About Ian Watson

Programme Manager for knowledge management and knowledge media type things at IRISS. Particularily interested in social media and how we can get better access to it in the workplace

Learning: the social dimension

I’ll be running a workshop on the social dimensions of learning at Learning Essentials, the  Elearning Alliance conference on Friday 31 October at West Lothian College, Livingston.

In a recent blog post Jane Hart notes that social learning is how we learn naturally, with our friends and colleagues. Social media, although not essential, she says, does offer tools that help us to help us connect to our networks of colleagues to ask and answer questions, and exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences.  This is known as a Personal Learning Network, a concept we explored in our recent animated story.

Continuous learning is less about courses and more about people sharing knowledge, experience, ideas and resources as part of the daily workflow. But Hart also warns against forcing people to use social media in courses or in the workplace and then confusing compliance with engagement learning.

Paul Matthews, in his recent book Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times, notes that employees need to be adaptable, responsive, continuous learners, innovative and willing to share.  To be like that, employees need to work in an environment that allows access to personal learning networks.  The emphasis here is on personal.  People have to want to do this, not be compelled to.

Knoco stories is a blog from Nick Milton offering insights on knowledge transfer. A recent post (Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing) compares and contrasts two ways of transferring knowledge:

  1. Connecting people so that they can discuss
  2. Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it

He argues that connecting people is far less efficient than collecting while being far more effective – but how much more effective? He concludes that  effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through connecting is 35% compared to 2.5% for collecting. I’ll leave it to others to decide if they agree with his analysis but it does seem to support the notion that discussion and collaboration are vital parts of learning.

In the workshop we’ll have look at tools for building the personal learning networks and environments that can help us learning continuously and effectively, and willingingly!

 

Personal learning networks: feedback from the IRISS Challenge

Debbie Lucas is a staff development officer in a local authority social work department. She took part in the IRISS Personal Learning Network Challenge to learn more about using social media both in her own role and to support colleagues. These are her reflections.

Apart from dipping my toe into the world of Twitter by setting up, but never actually using, a personal Twitter account, I would consider myself to be a “Twirgin”. I never really understood the concept of Twitter and was a bit overwhelmed by the fast pace at which information seemed to come through this form of social media.

I took up a new post in a local authority training team in May 2014 and as part of this role, I made contact with organisations such as IRISS and SSKS. This led me down a path of e-information and wanting to know more about how social work practitioners were able to access this information in a way that was quick and easy, especially in the fast-paced, busy environments that we work in. And so, I came across IRISS’ Personal Learning Network Challenge. I was keen to participate and learn more about how I could use social media in my own role, but also how I could use it support practitioners within my organisation.

As with any journey, there were some exciting parts, but also some ‘bumps’ along the way. IRISS, and many others have written more than a few articles about the use of social media in the workplace. These articles focus on the barriers and challenges that organisations and, more importantly, individual practitioners face. Whilst I can appreciate the concerns that senior managers have about allowing staff access to social media, I entirely identify with the individual challenges that those before me have come up against.

Of course, access to Twitter was blocked to almost all employees of my local authority, so I was prepared to participate in this project on my own personal mobile phone. To keep myself right, I shared the information with my line manager and informed her that I would be using my own phone to access Twitter. This was met with some reservations, but I reassured her that my profile was entirely professional and that I would not make any connection with the local authority we worked for. I have to say that although it has never directly been called in to question, I have struggled with the unconscious mistrust that exists in relation to my professional integrity and the use of social media. I do appreciate that there is always the potential for someone in a professional capacity to behave inappropriately on social media, but surely employers should trust in their own selection process and policies/guidance to ensure that their employees will behave in a professional and mature manner when it comes to their job?

The PLN challenge was broken down in to small steps and this made it feel less daunting, especially since I had never fully made use of Twitter before. Soon I was building up a healthy list of colleagues and groups to follow. More excitingly, some started following me, although I was yet to actually say anything on Twitter!

I was amazed at all this information that was virtually “falling in to my lap” and I soon started to master the art of skimming through my Twitter feed and zoning in on information that was relevant or of interest to me. This made the next step in the challenge easier as I had to re-tweet something that I found interesting. I then had the task of actually tweeting something myself….! What on earth would I have to say that anyone would find interesting? So I kept it general and in the vein of the challenge tweeted about looking forward to working with IRISS about improving access to information and even “hashtagged”!

Screen grab of Debbie Lucas's tweets

I wasn’t sure what to expect after this first tweet, but I can tell you it was not to be re-tweeted by Alan Baird, Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government!!!
In the short space of time that I have been using Twitter, I have grown in confidence in terms of voicing my opinion. Reading other people’s/organisation’s thoughts on things that matter in the world of social work has made me consider my own thoughts and views to a greater extent.Whilst I still need to work up the courage to actually post my opinions, I have definitely noticed a shift in my willingness to publicly express a view.

I was quickly becoming more confident in using Twitter and really excited about being able to pick up information that may, or more likely may NOT have, come to my attention. At times I was opening up all sorts of links and never actually getting round to reading much of it: a small insight in to how difficult it can be for others to stay abreast of new or important information whilst managing busy caseloads and something to think about when supporting my colleagues to access and use social media in the future.

In the meantime, the Director of Social Work for my local authority, had been given information about the PLN challenge and had been made aware that I was participating in the challenge which led to me being given access to Twitter on my work computer.  I am disappointed, however, that I cannot always follow links to potentially interesting blogs as most of these are still blocked by the network.

I was also linked in with a colleague from the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs team who went over some of the basics of using social media, and also gave me some pointers in terms of ‘Lists’ that you could use to filter the information coming through on your Twitter feed. This definitely streamlines my feeds and I can look at specific lists depending on what information I may be interested in at the time.

There are differing views about the use of social media as a professional. In my opinion, there are two different elements to using social media in a professional capacity:

  1. as a representative of the organisation or group that you belong to, offering news and views of the organisation or group; and,
  2. as a professional in your own right with your own (professional) views and interests.

One of the arguments about allowing staff access to social media is the time it would take to manage this. Whilst this is true for the first point, for the second it becomes less of an issue in terms of workload management and more an issue of time management.

For those interested in the use of social media in the work place or as a professional, I’m sure you’re familiar with all the arguments against and for it. I am not going to go into this debate, but I do have an opinion about mixing the use of personal and professional profiles on social media. In the first element above, I feel it is to be avoided. The second element is more likely to lead to some debate, after all, most of us have professional colleagues whom we would consider friends as well.  I feel, however, that this is a blurring of boundaries and it would be too easy for a comment to be inadvertently posted in the wrong context, leading to potentially serious repercussions and damage to a person’s professional integrity. But this is another discussion for another day.

I am still very new to using social media as a professional but I have to say I do understand Twitter more as a professional than I ever did on a personal level. I am really excited about the possibilities and opportunities that this presents. I think that with small steps and a lot of education, we can convince senior managers of the benefits of social media for sharing information and improving practice, especially when there are specific social media networks set up for use in a professional capacity.

I am hoping that I can make a contribution to this ongoing debate and will continue to have discussions in my organisation regarding how we can effectively use social media to improve practice.

@debbielucaspt

Introducing Kristina and her personal learning network

In a recent blog post marking the 25th anniversary of the Web, Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, observed that our social networks built on things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ have become part of our professional lives as they let us make global connections with other like-minded individuals. This professional network, she says, becomes a Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In another post she notes that this kind of social learning often happens below the radar of ICT and learning & development departments  This is partly because access to public social media may be blocked (for example see previous post about Yammer) and partly because people tend not to like the way enterprise-wide social initiatives prescribe which tools they must use for sharing and collaborating. Neither do they like their activities being tracked and scrutinised by others, who may have no idea what it means to be social.

As a result, many in the workforce are not exploiting the enormous potential of PLNs to support continuous learning and development, which most would agree is fundamental requirement for the 21st century worker.

Malcolm Wright and Alison Petch announce the Kirstina animation

Malcolm Wright and Alison Petch announce the Kirstina animation

So we at IRISS were very pleased to collaborate with colleagues in NHS Education for Scotland to create Kristina, a model of how someone working in health and social care can create and benefit from a personal learning network.

Today Kristina makes her debut in this short animation showing how easy she found it to get started.  You can do it too.

 


Malcolm Wright, NES Chief Executive, talks about the social use of knowledge:


Alison Petch, IRISS Director, explains why we created Kristina:

Let’s educate rather than regulate

In the LinkedIn Digital Leaders group I posted the story about a local authority banning its staff from participating in work related discussions on a Yammer network (see previous post).  The discussion covered a range of viewpoints, but there was general agreement that trying to manage risk by blocking access was futile.

Risk, nonetheless, does come up over and over again, the kneejerk reaction being that people can’t be trusted not to post sensitive information on social media.  A recent article in The Conversation rather neatly puts risk in perspective by looking at how the military handles it. Careless use of social media poses a real threat to the lives of military personnel, but the response is not to ban it:

Within the UK military there is an underlying appreciation that the integration of social media builds as much on education and behavioural change as regulation

Here’s an interesting exercise for public sector managers: in the following paragraph, replace ‘defence’, ‘military’ and ‘soldiers’ with equivalent words to describe your business.

With recruitment numbers dwindling, with the risk of further defence cuts looming, and with a new military employment model imminent, military personnel are facing a period of radical change. Social media is one such challenge but, if used intelligently and sensitively, it may also be a means of negotiating new bonds of trust, community and support between soldiers, their families and the military establishment.

Now let your staff get on with learning about social media rather than relying on regulation.

Yammer? Not here you don’t.

…  everybody who wishes to access the internet should be able to and … it is the role of government to ensure that everybody in our society has the opportunity to develop digital skills. A world class Digital Scotland will be one in which internet access is considered as a utility on a par with access to electricity and gas, and where digital literacy takes it place alongside conventional literacy and numeracy at the heart of our education system. Access to the internet should not be considered a luxury in a modern country.

So says the Scottish Government in a report published back in April (Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action).  ‘Everybody in our society’ presumably includes people at work?  Yet local authority ICT managers continue to deny access to web-based services, often for obscure reasons.  Consider this example.

Recently SSSC set up a Yammer network to enable people working in social care to exchange knowledge and experience on self directed support.  In a sector that is often hesitant in its embrace of social media this network turned out to be hugely popular. Sadly, one local authority member had to make this rather forlorn, farewell post:

Well I knew that this was really too good to be true. Our ICT colleagues have become aware that Yammer was being used and have instructed that accounts be closed as it is not a secure site and use of it breaches council policy.

So probably my last post for the moment at least, shame really found this useful in making links and sharing resource.

Making links and sharing resources: exactly what the modern workplace is supposed to be all about. Yammer, incidentally, is used by some 400,000 companies worldwide, including 85 percent of the Fortune 500.  Is it really not secure enough for a local authority?

This ‘command and control’ approach is rather at odds with promoting digital participation.  If local authorities do not encourage and nurture their own staff in digital participation, the communities they serve may leave them behind as they acquire the skill and confidence to build networks using the tools of their choice.

An article in the Guardian Social Care Network this week asks what’s holding back the use of social media in social care. While there are legitimate concerns, professional people are well able to decide how and when to use social networks. The article talks about about using Twitter to make connections and Yammer (yes Yammer) to pave the way for more collaboration. 

One of the biggest benefits is being able to network without spending lots of money on conferences. Communicating online, say Helen Reynolds (responsible for opening up access to social media in Monmouthshire County Council), allows you to “understand what’s going on in the industry by having that bigger network of people you can call on”.

Precisely.

If you are one of the digitally excluded why not have your say on Scotland’s Digital Dialogue?

Participation in the workplace: it does work

About 30 people from the public, private and third sectors along with some from academia and NGOs gathered at last week’s Digital Leaders Scotland Salon which looked at how to overcome the barriers to digital participation that face many groups in society and impede Scotland’s aspirations for a digital future.

What struck me was the presence again of that big elephant in the room.  When I asked how many participants were blocked from accessing the web at work there were far too many nods and wry grins of resignation. One participant had even been blocked from accessing the booking website for the event, which of course was for, err, digital leaders.

Why this should be such a problem really isn’t clear. As the DVLA points out:

This may seem obvious, but how can you pronounce yourself a digital organisation and then stop your staff from accessing YouTube or Twitter which we use to engage with our customers daily? - DVLA Digital Services Blog

Quite. The DVLA highlights the self evident truth that to be a digital organisation an organisation needs to, well, think digitally and build the capability of the workforce to support and deliver digital services. For the DVLA this meant opening up access to social media to all staff on their work computers. This is how you go about about building skills, confidence and competence.

Opening up web access, says the DVLA,  allows staff to find answers the questions they want answers to – not just the ones the employer thinks they might need answered.

What a welcome move away from the all too prevalent command and control culture. What’s holding back rest of the public sector?

What’s holding us back?

What, asks Steph Gray in his Postbureaucrat blog, holds people back from using digital tools and techniques at work? 

  • Do they need someone to tell them what Twitter is for?
  • Or does the system block it and their boss disapprove?
  • Maybe the press office runs a tight ship on the corporate channels and other people don’t know or dare to do it themselves

Followers of Just Do It will know that this question has been troubling us for some time too. After observing the Department of Work and Pensions Digital Academy, Steph has concluded that there are just two things needed to get change going in large organisations: attitude and critical mass.

Attitude picks the fights, and critical mass wins them

So we need individuals unwilling to put up with bad ways of doing things and a group of these rebels large enough that their ‘energy can be harnessed, opportunities taken, occasional failures accepted, and the crucial sense of inevitability created’.

Digital Leaders Scotland touched on a similar topic at a Salon event on whether security was an enabler or barrier to digital services.  The Salon report notes that trust more than security is the problem: the NHS trusts people to do all sort of things, such as open heart surgery, but gets twitchy about people using Twitter (echoes here of the oft quoted former Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie ‘We trust you with a baton and with the right to take away someone’s liberty, I think we can trust you with a Twitter account’). This despite evidence from people like Michael Seres who has demonstrated beyond question how social media can be used for effective and efficient communication between doctor and patient.

The discussion heard that moves to towards a more trusting regime were hampered by reports, again from the NHS, saying things like ‘online social networks are by their very nature home grown and ungovernable … universal blocking may seem like the best approach’.  That looks like a fight waiting to be picked!

Just Do It will be attending a couple of events next month. The first, on 5 June, is another Salon EventDigital Participation – whose responsibility is this, and how can we make it happen? The second is the SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) Digital Scotland Festival on 16 June.    

Let’s hope we find some some people with attitude and enough of them create that crucial sense of inevitability.

Shhh! There’s an elephant in the room

The Royal Society of Edinburgh this week published the results of its inquiry into digital participation. According to the report, Spreading the Benefits of Digital Participation,

every individual, business and organisation must have basic information literacy and digital skills … Scotland must seize every opportunity to develop these skills through formal education, workplace learning, lifelong and community learning

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Note the inclusion of workplace learning in there. This is the HUGE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. Workplaces in all sectors currently do not seem like fertile environments for fostering digital literacy, which is not about using Microsoft Office or finding your way round the organisation’s Sharepoint-based intranet. It’s about encouraging people to use web-based tools (social media) to find, share and use information.

As we have noted before in this blog

People who can seek new information, make sense of it, and share it with their colleagues, will be an asset to any work team. However, they need access to their learning networks while at work, and this is often a challenge. Reduce these barriers, and support PKM [Personal Knowledge Management] practices, and the organization will benefit.

So what is preventing this from happening? It may be the combination of somewhat technophobic senior executives and risk averse IT managers that results in locked down equipment and blocked access to the web-based tools that could radically transform workplace learning and knowledge management. Daily we hear dispiriting stories like these:

You can’t download Adobe Reader because Adobe’s website is a security risk.
You may not print from the council laptop on any printer other than the designated one in your workplace.

These restrictions, however well intentioned, suggest a culture that fosters dependency and fear rather than one that fosters confidence to develop and acquire digital literacy.

According to the report, 1.3m people in Scotland lack essential 21st-century digital literacy skills, which will need an urgent investment of at least £100m to remedy. If the 200,000 or so people who make up the social care workforce were encouraged at work to use the web and develop their skills, the number of digitally illiterate might fall to just over a million. And this would have a knock-on benefit.  The report describes a ‘network effect’ in which

localised digital activity by communities of individuals, businesses and voluntary organisations helps motivate others to become involved. The more people who have the opportunity to participate digitally, the greater the benefit is for all.

The workforce are also members of their local communities and most business have computers and reasonably good broadband. They just don’t encourage or allow their workers to make use of it to develop digital literacy.  It seems glaringly obvious that a digitally literate workforce has great potential to spread digital literacy through their community networks. And it wouldn’t cost £100 million.

Somewhat perversely the report suggests that we need to invest in digital skills so that ‘small and big businesses are able to access a workforce with the skills needed to exploit digital tools and opportunities’. Surely employers have a big role to play in creating that workforce?

Research Unbound: the future of research dissemination

In mid 2012 the Finch Report heralded the ‘’the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet‘. By 2014 all publicly funded research was to be freely available to the public. To achieve this, Finch recommended support for ‘Gold’ open access publishing, where publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, thus allowing journal articles to become freely accessible to everyone immediately upon publication.

RU launch-iw-2

Introducing Research Unbound

This approach leaves the role of the academic publisher largely unchanged, which is rather odd when we consider that the internet has disrupted so many business models, including newspaper publishing, music and travel.  Why not journal publishing?  After all, when Tim Berners-Lee invented the web he was aiming to support and improve scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research. And it has been argued that researchers do not consume articles in the form in which the currently write them.

In January 2014 an article in Guardian Professional (Why open access should be a key issue for university leaders) argued that it was time senior leaders in higher education made openness their concern

the strategic and ethical questions that arise from the rapid and comprehensive advances in digital technologies – and particularly openness and its consequences – are for anyone in a leadership position, whether an academic programme convenor, a dean or a vice-chancellor. All universities are now digital, and all research and teaching will be shaped by continuing technological change

Gold and Green Open Access will remain a part of the publishing ecosytem but, as Gary Hall argues (On the unbound book: academic publishing in the age of the infinite archive)

publishing strategies are becoming more pluralistic and decentralised, making use of blogs, wikis and services like Figshare

Which brings us to Research Unbound, an IRISS contribution to creating such a decentralised and pluralistic world.  Research Unbound is a platform (a blog, basically) on which researchers of all kind (academics, practitioners) may share their findings, in whole or in part. It is also a campaign to encourage the use of social media to share, engage and build networks.

At our launch event on 21 February 2014, Brian Kelly shared his practical wisdom on how social media can enhance your research activities.  Among his many hints and tips was Socialbro for managing and analysing your Twitter network.  Fergus McNeil, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow and an active blogger (see Discovering Desistance), offered a measured assessment of ‘new’ versus ‘old’. While the traditional route to publication remains important, it can be many years before a researcher gets feedback, in the form of citations, whereas blogging can deliver immediate feedback and can help measure impact. Nina Vaswani, Research Fellow at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, talked about  blogs as a form of reflective journal writing.

Research is a tangled, messy and complicated process and sharing the experience of this journey not only aids reflection and learning for the blogger, but also can help readers learn from the experience too. (from Nina’s blog post about the event)

Two of our contributors to Research Unbound (Marguerite Schinkel and Fiona Sherwood-Johnson) talked about why they are using this channel to share their research. The event generated lively and stimulating discussion, some of it captured via Twitter and summarised on Storify (or see and contribute to the whole #researchunbound stream on Twubs).

The role of social networking in the research process is neatly summarised by Nina Vaswani in her blog

In order for me to make a difference I need to produce high quality research that is relevant, useful and, equally importantly, accessible to my audience.  I certainly don’t want my research gathering dust in some far corner of a university library.

We hope Research Unbound will play an important part in linking research and practice in social care.

An undeniable right to digital inclusion?

The interim report of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into spreading the benefit of digital participation in Scotland – published on 4 December 2013 – calls on the Scottish Government to recognise that every individual has an undeniable right to digital inclusion and for steps to be taken to motivate individuals and businesses to engage in the online world. Digital technologies, the report notes, can offer opportunities for people to explore interests and share and access knowledge, and to achieve this

…we must ensure that all public, private and third-sector organisations in Scotland have unfettered access to the infrastructure, tools and skills they need to make effective use of digital technologies.

The word ‘unfettered’ is important. Our experience at IRISS is that while people who work within organisations can be motivated to try out new ways of sharing information, for example by using Dropbox, employers offers little encouragement to use this form of communication.  Some block access to Eventbrite (on the ground that is is a ‘shopping site’). Others have stopped their staff from using Doodle which takes the pain out of scheduling meetings. Unfettered access must mean allowing to staff to engage with any web-based service as and when required, bearing in mind that it is often the client who chooses the tool. To refuse to use, say Doodle, is simply to transfer costs onto the client.

The report goes on to say that enterprise agencies should develop simple checklists of free online services and tools -such as business listings, appointments diaries, blogs and calendars – and use these to help businesses to engage with the online world. The problem is that staff in enterprise agencies are themselves often blocked from using these tools (Google Docs, Flickr etc) and are therefore hardly in a position to offer advice.

Organisations need to develop a culture that supports and encourages their staff to engage in web-based communication,  By engaging they will acquire the digital literacy skills necessary to be digitally included.

Along with former DCC Gordon Scobbie and Ian Watt, representing SOCITM, I’ll making a presentation to the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation on this topic on 10 December 2013.  We’ll be suggesting that to tackle digital exclusion and promote digital participation, it is absurd on the one hand to wonder why people don’t engage while, on the other, actively block them from doing exactly that.