Social Media in Higher Education Conference

Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield Hallam University
After a whirlwind week, submitting/doing almost all of my assignments, writing case studies and preparing an abstract for a summer conference, it was a relief when we passed the midpoint. This was not just because the weekend, and indeed the Christmas holidays were in sight, but because Tom and I would be travelling to Sheffield for the Social Media in Higher Education Conference late Thursday night, a conference we had been looking forward to for a large number of months.
For me, the conference was especially interesting coming from a Web Science and primarily technological background. Something I have been massively interested in is the Co-Design groups’s use of Social Media in all its forms. I was very much looking forward to presenting on exactly this, and the conference did not disappoint.
We arrived promptly for my first ever (the first ever?) “Key-Not” presentation. This was a twist on the traditional keynote presentation that normally bookend many of the conferences we attend. In this session, after only a 15 minute introduction, we split into four groups based on the colour of the lids of the cups we had been given on arrival (roll with me, it worked!). Once we had located our helpfully colour-coded rooms, we divided further into mini teams, of around 5 people. Our task was to in little over an hour develop a useful digital resource to aid the modern empowered learner. The only restriction was that no login should be required to access the resource. And with that, we were away.
Our group quickly settled on the idea of a learning wheel, recognising the potential of a diagram divided into a number of sections to sign-post and categorise digital resources for the modern learner. We also wanted to build in a “mini-MOOC”, which I realise looking back was slightly ambitious. However, utilising the WordPress site Tom and I had access to, we quickly began to consider how to display the diagram online. We saw the potential of a mildly interactive element, an “Accordian” menu system, and then settled on H5P to implement this. We ended up with a diagram at the top of the page, and then an accordion for easy access to the point beneath. I realise this will make a lot more sense if you can see it yourself, and the resource is still avaliable here: Empowered Learning Wheel. However, we did not stop there! The brilliant simplicity of H5P enabled Tom and I to quickly put together interactive “drag the word” games for each area of the wheel, which formed our mini-MOOC. These are still accessible also, from the same page, and I like to think it proves being ambitious gets things done!
With no break to realise how mentally exhausted we were after the exercise we tweeted and retweeted our way into the next session, which was a workshop on the Learning Wheel idea. The workshop was helpful, and I’m sure the wheel we all helped produce collaboratively will be equally so, and we hope it will be the start of a good working relationship with Debra. After the workshop we were on the move around the lovely Charles Street building at Sheffield Hallam, for a presentation by York St John staff and students around their co-creation project. We very much enjoyed this, noting several similarities between their project and ours. It was very rewarding being able to offer feedback to them and advice for growth, while equally learning plenty ourselves!
Lunch was provided and was a veritable feast of food, with enough sandwiches to (if you’ll pardon what I’m sure could be my mums favourite expression) “sink a battle ship”. Unfortunately, I had to tear Tom away from the food, as last minute technical checks and rehearsal were needed for our presentation. After an interesting presentation on research into boundaries in digital education, the time came for us to deliver our presentation.
Lisa introduced the project, and theoretical grounding behind it, before handing over to Tom and I myself to run over the specifics of the digital methods of engagement. Luckily for you, or unluckily depending on how much my voice annoys you, I don’t have to tell you ins and outs of what we spoke about, as you can find the whole video and the slides below; isn’t that perfect Christmas viewing?!
What I will say is that the feedback we received was fantastic; intelligent enquiries into the practical methods of what we had implemented, and wider questions about co-creation as a whole. True to the social media frenzy that was the conference (I think we were trending in the UK at one point?) we received even more feedback via twitter than in the allotted 10 minutes at the end of our presentation. Tom and I took time out after our presentation to read over the tweets and capture what was really valuable and helpful input, so I thank each and every person who tweeted us.
After a walk around the campus digesting the feedback and a couple of snacks from Sainsbury’s, we returned to the conference for what was our closing presentation of the day, on blogging as an assessment tool by Sue Beckingham. The talk was fantastic, and I for one wish more academics would place their faith in blogging as a tool of assessment where appropriate. I must however question the decision to keep student’s assessed blog private, as I feel this prevents what could be a differentiating portfolio of work.
There was no denying it had been a lively day both on Twitter and in the classroom, and Tom and I knew the only appropriate way to round it off was with a pint in A Head of Steam, a lively Sheffield pub. We spoke with enthusiasm about the power of social media, and although we come from a bias perspective, were massively enthused others recognised the potential of combining this power with Co-Designed learning.
Indeed, as I write this on a cross-country train speeding through the midlands, it is again this power of co-design that I find my mind wondering to. Almost all of the presentations today were representative of steps toward a more co-designed form of education, even if the presenters did not say this or even realise it. Social media is the epitome of co-designed learning: inviting contributions from all, where all are equal, and I think it is this that made this conference so valuable for Tom and I. A big thanks must go to Lisa Harris who supported us in applying, and who attended alongside us. As ever, we both also thank the ongoing work of the Co-Design group, students and staff, and are more than certain everyone needs a Christmas break! We will come back to exams, and hopefully much more co-design work, and many more fantastic opportunities for us all in the new term. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas! See you in 2017.
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