Supporting the future workforce

For the past two years, Iriss has supported students of social work at two universities to embed the use of social media in their practice. While we know it can support education – provide them with a whole new world of information and networks – it is the support it provides in the transition from university to professional practice that we’re really interested in. We believe that the earlier these skills, as well as a culture of experiential learning can be fostered in individuals, the more they can bring to their professional roles.

We’ve been working with the University of Strathclyde and University of Dundee to provide online social media learning to their First Year and Masters’ students respectively. The two courses have just completed and both had a good level of engagement.

The course was run over six weeks and covered an introduction to Personal Learning Networks, Twitter, Diigo (a social bookmarking tool), Evernote ( note-taking tool) and Scoop It! ( a news aggregator). The final week is dedicated to personal reflection.

Each course module involve mixed media – video, audio and written texts – with weekly forums for discussion and questions. The mix of media was welcomed by the students and quite a number commented positively on audio – how they hadn’t thought of listening to material for learning before.

The majority of the students saw the benefits of Twitter  – it is probably the most social of the tools, providing easy ways to connect with people, and so really appealed. Some students preferred particular tools over others. It was interesting to see how some students embraced Diigo as a way to save and manage their favourite websites, while others just didn’t recognise its benefits, but really warmed to Evernote or Scoop It! As well as learning about social media, the main purpose of the course is to encourage exploration of the web and develop the individual’s confidence in self-directed learning; there’s no onus on the students to come away using all of the tools that they learn about.

Here are comments from students who participated:

“The use of social media tools as we see nowadays has become important within education and workplace learning because it allows for sharing of ideas, information and knowledge, collaboration, engaging with communities.”

“As social media is often seen in a negative light…, it is helpful to highlight how the use of this can be something of great benefit to ourselves and others.”

“I think social learning can be beneficial in today’s workplace where there is multi-agency working as it is an easier and less time-consuming way of sharing information and learning from other professionals from different organisations and locations.”

“Hart’s podcast has inspired me to use my Twitter account to follow and read more about social work, hopefully learning and challenging myself along the way.”

“I had previously believed that social media was mainly used for personal use and had never believed it had its benefits relating to our own personal learning, development or had information relating to our current practice.”

If you want to try out social media for yourself, sign-up to our 6-week ‘Grow your personal learning network’ course.

Keeping safe on social media

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) has recently updated its social media guidance for the workforce, which provides advice for workers on using social media in a way that meets the SSSC Code of Practice. It sets a supportive context for use of social media, which is much welcomed, and it was encouraging to see Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive at SSSC, talk about her own experiences and champion the use of social media in professional practice. She said:

I’m a keen Twitter user and it can be a great way to share information, connect with people and promote what you do. I hope it gives workers the confidence to use social media appropriately and make the most of it to support their professional practice by connecting with a huge range of people and organisations.

At Iriss we have our own internal guidance on social media use, and on reading through SSSC and other guidance from Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), there are a number of tips that are universal to individuals and services.


  • Think before you post – this is the first thing we ask staff to consider at Iriss. If you react and respond without thinking it risks you saying something that you might later regret. Don’t respond in spur of the moment based on emotion (e.g. anger, excitement, anxiety etc). Stop and think.
  • Be aware of the public nature of social media and assume that anyone can read your post. You should avoid posting information or views that could reflect negatively on you, your employer or your profession.
  • Manage your privacy settings carefully and regularly – be aware of who can see your posts.
  • Maintain professional boundaries. Think carefully before accepting friend requests from people who use your service and don’t use social media to discuss confidential information about people and services.
  • Do not post inappropriate or offensive material. Use professional judgement in deciding whether to post or share something.
  • When in doubt, get advice from colleagues or other professional organisations.

Iriss actively promotes the use of social media in social services for learning and development purposes. We recognise that it can support the development of new knowledge, skills and professional networks. Fancy undertaking a short, six-week online course in the use of social media?

Continuing to grow personal learning networks

On 8 September 2017, we’ll launch a ‘Grow Your Personal Learning Network’ online course for social services staff. This is a course that will be open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the web and social media to support them build personal and professional networks and promote lifelong learning. Given this imminent launch, we thought it timely to share the work we did last year around growing personal learning networks.

personal learning networks animation


Over 2016/17, in partnership with both the University of Strathclyde and University of Dundee, we piloted a ‘Grow your personal learning network’ online course. The six-week course aimed to support two cohorts of students of social work – first year and Masters’ students – to use the web and social media to improve use of, and sharing of information and knowledge and to build their own connections, both personal and professional. It also aspired to promote lifelong learning and to support learning in the transition from education to practice.

The idea for running such a course was originally pitched to the Heads of Social Work group, which prompted interest from the University of Strathclyde and the University of Dundee. There was recognition from both of the potential value of social media for improving students’ access to information for education and practice, and for creating their own local, as well as wider networks.

This summary report is based on a follow-up review session with course leads at both universities, as well as feedback from students posted to the online forum of each respective course.


Personal Learning Networks is different to traditional learning and offers to following benefits to support improved use of evidence:

  • Autonomous and self-directed, with learner controlling how, when and ‘who’ they connect with.
  • Learning is social and adaptable to individuals needs rather than static / prescriptive course content.
  • Continuous part of individuals work flow and not an onerous add on.
  • Bite-sized.
  • Inclusive, supporting connections across sector, professional and non-professional boundaries and hierarchies as well as inclusive of traditional research reports, practitioner wisdom, lived experience and co-creation of new knowledge through interaction.

The learning from the two pilots would be shared to support effective use of evidence and knowledge and will also link into strategic conversations, including the review of Social Work Education and Improving Use of Evidence strand in the Social Services Strategy 2015-20.


The online courses were set-up on Iriss’ WordPress platform using CoursePress Pro. This provided a closed online learning forum for each cohort.

Every week a set of activities were released, together with tips and tools and links to videos and external readings and resources. Each week focused on a different tool or topic. These included:

  • Understanding Personal Learning Networks
  • Twitter
  • Diigo social bookmarking
  • Evernote
  • Scoop It!
  • Personal reflection

The programme for the two cohorts was slightly different, tailored and agreed with course leads. For example, University of Dundee requested that a module on Evernote be included, whereas, the University of Strathclyde covered Twitter over two weeks.

Activities for each week included engaging with a range of multimedia: written texts, videos, and audio content. It was expected that students would engage with each other using social media they were learning about, such as Twitter and Diigo, as part of the course, and share reflections in the closed online forums as part of the tasks set.

The online format supported a self-directed learning approach, which included time management and prioritising in workflow. It offered each cohort of students an online forum where they could post their thoughts and reflections on each week’s tasks, and support each other. The facilitators also offered comment and encouragement. Arguably, this provides a cost-effective way to provide learning; costs were only incurred for the WordPress installation and update. Facilitation, is ‘extra’ in terms of resourcing this.

The courses were facilitated (online) by an Iriss team member and the university course lead. Facilitators encouraged participation and provided comment where appropriate. The students largely led the discussions, responding to, and commenting on, questions posed as part of the tasks.

By way of introduction to the course, the Iriss team provided a one-hour, face-to-face introductory session to both cohorts.


The courses did not form part of the curriculum at either university and were not formally assessed. On providing evidence of learning and participation in the course, open badges were issued by Iriss in partnership with Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).

Application for open badges was promoted by the course facilitators and was designed to encourage them to think about CPD and post-registration accreditation of learning, as required by qualified and practising social workers.


The course was introduced as part of the ‘Preparing for lifelong learning’ module, which was also six weeks long. This took place during the first weeks of class time in Year 1 of the social work programme, with students on campus. 34 out of 35-student class registered for the course.

The PLN course was pitched by the course lead as a way for students, new to university, to take up new tools that would help them in their current studies. It was also promoted as something that would help them as they moved into practice in several years time.

Participation was generally good with approximately 15 students participating throughout the six weeks. Only through comment and / or completion of tasks could we measure the level of participation. It’s possible that a number of those who didn’t post comments or complete tasks (but took a more observatory or ‘lurker’ approach), did actually read material, watch videos etc and got some learning from it.

Approximately 11 students participated in the Twitter discussion in the second week. A Storify report of the discussion is available:

13 students applied for a SSSC open badge at the end of the programme to receive acknowledgement of completion.

Overall the course was well received and feedback was largely positive from students. Regular contact/encouragement from Graham (course lead) was considered to have been helpful in promoting engagement – through weekly face-to-face as well as online contact. It was deemed useful ‘to be directive’, encourage the students and ‘check in.’

Feedback from students:

“People do not need to wait to get taught, and control over learning transfers to individuals”

“I can guarantee that without this gentle push into the social media world I would not have considered it…. This will be invaluable for my further development and education in the years to come as a social work student.”

Student plans to continue using social media to support learning:

  • Build in social media/tools to workflow as a habit
  • Use in fallow periods eg travel time
  • Reflection – consolidate/learn from mistakes/put new ideas into action
  • Identify who/what to read/follow
  • Organise/bookmark useful web links
  • Be proactive online in seeking/asking for help
  • Speak to classmates for recommendations about what’s good online
  • Set up own groups to share ideas and ask questions on topics we are unsure about.


The course was introduced as part of the ‘Leading for change’ module. This was during the second term and final year of the two-year social work Masters programme. It was launched with an introductory face-to-face session, just before students went out on placement. As such, students had no other class contact time during the six weeks of the course. 27 students registered for the PLN course.

The PLN course was also open to Educational Psychology students should they wish to engage. This was with a view to promoting cross-sectoral learning, however, only one Ed. Psych. student engaged.

The course leader (Shona) was keen to use the PLN course to encourage students to take more of a lead in their own learning. This was about encouraging them to make their own connections across professional and sectoral boundaries, and beyond prescribed university course outlines as core values in lifelong learning to be taken into practice.

Unfortunately, participation was generally low, with three or four students actively contributing week to week.

In contrast to University of Strathclyde only one student got involved in the Twitter discussion; only one applied for a SSSC open badge.

Feedback from students:

“This course provided a simple, yet clear overview of some of the apps and tools available to people to help support their learning and manage information.”

“I was encouraged to set up a Twitter account and it has proved invaluable this week as I was unable to attend a national Visible Learning conference with John Hattie on Monday, but could keep up to date with all the latest information and research through people tweeting.”

“Didn’t make me consider my own role as a leader in practice.”


For participating students:

  • Encourages not just good or best practice, but also ‘next’ practice
  • Encourages continuous learning
  • Alternative viewpoints to your own/can challenge you to think more critically
  • Provides helpful tips (eg through blogs or articles or groups sharing experiences/advice)
  • Improves digital literacy
  • Links with need for CPD throughout career and SSSC requirements
  • Encourages and supports peer support
  • Builds network of people/organisations to share with and learn from
  • Helped them to overcome ‘bad name’ /stigma that social media sometimes gets by showing it usefulness when used ‘correctly’

For facilitators (Iriss and university leads):

  • It worked best to run the course over class time, where university lead could check-in face-to-face with students, address any issues, and encourage participation.
  • The optional nature of course meant that other pieces of work which were accredited got priority, especially when faced with the demands of placements.
  • Facilitation is a not a huge pull on time and generally involves prompting with questions, and providing own insights and comments each week. Allocating time to this was supportive to students and the facilitators themselves.
  • Format and content of workshops was well received – participating students commented that the video tutorials were helpful in understanding how the tools could be used.
  • Cost-effective way to provide learning – the course was built on an already existing WordPress installation.

Imagining the future of workplace learning

Iriss was a partner in a conference organised for final year students and newly qualified social workers which was held on 26th February 2016 in Dundee. Entitled, Shaping our Future: Making a Difference, it focused on what it’s like to go from university into the world of work as a newly qualified social worker, and how to develop as an effective professional in a world that is ever changing.

Alyson Leslie, who spent many years undertaking inquiries and case reviews across the UK into child protection and mental health fatalities, gave an impressive keynote presentation on the subject of entering the world of social work as a newly qualified practitioner. One of her key points that stuck with me – ‘You don’t suddenly get smart’, pertaining to the continuous and experiential nature of learning in the profession. This chimes very much with what Iriss advocates in terms of building personal learning networks – growing your personal and professional connections through social media to continuously learn and find information and knowledge to improve practice. Here’s a video animation that explains the concept of Personal Learning Networks.

We were really pleased to have Jane Hart, an independent Workplace Learning Advisor, writer, speaker, and the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT), present a workshop at the event. The workshop – Imagining the future of workplace learning – focused on encouraging people to use social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to grow a personal learning network.

We audio recorded Jane’s presentation, which gives a flavour of what it’s all about.

In the coming year, we plan to run an Personal Learning Network course for students in Scottish universities, to support them build their own Personal Learning Networks and to continue to use evidence in practice as they transition from university to the workplace.

A Storify of the Shaping our Future: Making a Difference conference is also available.

Canva – a simple design tool

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

If you want to present information in a more creative, engaging and memorable way but have no design skills, Canva can help you. Canva is a really simple design tool that requires no experience or formal training in graphic design programs such as Photoshop or Indesign. It enables you to create posters, flyers, infographics, website graphics, invites and even presentations without any fuss, and in no time at all. And it’s free to use. Simply set-up an account and start creating designs.

Canva works on the premise of choosing a template or design (there are costs for some designs but there’s a wide variety of free ones available) and dragging and dropping it onto a blank canvas. Templates are sorted by category, for example, posters, cards and Facebook header images. When a template has been chosen you can choose a background colour of choice and even upload your own images to the design. There are also many text fonts and styles available.

In the search function there is a series of shapes, charts and graphs, illustrations and icons that can be used for data visualisation purposes. Canva is especially useful for presenting and reporting data more visually. An example might include the presentation of key facts and figures from a report as part of an executive summary. All created designs can be easily downloaded as PDFs or images and can also be exported for print production.

Not only is Canva easy to use, you’ll also have fun doing it!

Try out Canva.

Storify your event or conversation

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS).

Networking and participating at events can help us learn new skills and keep up to date with what’s happening in our area of interest. Social media is increasingly being used as a way for people to be social at events and to have conversations with others about projects and resources that they may not otherwise be privy to. Twitter is one such social media tool that enables these conversations. And not only can it connect people who are in the same room at the same event, it can also connect people who are watching the conversation from afar and who get involved on social media.

Conversations on Twitter and Facebook can at times be very busy and important information may be missed or forgotten. After an event, it can be very useful to create a ‘story’ or record of the conversations that occurred and to gather together relevant resources, be that tweets, blog posts, video, audio and web links, all in one place. In this way, people can revisit and remind themselves of the activities and discussions of the day.

Storify is a nifty way to create a ‘story’ of an event. It’s a free web tool that enables you to pull together resources from Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud (audio) YouTube (video), Flickr (photos), Instagram (photos), blog/news feeds (RSS) and Google. And it’s really easy to do. Use the search function in Storify to find resources. By searching a hashtag or keyword, Storify will return the results – you can choose to ‘add all’ or be selective and drag and drop items of choice into your story. A nice feature of Storify is that is allows you to include your own title, description and narrative, and arrange the elements of the story as you wish. At IRISS, we’ve used Storify at a number of events. Examples include our Relationships Matter JAM and Small Changes, Big Difference event (partnership event with SSSC).

TodaysMeet – a simple way to chat online

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

Face-to-face meetings can be hard on resources. Often there’s just not the time or the money to bring people together. This is especially true for those working in rural areas or those who need to communicate with others in regional offices. Therefore, people need to be more creative about how they communicate with each other. Online social networks, such as Yammer, LinkedIn and Facebook help to fill these communication gaps, offering spaces to share information and to engage in conversations with others. However, a new tool on the block – TodaysMeet – takes a slightly different approach.

TodaysMeet is a simple chat facility that can be used by anyone who wants to open a discussion. It works on the premise of opening a ‘room’ (without signing up and logging in) for a specified period of time. It’s simply a case of picking a name for your room and the time you want to keep it open for. Options include: one hour, two hours, eight hours, one day, one week, one month and one year. Payment is required for yearly use.

As soon as the room is open, you will see a ‘room tools’ button where you can copy the link to invite other people to the conversation. Other features include the ability to pick up an embed code or QR code for the chat room, and save a transcript of the conversation. Much like Twitter, each message has a 140-character limit to encourage concise points. TodaysMeet was developed for teachers as a way for students to discuss topics outwith the classroom, but it has relevance for anyone who wants to host a meeting or chat, or provide a backchannel for an event.

Today’s Meet:

Save and manage your information on ‘Pearltrees’

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

Pearltrees is a creative and visual way to save and manage your favourite websites or ‘pearls’ as they are known. ‘Pearls’ – websites, files, photos and notes – can be saved and organised into what’s known as ‘pearltrees’. These ‘trees’ can be created and organised around subjects of interest. For example, you may have an interest in photography and want to save lots of interesting websites, blogs, photos on the topic. Using Pearltrees it’s simple. Just create a ‘tree’ called ‘photography’ and start to save ‘pearls’ Visually, the pearltrees have a tree-like structure much like mind mapping. Similar tools exist such as Delicious and Diigo, which are less visual. These are more commonly known as social bookmarking tools and allow you to save favourite websites in lists which can be tagged with words that identify them.

What’s great about Pearltrees?

  • Visual – it is a creative and accessible way to manage information
  • Intuitive – it is simple to setup, use and browse
  • Access – ‘pearltrees’ can be accessed on computers, mobile phone and tablet devices
  • Scope – websites, files, photos and notes can be saved rather than web pages alone
  • Learn – using the search function it is easy to see what other people are collecting
  • Collaborate – people can work together to create ‘pearltrees’
  • Share – information saved using Pearltrees can be easily shared through Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Pearltrees also offers a number of Premium account options with added features such as privacy control, and ways to more effectively customise content.

Visit Pearltrees.

Collaborate creatively with Padlet

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager, IRISS)

If you often need to collect feedback on an event, create a noticeboard, take notes, brainstorm ideas or make lists, then take a look at Padlet. It enables the creation of a ‘wall’ or web space where you can post text, photos and videos, and then invite others – colleagues, clients, friends – to do the same, working collaboratively to create content. And it’s really easy to get started and use – you don’t even have to create an account!

To get started, go to the Padlet website simply click on the ‘Build a wall’ button. Then just start adding content: click on the white space to add text; or drag and drop images or other media from your desktop onto the wall. You can customise your wall with a choice of wallpapers and layouts, so you can play around with how it looks. You can also add a title and header image to each wall. Examples are available on the Padlet website.

Why use Padlet?

  • It’s collaborative. Padlet allows many people to post to a wall (once the wall has been shared with them) and everyone can see the activity of each other.
  • It’s multimedia rich. You can drag a Word document, paste a link to a YouTube video and drag a photo onto the wall for example.
  • It works on many devices. Padlet can be used on your phone, tablet and desktop computer.
  • It does public and private. There are settings you can choose to keep walls private, password protect them, or make them available to only those you share with by email.
  • It integrates with social media. You can share walls to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google + and such like.
  • Walls can be exported and / or embedded – a wall can be exported in PDF, Excel, CSV and image formats. Embed code is also provided for use on blogs and websites.
  • While you don’t need to set-up an account, if you want to save the walls you build then it’s best to set up an account. This takes all of a minute.

Visit Padlet:

Showcasing best practice through film making

Guest blogger, Alan McGhee from North Lanarkshire Council tells us how he worked with social services staff to showcase best practice and encourage the development of film making skills.

Alan McGhee

Hi, my name is Alan McGhee and I am the new Media and Communications Graduate at North Lanarkshire Council. I am delighted to have been asked by IRISS to write this blog to talk about my work. I find that blogging is an extremely useful tool in engaging with others with similar interests and also allows me to reach new audiences that may take an interest in what I do. So what exactly does the Media and Communications Graduate do at North Lanarkshire Council? That’s a good question.

Aside from drinking a lot of tea, I am responsible for developing and creating several short films that will be shown at the North Lanarkshire Council Social Work Roadshows in September 2014, where all staff comes together. The short films will reflect and capture examples of best practice within social work. The films will showcase just how dedicated North Lanarkshire Council employees are in the assisting and enabling those in the North Lanarkshire area to have a better life. This can involve anything from helping with simple tasks such as bathing to providing short breaks for carers to providing support to those with drugs or alcohol issues to child care and protection.

I hope that the short films we create will highlight the dedication and hard work of North Lanarkshire social workers. I also hope that with the involvement of other staff members in the development stage, I can inspire other employees to dabble in film making and learn new skills. Linking with IRISS to tap into developing skills, provide experience and create a wider network will help further develop any new skills that can be carried forward after this road show.

Aside from creating the short films, I will create a Photographic Journal that will take an in-depth look into what social work is. This will involve documenting other areas of social work that are often unknown to the public, such as the Integrated Equipment and Adaptation Service. This service specialises in providing support such as chair lifts, railings and specialised beds. The Photo Journal will be displayed alongside the short films at the Roadshow and will also be shown within the different localities. The Photo Journal and the Short Films will also be shown on the North Lanarkshire Council intranet service which is accessible to staff only.

One of the aims of this project is to highlight the North Lanarkshire Council Social Work employee’s hard work and dedication to service users. Another aim is to help staff members develop new skills. The development of the short films will leave staff members with new film making skills that can be taken on further after the next roadshow.