- Database of practice
- Using Social Media in Academic Practice: A Student-led Training Initiative
Using Social Media in Academic Practice: A Student-led Training Initiative
- University of Nottingham
- Date first submitted:
- 4 Nov 2010
- Date last modified:
- 4 Nov 2010
- Researcher-led activities
- Personal effectiveness
- Research project skills
- Academic practice
- Knowledge exchange
- Researcher development strategy/management
- Enterprise-related activities
- Career development
- Postgraduate researchers
- Doctoral researchers
- Research staff
- Research masters
Rationale, aims and outcomes
What is the rationale for doing this?
How does it fit with institutional strategy?
What are the main features of the provision?
What are the aims and expected outcomes?
The Social Media sessions were a student-led initiative, supported by Roberts’ funding and hosted by the Jubilee Graduate Centre, University of Nottingham. In early 2010, two second-year PhD students from the School of Education (Andy Coverdale and LeRoy Hill) designed and presented a series of three, one and half hour sessions in social and participatory media in academic practice to doctoral and early career researchers. In developing the sessions, the presenters drew on guidelines on research student skills and experiences training as defined in the Joint Statement of the UK Research Councils' Training Requirements for Research Students.
Whilst the authors were aware of isolated uses of social media in a number of Faculties within the University (such as student blogs, social networking and use of group wikis), no formal training or mechanisms for sharing good practice were evident. And whilst the Graduate School’s programme of researcher development workshops included a number of loosely related sessions such as web-based research methods, the authors identified a ‘gap’ in the postgraduate training programme.
The sessions were supported by a bespoke online resource hosted on the Jubilee Graduate Centre website, which consisted of annotated links to key social media resources discussed in the sessions and a critical selection of tutorials, guides and articles related to social media and academic practice (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/jubileegraduatecentre/training-and-events/events-resources.phtml)
The Jubilee Graduate Centre is one of five Graduate Centres in the University, and one of two with a campus focus. It works closely with postgraduate research students and early career researchers to develop both Faculty-specific and inter-Faculty training and careers events with a focus on transferable skills, which supports the aims of the Roberts’ Review (Roberts, 2002). One of the key findings in the Roberts’ Review was the need for research students to develop a strong set of generic and transferable skills, alongside their research skills, in order to improve their employability both within and outside academia.
Engaging in researcher-led initiatives enables PGRs to develop the important, and sometimes difficult to teach, skills of planning and managing projects, risk-taking and enterprise, leadership and innovation, and be proactive and take charge of their personal and professional development. These are the key attributes of an entrepreneurial personality and are the skills which are cited by recruiters as being the most difficult to find in potential employees (Association of Graduate Recruiters, 2006), so engaging researchers in this way supports them in developing demonstrable experience which will ensure that they will be well-placed in the increasingly competitive job market when they graduate
In supporting and hosting the Social Media sessions, some of the centre’s core objectives in promoting researcher-led initiatives were realised. The sessions provided the presenters with an excellent opportunity to participate in peer-support activities, contribute to the Graduate Centre’s programme of events, and gain valuable teaching experience as part of their own professional development, whilst recognising that the sessions might also inform aspects of their closely-related individual theses.
The key aims of the Social Media sessions were to:
Find common ground between Web 2.0 'core values' and academic practice
Address wider concepts - digital identity, Open Access/Education models, collaborative practices etc
Align with social learning concepts and models - communities of practice, network theories etc
In supporting the students in developing the Social Media sessions the Jubilee Graduate Centre aimed to:
Provide them with the opportunity to put into practice the transferable skills that they have developed alongside their more formal research skills;
- Support other researchers to develop their own ideas, allowing them to draw upon their creativity and enterprise;
- Enhance researchers’ networking skills so that they can develop co-operative and fruitful relationships and groups;
- Provide the opportunity for researchers to engage in wider activities which are of benefit to their specific area of research;
- Promote the interaction and exchange of knowledge between researchers, and enable them to assist the learning of their peers;
- Help to construct and develop a sense of community among the local, and wider, research population;
- Encourage other researchers to do the same and to take control of their personal development.
Are there any pre-requisites for engagement, e.g. levels of skill, years of experience, essential pre-activities?
How many participate in each 'activity'?
There were no pre-requisites for engagement in the sessions, which were designed to accommodate both experienced and inexperienced users of social media. An online survey and an invitation to use the 'microblogging' site Twitter were sumbitted to attendees prior to the sessions to help evaluate interests and experiences in using social media and expectations of the sessions.
Numbers were limited to 20 for each session and, whilst a core contingent attended all three sessions, most attended either one or two of the sessions. Between 14-19 attended each session and the audience was made up predominantly of PhD students and several early career researchers.
Evaluation: benefits, challenges and next steps
How do you monitor effectiveness?
Who do you seek feedback from?
Do you have benchmarks?
The effective use of social and participative media is seen as a key requirement in 21st Century academic practice and professional development (Research Information Network, 2010). With an emphasis less on the technologies, and more on the social, participatory and collaborative properties of the tools, the presenters explored how social media can support and promote learning, research practices and professional development. They explored the relationship between social media and academic practice in such a way that it enabled the students and research staff to network with other academics with similar research interests. However, the major point of emphasis was on how, as PhD students and research staff, they use social media affordances and tools to better enable them to cope with the challenges of building their identity as inexperienced academics.
Session design was aligned with appropriate theoretical concepts and social learning models – such as communities of practice, network theories, and digital literacies – and engaged in wider aspects of doctoral learning experiences, such as issues of academic integrity, professional identities, and project management.
The sessions attracted generally positive feedback from attendees, and indicated opportunities for discussion and sharing good practices were highly valued by the students. A number of attendees suggested they would have preferred longer sessions with more opportunities for interactive activities and discussion. This was taken into account when designing the Engineering Graduate Centre, and other subsequent, sessions.
The sessions demonstrated a successful integration of a student-led initiative within a formal Graduate training provision. The initiative underlined the importance of engaging PhD students in their own learning and training needs, in both sharing expertise with peers and in contributing to their own professional development. In doing so, it demonstrated to other Postgraduate researchers how they might utilise their own areas of expertise to develop further student-led initiatives.
Some of the challenges associated with using social media are:
Building up a network on Twitter, or committing to a blog often requires a more significant level of personal commitment, and is often dependent on the potential value of the communities and networks a student can engage with in an effective and sustainable way. Whilst some may have access to significant numbers of peers and experts actively engaged in using these social media, in other fields, where such numbers are significantly diminished, there may be less of an incentive.
The apparent time-intensiveness of using social media was a particular concern of some attendees. The presenters emphasised the need to develop strategies as web 2.0 practices are adopted. These may be technology enabled, such as employing a RSS feed reader once the student engages in following a critical number of blogs or websites, but we also stressed the need to develop time-management and reflective approaches to ensure efficiency and sustainability.
There were indications that disciplinary cultures may also influence attitudes to how specific types of social media can be adopted and used. PhD students from Arts and Humanities and the Social Sciences may engage more in reflective practice and wider network-seeking evident in tools such as blogging and social networking, whereas those from the pure, applied and medical sciences, where there is traditionally a more structured and supported enculturation into the research community, may be drawn to more collaborative and project-based tools such as wikis.
The presenters identified a number of key training issues, such as developing the most appropriate approaches to engaging with multi-disciplinary audiences, and addressing inequalities in skills, competencies and experiences. Though discipline-specific practices and concerns over technical abilities were evident, these diverse perspectives were seen as constructive in enabling individual students to draw on their own skills and disciplinary practices and share their experiences with fellow attendees.
Whilst attendees were generally enthusiastic about the principles of open research, this was largely limited to the sharing of resources, and general discussion of methodologies, tools and concepts, and excluded sharing information directly linked with their own theses, ideas and work in progress, or anything that may compromise supervisor or participant confidentiality.
it should not be assumed that PhD students and early career researchers are either familiar or competent with many types of social media. A focus on activities associated with traditional and established academic practice – such as getting published and presenting at conferences – was useful in demonstrating how social media can both challenge and augment these activities. Particular emphasis was placed on the process of finding suitable communities and networks appropriate to individual learner needs, and the need to develop self-organizational and reflective approaches to ensure sustainability. Recognising that social media trends and affordances of specific tools and platforms are subject to constant change, the presenters adopted a holistic, ecological perspective to social media, emphasising the need for academic and professional community/network development rather than competences in specific technologies.
As stated previously, the presenters have subsequently run a similar training programme at the Engineering Graduate Centre which serves PGR students and ECRs in the engineering faculty, modifying the format to that of a single, six-hour session. The sessions have been arranged for the Arts Graduate Centre in the 2010/11 academic year, as well as a repeat run of the sessions at the Jubilee Graduate Centre - these will be delivered over two, three-hour sessions. The presenters have also participated in the JISC Digital Literacies Materials Pilot programme, and the sessions have been selected as a best practice example on the Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (LLiDA) website (http://www.caledonianacademy.net/spaces/LLiDA/index)
The post-survey data (carried out in September 2010) indicated limited adoption of new tools as a result of the sessions, though most non-users recognise their potential, indicating they would be interested in using specific media in the future. Generally, attendees have found the practices introduced in the sessions useful in their subsequent use of social media, particularly those that focused on collaboration and collecting and sharing resources. Whilst the sessions are seen as being effective at raising awareness of social media, an integrated approach to facilitating further support is seen as desirable in providing the necessary opportunities for developing sustainable models for shared practice. The presenters and Jubilee Graduate Centre are currently exploring opportunities within the University for further development of the programme, such as case studies of practice, seminars/conference, and an online community development, with the possibility of collaborating with other institutions in the East Midlands who are engaging in innovative practice in this area.