Posts Tagged ‘web 2.0’

Generation Y the lazy rhetoric?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

“very few [Generation Y students] employ collaborative technologies such as wikis, blogging and Twitter in their research, despite using such tools in their personal lives.”

Elizabeth Gibney. Few Tweet successes as Generation Y fails to use blog-standard tools. Times Higher Education, 28 June 2012.

I’m unconvinced with the argument that the new generation of researchers routinely use multiple social media recreationally. This seems to have become a rationale for academic appropriation that is rarely challenged. In my experience of running workshops at the University of Nottingham and elsewhere, many postgraduate and early career researchers are ‘on Facebook’ and use little else. Ask them, and some include using Wikipedia (as a resource only) as ‘engaging’ in social media (mostly unaware of the potential of using the underlying technology of wikis as a platform for collaborative text editing). Few blog recreationally, or even read them. Twitter use is limited and often doesn’t extend much beyond the signing up stage.

Yet this limited engagement and awareness regularly seems to be sufficient to appropriately constitute ‘significant’ recreational social media use, propagating the belief that when adopting them for academic purposes, new researchers are intimately familiar with the tools, practices and culture of multiple types of social media.

Leveraging Impact Font

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Some ‘precursory’ slides to begin my workshop on social media and impact tomorrow at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.

Commonwealth Scholars

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I’m just off to the Engineering and Science Graduate Centre to run a social media training session for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (Midlands and Oxford). Here’s the slides:

Mythologising the Online Community

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

An interesting post from Dr Mark William Johnson on the myth of the online community. I wasn’t able to comment directly, so I’ve presented a few thoughts here:

From what I understand, the notion of online or ‘virtual communities’ (Rheingold etc.) partly emerged from the activities of early adopters who were both collocated and geographically dispersed, but importantly, were relatively few in number. As such, they engaged in the type of shared interests and enterprises that might be genuinely considered analogous with the development and maturation of physical communities. Subsequent online platforms like Ning-type sites continue to exploit the community metaphor, albeit superficially.

In response to the exponential rise in the number of web users, Castells, Bauman, Wellman etc. offered up varying interpretations of ‘networked individualism’ as an alternative metaphor of web sociability. This would seem to be a more appropriate reading of how many of us use the web today, particularly in the strategic, self-invested behaviours Mark refers to. Yet even in this type of online landscape, whilst individual motives may vary, aspects of empathy, altruism and reciprocity – that we might associate with the values and social cohesion of the physical community – are evident in some of the (sometimes transient) social aggregations that can emerge (such as those around some dedicated Twiitter hashtags).

Reflecting on #RP2Nott

Monday, November 14th, 2011

I’m a bit late with this follow up to our Research Practices 2.0 event a couple of weeks ago, but it’s been good to allow a chance to reflect on the several things that struck me the most on the day:

Can we stop talking like academics?

Most academic practices reflect the most basic human activities, but we try our best to make them sound otherwise. Even the most generic academic terms are loaded by disciplinary bias and individual assumptions. PhD students (and I include myself here) are amongst the worst culprits as it consolidates the necessary enculturation process inherent in becoming legitimised as an academic (you see, there I go again).

Using broad terms are useful starting points though not always workable. For example, in the morning session I helped facilitate, one table interpreted data collection as general academic information sourcing rather than in the narrower methodological sense. So, terms like collecting stuff, exploring ideas, explaining things etc. are useful to cut through the bullshit.

Tools vs. Practices

Social media is itself a problematic term. Social media constitute a range of different tools and platforms. Whilst some provide defined parameters of use that may be attributable to recognisable activities, many do not. As the Visitors and Residents framework suggests, understanding the effectiveness of social media can be dependent on whether they are perceived as purposeful tools for specific academic activities, or as flexible, social and cultural spaces for participation, enquiry and critique.

Despite practice-based approaches such as those we promoted at the event, there are those who inevitably lean towards the instinctive tool-focussed ideologies inherent in learning new technology, and therefore partly quantify the success of workshops or events on box-ticking exercises such as the collaborative listing of social media we employed in the first session. Some attendees appreciated the opportunity to explore some of the social media we discussed in the morning session in the drop-in IT workshop after lunch.

Expectations and Assumptions

To me, the success of an event like this is partly dependent on the dynamic between how it placates and challenges both (a) expectations of the event, and (b) assumptions of practice – in this case, not only using social media, but also what it means to ‘do a PhD’. And, as Jen’s excellent account of her workshop experience suggests, this is equally true for facilitators. The difficulty is; that dynamic is different for each individual who participates.

Thinking practically, this might be best served by developing an initial dialogue necessary to gain an understanding of these collective expectations and assumptions, and adopting a flexible approach that can adapt to changing needs. Basically, there are as many ways to do events like this, as there are events. If we go away not wanting to rip it up and start all over again, we are probably doing something fundamentally wrong.


Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The Research Practices 2.0 one-day event is fast approaching on Saturday 29th October. This is the culmination of the project and internship programme that developed out of the Graduate Centre workshop sessions I conducted with LeRoy Hill. It also compliments a web resource (to be located on the University of Nottingham Graduate School site), which we will be launching at the event.

In addition to me, Claire Mann and Emily Buchnea from the project team, we are delighted to have @WarrenPearce, @jennifermjones, @mark_carrigan and Kat Gupta (@mixosaurus) helping facilitate the event. Most of them contributed to the video interviews we conducted, which will constitute a significant part of the web resource.

We had a meeting yesterday to finalise a collaboratively-designed workshop session that we will be running in the morning across four groups. Later in the afternoon, me, Mark and Jen will be leading three separate sessions focused on more specific practice contexts. In addition, there will be opportunities for attendees to use a ‘drop-in’ IT clinic and to view the videos. We are looking at filming the plenary sessions for later inclusion on the web resource.

It was good to see the 100 places taken up within a week or so of publicising the event. We have a considerable number on a reserve list that we’d love to accommodate, but many more would compromise the interactivity of the sessions.

We wanted the event to be as inclusive as possible so it’s particularly satisfying to see attendees from across the disciplines. And whilst this project has been developed primarily for the University of Nottingham doctoral community, it was always our intention to make both the web resource and the event accessible to external PhD students and researchers. So it’s great we have a good representation from a number of other (primarily East Midlands) universities.

Pitching events like this is difficult. People will come with a range of experiences, competences and perspectives on social media, and different assumptions and expectations of the event. We hope to be responsive and collaborative by creating an informal and interactive environment for discussion and an opportunity to listen to and share experiences of using social media.

I’ll be blogging more on this, before and after the event, in the next few weeks.

The Imagined Audience

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I briefly mentioned the notion of an ‘imagined audience’ in my recent post on PhD blogging for The Thesis Whisperer. In his thesis, David Brake (2009) uses a symbolic interactionist approach to examine imagined audiences in relation to personal blogging in the UK. He suggests blogging practices incorporate a range of ‘envisaged audience relationships’ where a blogger’s “construction of the meaning of their practice can be based as much on an imagined and desired social context as it is on an informed and reflexive understanding of the communicative situation” (p.3). Drawing on Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, Brake explains how the marginal role of blog audiences is partly encoded in the socio-technical characteristics of the blogging platforms themselves.

Interestingly, the notion of ‘audience’ assumes a broadcast metaphor. How does this compare with the idea of a blogging community, and the participative web generally? How do we perceive audiences in the social media we use? How are these perceptions formed? And how do they differ across different platforms? Do we transfer audience identities from one platform to another?

Viewing indicators (visitor statistics etc.) are limited in what they tell us, whilst acts of participation and reciprocity (comments, retweets etc.) are often fewer in number than we’d like. Even when a network is largely identifiable – such as followers on Twitter – we have little or no idea of their actual viewing behaviours. I purposely keep the number of people I follow on Twitter to a manageable figure (I’d like to follow more) to be able to most efficiently view my twitter feed on a regular basis. I assume users who follow several thousands of people don’t do this, but rather engage in more inconsistent viewing habits, do more skimming, or employ some sort of filtering.

A number of participants in my PhD study have expressed concerns over the ambiguity of social media audiences, particularly around blogging. As I have discussed previously, doctoral practices can require negotiating a number of different contexts, which, even within my small cohort of participants, can include conflicting academic, entrepreneurial and activist activities. By choosing to use social media, they are committed to engaging in more public, distributed and persistent dialogues. The way they blog, tweet and create other digital artefacts across interrelated platforms and audiences incurs potential inconsistencies and tensions. When those audiences are ambiguous, practice and identity agendas are further compromised.


Brake, D. R. (2009). As if nobody’s reading’?: the imagined audience and socio-technical biases in personal blogging practice in the UK. PhD thesis, London School of Economics.

ePortfolio Development: A Sort of Art and Design Perspective

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

In my early days as an Art and Design student, I remember carrying my work around in one of those old black portfolio cases about the size of a small kitchen table. I went for my undergraduate interview at Blackpool and the Fylde College on a Monday morning in early summer. I remember getting to Blackpool North railway station early, so I hung around for a while and got a coffee. I was entertained by three guys from Glasgow who, having spent the weekend enjoying the earthly delights of the seaside resort, were heading home. It soon became apparent that they had been up all night drinking and were finishing off their last few cans of lager. After a few jokes at my expense, they were soon huddled round my portfolio with genuine interest. So there I was, critically disseminating my entire body of work to three Glaswegian drunks in a railway cafe. Suffice to say, my interview at the College an hour or so later was a doddle by comparison, and I was offered the degree place.

Even in the relatively few subsequent years of studying in Art and Design, my portfolio underwent significant changes, in both editorial and design contexts, and significantly, the very medium in which it was presented; the physical case was soon replaced by a CD, and then a HTML website, then a Flash movie etc.

ePortfolio development is not a focus of my current studies as an educational researcher, though immediately after my MA in Falmouth, I was involved in a small research project with Ana Carvalho and Oliver Scott promoting digital portfolio workshops for Art and Design students. This highlighted the importance of portfolios as documentation of process, and we therefore explored portfolio development in context with other artefacts of reflective practice such as (digital) sketchbooks and Personal Development Plans (PDP).

Whilst I recognise the unique and specialised role the portfolio plays within Art and Design, issues such as portability, ownership, customisation, accessibility and scalability are applicable to the wider academic field. My own experience has taught me that portfolios are never static, but require regular management and sometimes fundamental changes.

Chris Thomson discusses the current uncertainties surrounding Delicious to highlight the transiency of web 2.0 tools within the context of developing a distributed ePortfolio. As I noted in a recent post, successful adoption of social media – for whatever purposes – requires developing key critical and reflective practices. In the case of ePortfolios, this may necessitate the negotiation of messy interrelations between institutional, commercial and open source tools, and the development of multiple platforms and multiple versions for different roles and audiences.

Web 2.0: Reflective and Critical Practices

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The postgraduate and early career researchers who have attended the social media sessions I’ve been running with LeRoy Hill over the last year bring with them rich and wide-ranging learning experiences and perspectives.

Some might have been under the impression that we are on some sort of crusade with web 2.0, but we are not. It’s always been about raising awareness of its potential. We recognise that the values of these tools are highly situated in each researcher’s individual practice and disciplinary research culture, and many attendees are rightly apprehensive over the appropriateness and usefulness of social media in their studies and work. We welcome current users who share their social media practices with other attendees, often supporting our enthusiasm with fresh and unique perspectives. But we are equally happy for them to share bad experiences, misconceptions and concerns. This is why we try to encourage an interactive environment and opportunities for discussion.

I can’t speak for LeRoy (though I think he’d agree), but I’m happy for attendees to go away choosing not to adopt any or all of the social media we discuss, as long as the sessions have given them the opportunity to reflect on their own use, or potential use, of these tools, and encouraged them to think critically about their applicability to their own practices and the wider contexts of web 2.0.

This approach also informs and underpins the modes of enquiry and analytical model I am developing for my current PhD work with doctoral students. But what do we mean by critical and reflective practices? Both draw on rich historical and contested models and definitions, which I will not attempt to review here. Rather, I’d like to suggest how these (in my view, often interrelated) practices should be embedded in the processes postgraduate researchers adopt in using social media.

Reflective Practices

  • Identifying appropriate web 2.0 resources and services, and evaluating the affordances of specific tools and platforms for academic practice
  • Developing self- and collaborative organisational and time-management skills in relation to social media use, including the use of technology-supported strategies
  • Identifying appropriate technical know-how and training needs, and using training opportunities (formal and informal), online resources and other sources of support
  • Recognising the transferability of web 2.0 skills and digital literacies in lifelong learning, professional development and employability contexts
  • Engaging in opportunities for sharing practice and technological skills with peers
  • Developing potential for individual, participatory and collaborative action planning and learning design

Critical Practices

  • Negotiating new socio-technical academic community and network development and boundary-crossing activities within disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts
  • Recognising shifts in academic protocols; new modes and means of production, peer review and knowledge resources
  • Adapting to new practices in academic integrity and responsibility; referencing and attribution of digital sources and artefacts
  • Identifying inconsistent pedagogies and socio-cultural and political ideologies that underpin social media practice
  • Challenging rhetorical representation of social media historically founded in the business metaphor of web 2.0
  • Negotiating increasingly blurred boundaries defining institutional, proprietary, freeware and open-source tools and platforms
  • Understanding emerging multimedia and multimodal literacies
  • Managing online identities and reputation

Collaborative Participation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

In critiquing exaggerated claims of ‘self-organizing’ behaviour in social media, Alan Levine (AKA @cogdog) draws on Emergence theory to argue that patterns of corresponding participation – such as Twitter users tweeting on an event – “arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” and do not necessarily indicate collaborative or coordinated acts.

Resulting ‘constellations’ of participation are frequently interpreted through network analysis and increasingly complex visual data representations. But how do we go about examining any claims that these are more than merely the result of cumulative activities? This requires exploring the interplay between individual and social agencies, motivations and influences, and understanding how these are acted out within cultural contexts and protocols. To use Levine’s example, actors may acquire a ‘sense’ of collaboration (for example, in producing a collective digital archive) but is this realised through a shared cause or an environment for debate? Is the participation – and the nature of the contributions – the result of individual self-will or coerced? What hierarchies, power relations and modes of influence might be at play here? And how does the technology influence these things?