On Wednesday (18th January) I attended Using social media to communicate in Birmingham. The event consisted of a number of presentations on the use of social media in higher education to communicate with students and to develop the student experience. The event was hosted by UCiSA (Universties and Colleges Information Systems Association) and speakers came from a range of institutions and organisations, including JISC, University of the Arts London, University of Sheffield and Loughborough University. More details on the event are available on Lanyrd if you want a better idea of the programme of speakers.
First up was Joe Nicholls of Cardiff University whose presentation posed the question: what does social media mean for IT services? Joe pointed out that a huge proportion of our learning is actually informal, at around 90% (although this figure has been disputed). Joe also noted that a common reason for failure in a social media project is the lack of both a clear business purpose and clear responsibilities. If there is no clarity on why you are pursuing a course of engagement via social media, then any project is very likely to fall by the wayside. Such clarity can certainly help ensure that everyone is on the same page and ensures a consistency across the organisation that can ensure success. As was made clear in this presentation, initial failure will occur if an organisation tries to run before it learns how to walk.
The question of who is enabling is also a key factor. Who is enabling the staff and the students? Who is going to provide the skills and the training to ensure that everyone across an institution can take advantage of the opportunities social media brings?
According to Joe, there is a need to go beyond the traditional hierarchies, getting beyond that to create a more collaborative environment built on the back of staff development and a policy of enablement in IT departments, providing staff with the tools to explore the potential of social media.
Next up was Katie Christie of the University of the Arts London who talked about experimentation in social media (Prezi available here), specifically their online social gallery Showtime. Showtime essentially provides a space for students to share their portfolios across the university and beyond. Each student is provided with a unique and personal space on the site which they can use to add images, embed video (YouTube/Vimeo), PDFs etc. By doing so they can promote their work and exhibitions as
well as linking to their social media (Twitter, Facebook et al). The site itself appears to have been incredibly popular so far. According to Katie, the site has had 400,000 visits and 2.5m page views in the past year. But more important than that, the site has really helped students in terms of the opportunities it has given them. A number of the students who showcase their work on Showtime have been approached and offered work through the platform. One student in particular was approached by the X-Factor to design the dresses for Little Mix. Regardless of what you think about X-Factor (I despise it truth be told), that is pretty cool and highlights the massive advantage to both institutions and students in engaging in social media. Katie summed it up with the three key advantages of Showtime:
- It invites student to engage in the institution.
- Raises the profile of the university.
- Enables discoverability.
Following Katie, Mike Kelly talked about the implementation of a university blogging service, also at the University of the Arts. Mike explained that they were looking for something engaging for students to share information about the processes of study. Whilst they use Blackboard as their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) they did not feel that it was an appropriate platform for the students to blog from. Consequently, they made use of WordPress as a tool to enable students to share their experiences. To do so, students first sign-up for an account at http://myblog.arts.ac.uk using their computer username and login (this also handily prevents any abuses as they can only engage via
their university account and are unable to post anonymously). According to Mike, since August 2011 around 1,500 blogs have been created and, since November 2011, there have been over 330,000 page views. Featured posts are placed on the front page alongside a list of most recent posts so student’s posts are promoted amongst the community. As a result of encouraging students to maintain blogs on the domain it was felt that this provided a ‘connection to professional practice’ and ‘engages them in a real world commitment’.
Of course, it would encourage them to be more reflective in their work and possibly engage on a broader level with their coursework in general. It certainly opens up their student experience to the wider online community which could act as a great marketing tool for student recruitment (an increasingly important aspect of university strategy in light of the coalition cuts to higher education and the increased debt burden on undergraduates – or ‘tuition fees’ as they are more commonly known).
Finally, in the last session before lunch, Steve Bonham presented on making the most of the tools. This session was a little less “person at front talking” and more interactive, requiring us to actually stand up, discuss and engage. We were asked to do two things.
Firstly to put on a post-it note what we thought IT departments should or shouldn’t be doing with social media – with each option placed at either end of the room. Then we were asked to write down some of examples of possible messages we might receive from students and how we would respond. I think the consensus on the former was that IT departments should take a more relaxed attitude to social media and have a light touch policy of ‘regulation’ – certainly that was what I picked up on anyway. In terms of the latter, I think it was more about thinking about how to engage with students through this medium and a focus on opening up conversation.
With that, it was time for a spot of lunch (including mini scones!) which was nicely accompanied by a projection of all the tweets that had been tagged #ucsoc12 throughout the morning via VisualTweets – a pretty neat little touch.
More to come on this event after the break…