meant in this context, Kandy proposed that although we’ve come to understand quite well how communities are formed, there is less awareness of how they are sustained. This session was about considering the strategies undertaken which have thus far maintained momentum in the New Social Media, New Social Sciences community. In small groups, we were asked to discuss and consider several questions, then feed back our findings to the whole group.
Rather than go through the questions and list the findings, since that summary has already been done over on the NSMNSS blog, let me just link to that. Though these points arose in response to questions around sustaining an online community, there are things to learn here for anyone conducting online research; drivers and inhibitors of engagement, how to encourage new voices and attract fresh participants.
Short Papers 3 & 4
At this point I should be recounting my experiences in the final sessions, but unfortunately I chose poorly and the sessions I attended didn’t fulfil any learning needs for me. In each session, I had a to make a choice between two equally interesting sounding papers, but seemed to have opted for the wrong one on each occasion … but without retrospect, who knows.
Although my own research is focused more on pre-tertiary educational contexts, the majority of experiences I had during the day were sufficiently broad in their applicability to be of considerable use to me. I appreciated the opportunity to connect with people I’ve so far only ‘met’ online; this is a virtue of conferences many people talk about. In addition to moving my thinking on the ethical issues in my research forward, I also collected a bunch of resources and links to academic papers that will prove of great use. All that AND a useful drinks cup too!
During the first workshop session, I participated in Copyright education in the age of social media led by Jane Secker. Despite the importance, copyright is not an area people seek out for pleasure and enjoyment, but that’s just what Jane was seeking to provide through the game-based scenario we had the chance to sample.
Many staff (and students?) are fearful or ignorant of their obligations as far as copyright is concerned. In the sessions Jane provides, she aims to flip the perspective from one with the negative associations of restrictive, complicated procedures and practice, to one celebrating the freedoms and opportunities that are available. This is done through the game, the core of which is centred on discussion between the participants, prompted by different scenarios … the typical kinds of situations we might face in our practice. Having library-based staff amongst the participants meant we had quite a range of people with different knowledge bases on which to draw. This made for interesting and lively discussions, especially since many of the cases with which we were presented were far from clear cut.
Jane also provided us with a couple of hard-copy booklets for future reference, together with pointers to online resources like CopyrightUser.org and the UCISA Social Media Toolkit. Oh, and let’s not forget the copyright fortune cookies!
Short Paper 1
In Morality, social media and the educational researcher, Leigh-Anne Perryman and Tony Coughlan, presented details of two research projects they’d undertaken using FaceBook as the source. In one case this had been through a ‘closed’ group and in a second one which was ‘open.’ The challenges arising from each were very different and highlighted the somewhat blurred private-public space distinction, how access was negotiated to each and and how (if!) informed consent could/should be obtained. This is discussed at greater length in their paper.
Although I was already aware of some of the issues, such as how to declare your nature as a researcher when joining a group/community, I was grateful for the prompt that we may need also to consider how we negotiate changes in status during our membership. I’d also never thought of the ethical issues that might arise if we encounter information which might suggest that someone might be at risk; how do we balance our duty to maintain privacy with the potential harm that our choice of action might result in. Though the likelihood of that occurring during my study is slim, it is however possible that people may ‘over’-share personal information. As a researcher, I need to be sensitive to that and watchful of how I process that.
When the time comes to share our findings, we are of course obliged to ensure we take steps to:
protect the individual, and
protect the online community of which those individuals are part.
The guidelines from BERA and AERA can help with this, but the former tend to be more conservative, especially in requiring confidentiality and anonymity as the norm. AERA guidelines however, don’t demand confidentiality where the research is conducted in a public space. The researcher has to tread very carefully then, negotiating this complex arena and perhaps erring on the side of caution.
This was an incredibly meaningful session for me. Although I’m unlikely to be using Facebook as a site of research, it was helpful to see the considerations made and the guidance upon which researchers can draw. Whilst the generic approach might be consistently one involving public-private distinctions, informed consent and confidentiality/anonymity, it’s clear that each case has to be analysed on its own merits. I particularly appreciated being introduced to several new terms, some of which may be significant in the context of my own study: dissociative anonymity, the minimization of authority and solipsistic introjection.
Short Paper 2
Lee Dunn presented his paper on Social Media as a Professional Medium: achieving an equilibrium of enthusiasm and protection for new teachers in which he outlined how ITE students at the University of Glasgow are encouraged to collaborate and communicate through social media. Although some students refuse to participate through social media, on ideological grounds, the majority do become involved, sharing and discussing their experiences largely through Twitter. Lee also mentioned how the channels many of us tend to use professionally (emails, Twitter, LinkedIn) do not form part of the networks with which the majority of new students would identify. Corralling them onto a single platform, like Twitter, can therefore prove challenging.
The difficulties encountered when devising a curriculum and assessments were outlined, then a sample of the activities on which students were engaged was provided. One of these involved a discussion around the Professional Guidelines the GTC for Scotland produces for its teachers (PDF) and the implications for practice and professional learning.
I was struck by the resistance students have to learning using social media. Yes, I get that might be another platform to learn and presence to manage. I also appreciate that people will have different views on privacy; some being highly tuned to what personal data they’re offering up to the online platform providers. I know too that many prefer to keep their personal and professional lives apart and young people especially can sometimes resent ‘the man’ intruding on what they perceive to be their personal space … like your mum friending you on Facebook. However I think that teachers in the making have an additional responsibility to the students they’ll ultimately be responsible for supporting. Being able to guide students in their online activities, their digital literacy if you will, is the responsibility of every single teacher I’d argue, in the same way the textual literacy and numeracy is the responsibility of all. Now if, through choice, a teacher has no experience of social media whatsoever, how they ever be expected to provide the guidance needed? I would have thought that an opportunity like that Lee was providing, in a controlled, structured and supportive space, would be one not to pass up.
The morning and afternoon session were linked by a rather excellent buffet lunch; the quality of the food was outstanding. Having filled my plate, I moved to the side and opened a chat with someone. As we exchanged how we had come to the conference and what our backgrounds were, it suddenly became clear that we had had several exchanges on Twitter and were hoping to bump into one another. Given the numbers at the conference, how surprising then that the first person I chat with at lunch was Wasim Ahmed, also conducting research into Twitter, though from a rather different perspective to me.
The conference day began in a relaxed fashion (at least for those not involved in the orgnisation!) with rather delicious coffee and pastries. Following the formal opening, Eric Stoller then set the scene through the keynote. Rather than recount all the topics Eric covered in his (Star Wars-themed!) overview of the landscape of social media in higher education, I pulled out some brief quotes:
You might like to consider how they sit for you and to what extent they reflect your experience.
Do feel free to comment if you have any observations.
The second pre-conference workshop entitled ‘R U Noteworthy?’ was led by Andrew Middleton and Helen Kay, and asked “…what can we do to develop note making as a core learning activity by connecting the act of taking notes to the learning of processing and using them.” I’ve often reflected on how we make notes from information provided since my time as an undergraduate to now as a doctoral student. Both as a creator of notes for myself, and equally as a teacher in thinking about the notes my students made.
This session truly was a workshop, our facilitators providing a scenario through which we worked:
Starting from a learning activity of our choice, we were asked to think about how students might capture notes (note taking), then subsequently imbue them with meaning (note making). Embedded within that however, we had to have in mind any students who might have particular additional needs, such as a disability or not having English as their first language. The overarching theme, given the conference title, was how social media or digital technologies might support all the students.
We chose a casting workshop demo as our scenario, thereby making things a little more complex than if we had chosen a conventional lecture. Nevertheless, we felt our approach had universal applicability. In essence, students would capture information in whichever format suited them, be it video, audio, text on a laptop or in a notebook – the note taking part. Then the whole class would upload their notes to a site; we settled on a WordPress blog as offering the most functionality and features. Here the gathered resources would be classified, edited and refined for consumption by all – an activity for the whole group, individuals being assigned different roles. Most importantly, to ensure subsequent retrieval would be the taxonomic and folksonomic classifications; a technically straightforward task in WordPress. In addition, any ‘found’ resources could be added at this point – videos, imagery, links etc. When the tutor aided by a student sub-editor, signed the notes off, the next step would be for each student, on their own blog, to make their own notes from the resources assembled on the class blog. This is the point at which they are making meaning for themselves and creating a resource on which they can draw in the future. Finally, there could be a peer review process at this point where students comment on each others notes, using a rubric for guidance.
We recognised that this might be an idealised view, acknowledging issues like freeloading, non-participation, format compatibility etc, but we were working under time constraints so couldn’t really resolve all of those at once. However, we felt that the collaborative essence of what we proposed arose naturally from the social aspects of the technology; a feature not always available when using institutional content management systems. To conclude, all the groups then individually fed back to the full group, leaving an unfortunately brief time for discussing the issues. (Think we might have been off task occasionally!)
I can’t help but feel that the process of note making is rarely questioned; certainly from my experience at secondary schoollevel anyway. Are students of that age (or even undergraduates) capable of making notes for themselves … and if not, how do we help them structure that process and guide them in developing this crucial skill? That’s applies to ALL students, so let’s keep in mind there are weighty SEND issues to consider here. Technology and social media could help, but as always, the devil will be in the detail.
The appetisers were served on Thursday afternoon, opening with a hands-on session in which some recent technological innovations were available to try out … on? I give you ‘The Wearables!’ Having never seen Glass from Google, and especially now that it is discontinued, I was keen to try out this early iteration of consumer personal display technology might offer. Although a little less than stable, apparently poor connectivity and with some way to go as far as design is concerned, the optics and voice-activated menu system were nevertheless quite impressive. I don’t doubt that we’ll see a much more sophisticated version in the not too distant future. Being able to benefit from an augmented view of our surroundings, delivered through an unobtrusive package will offer interesting possibilities. The camera had some appeal too – “OK Google – Take photo” to quickly snap a book section I am reading would be a boon. Or imagine meeting your class and the facial recognition software being able to overlay each student’s name as you look at them. Or how might it support conducting ethnographies in public spaces? Though of course that immediately quite rightly triggers the ‘privacy’ and ethics alarm bells. When Glass’ successor looks like a conventional pair of specs, how will we as educational institutions deal with the issues it raises when students might be receiving data (or recording!) in lessons, or when they are taking formal assessments?
There’s a neat segue from close of the Glass section into the smartwatch on display; another technology I’d yet to handle. To be honest, for the most part I’d ignored smartwatches for the simply reason that I don’t wear a watch (except a Garmin whilst I’m running). I also have skinny wrists, on which the bulky models I’d seen so far would look comical … in fact much like my Garmin does! So when I saw and tried the sleek Samsung Gear S2, I have to confess to being more than a little impressed. It looked the part as a watch and all the functions and features seemed acceptable for such a small device But here was the problem; I just couldn’t see how it would fit either into my life, or for that matter into a learning environment. Just how important is it to be able to receive notifications that you can surreptitiously check? And at the cost of a good android tablet? No, not for me. Oh and if we’re talking exam security, wait and see what unfolds after this Xmas when far more of these watches are likely to be under the trees around the land.
The one device which truly captured my imagination though was the virtual reality headset. Both the sophisticated Samsung version and the Google Cardboard turn a smartphone plus app plus content into a startlingly immersive environment. Donald Clarke has been waxing lyrical about these for some time now, so do check out his posts for the multitude of ways in which he thinks they might be applied. I was distinctly impressed with how carefully matched the on-screen activity and motion of your head are; no noticeable lag whatsoever, though perhaps that depends on the capability of the smartphone being used? The next step is the educational context in which they’re deployed. I can certainly see immense value in being able to ‘transport’ pupils to parts of the world they’re unlikely to ever visit, either because they lack the financial resources to do so, or the environments are too inhospitable. Or to take them to places that humans can’t currently go – surface of Mars, inside a blood vessel, or to visit recreations of past times and places. The crucial part will be how we, as teachers, build opportunities that this technology allows into our curricula. It’s fine and dandy having a couple of minutes experiencing a place, but how might we incorporate that into the learning process? Doubtless we treat it as a resource where students observe, synthesise, interpret and analyse in the same way they might do from a text, performance or experiment.
What we need now is content, which will will doubtless trickle out as we move forward, like with Google Expeditions. But as always, how much more powerful when students create, as well as consume content? Again this is just emerging, but there are apps which allow them to do just that. All we have to do is ensure their explorations contribute to meaningful learning experiences.