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?

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?

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.

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.

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: http://www.padlet.com

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.