Getting Social in Higher Education

 In January 2012 I shared the blog post Social Ways of Working in Higher Education. This post was a reflection of my thoughts at the beginning of a research project I was leading to help inform Cardiff University’s Social Media Guidelines and to develop the universities Digital and Social Media Strategy. After three months research listening and discussing with staff and students across the  university and in collaboration with an inspiring team of digital champions we developed both. A strategy and guidelines that placed for staff and students at the centre, not marketing. These are now being considered by ‘s senior management team for implementation.

At the end of the project I took time to reflect on the process and the blog post I wrote in January, and edit it for inclusion in the forthcoming Only Connect Edition of Cardiff News [i], Cardiff Universities official staff and student newsletter. An edited version of my article Getting Social in  [ii] appears in Cardiff News, with the full version provided here for comment and discussion.

Getting Social in Higher Education

Like many organisations, digital are greatly influencing the way we work in higher education. Dr Kelly Page, a lecturer in Digital Marketing, Cardiff Business School considers how, as a sector, we need to move forward.

Changes in digital social technologies are not just changing how we communicate, educate or research, they are changing the fundamental ways in which we work, learn and coexist.

When we teach in a lecture theatre for example, a member of the student community can (and does) record, edit and share the experience through social technologies via a smart phone. When we debate a new policy in a meeting the minutes are captured and shared as PDF documents or through a Google Doc. on the web. When we respond to student questions, the experience can be posted to a personal or group Facebook page by an attendee around which, further public discussion can occur. When we give a keynote address or present at a conference, comments from our talk appear on Twitter and are Google indexed.

Digital social technologies are changing the nature of our relationships with information and knowledge, be that as a learner or co-creator of the learning experience. They are also fundamentally changing how we communicate with each other. As a result many higher education institutions and educators now find themselves, expected to catch up with the practices in this digital social world, communicate through specific social media services and engage with social media users.

To concur with the words of Dr. Joe Nicholls, project director of Cardiff Universities JISC funded Digidol – Developing Digital Literacy project, “this requires change in how we consider communication and information management in higher education and role of digital social practices within this”.

Digital social technologies support forms of information consumption and knowledge construction that are very different to the epistemological principles of formal education and individualized instruction. They can enable open and shared ways of working and learning. Douglas Thomas and John Seely-Brown in 2011 [iii] encapsulated these changes in learning by describing a technology-enhanced ‘new culture of learning’—i.e. learning that is based around principles of collective exploration, play and innovation rather than individualized instruction. An organisation that understands this evolution as one not of technology, but one of social change in human practices around communication and organizational learning, is more equipped to move with the change.

With this great sense of change and opportunity, comes individual and institutional responsibility. Our responsibility in developing our understanding in our schools and divisions and raising awareness of both the opportunities and implications of digital social technologies in the way we work and learn. Coupled with this is development of cultural contexts that foster development of the technical and social skills necessary to participate.

One major challenge for the higher education sector is how we develop digital literacies in our institutions – not ‘in’ but around our students, and also around our staff and the wider community we are apart of. How can we develop this when our universities are such large, complex organisations?

It is imperative that higher education institutions create and inspire a mindset and culture of organizational digital learning to empower individual confidence and responsibility in the social ways we work and learn. This is a break for a sector such as ours, which commonly places a lot of focus on corporate governance and policy around technology use and view social media as marketing channels for student recruitment. What we need to evolve is to accept that we can learn more through discussion across the institution and within our schools and divisions; and gain more confidence as individuals through sharing our experiences rather than through the writing of policy to govern how we ‘might’ use IT. My considerations to stimulate change include the following:

The first consideration is change how we inform and inspire social ways of working and learning across an organisation such as ours. To inform the digital social activities in an organisation we need to share learning and initiate communication initiatives championed bottom up by innovators who do it and championed top-down by those who value it as core to our organizations long-term health and sustainability. We need to discuss and listen more to members of our university community who use and engage with digital social technologies in work and learning spaces, than just those who design, provide or service the technology. It is people who change practices, not technology.

A second consideration is to change how we think about organisational communication in higher education. Instead of the traditional mindset of the private face of an organisation controlled by the few, we need to accept that the lived experience of an organisation is shared on a public stage by anyone and potentially everyone who works for, learns within or is associated with the organization. Developments in digital social technologies are enabling our lived working and learning experiences to be co-created and shared by those who experience it, not just by those who used to control the media or technology channels. This requires learning together as administrators, educators, researchers, students and support service personnel digital social practices in our working, learning and living experiences.

A final consideration is to evolve how we think our identity as a higher education institution is constructed. Today, what is increasingly important is not just a universities visual brand image and the education and research ranking metrics as indicators of our quality and esteem. What is also important is our social capital throughout the rich dynamic network of people and organizations we work, learn and live within. Be that of students, educators, researchers, funding councils, public bodies or commercial partners.

Throughout digital social networks this we call an organisations digital social capital. This is the lived identities of an organisations people, their practices, connections and their ways of working, captured and shared with and through social technologies. It is this digital social capital that shows not only the heart of the organisation (it’s people) but also highlights it’s values and ways of working through the experiences and ideas people share, be they open or closed, innovative or conservative, traditional or contemporary values.

In the new 2012 book Game Changers: Education and Information Technology [iv], Diana Oblinger, CEO of EDUCAUSE, comments: “Information technology is a game changer. It can deliver content instantly, bring distant individuals together, and make administrative processes faster. But IT can be more than a delivery channel. IT can change the educational experience. But to really change the game, IT must be used differently”.

To use digital social technology differently, it is important we focus on people and practices more than the technology. It is also important to think about how we do or can work and learn more socially in general as well as with and through digital social technologies. In this, it is important to evolve from a focus on technology provision and support to one of communication and information management with people and their communication and information practices at the core.

In this we place emphasis on developing our social ways of working and learning in higher education with and through digital social technologies.



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DK (5 years ago)


Pingback: Week of June 25, 2012 | Heyden Ties

    Kelly Page (5 years ago)

    Thank you for referring to my post. I am glad you found it of interest.

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