Feb 142012

On Thursday afternoon I was at the University of Edinburgh eLearning Presentations Showcase 2011 event. This is a really lovely idea as it brings together presentations given throughout the year on or around the subject of eLearning into one afternoon. It’s a great way to catch up on colleagues’ work but also interesting from the point of view of seeing lots of varying types and styles of presentation in a packed afternoon.

Tweets about the event can still be found on the #elpp hashtag and further information and the presentations from the showcase can be found on the ELPP wiki: https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/display/eLPP/eLearning%20presentations%20showcase%202011.

These notes were taken as a liveblog but due to wifi issues are only being posted live now. So, although I’ve done a little tidying up, please be tolerant of typos etc. I thought it would be better to get these live quickly rather than perfectly but will try to correct any errors as they spot them. 

Wilma Alexander, Chair of the eLearning Professionals and Practitioners Forum, opened with a note that the annual eLearning at Ed conference will  be on Friday 13th April and loads of exciting programme stuff information will be live soon. With that it was right into the presentations…


Jo Kinsley PostGraduate Virtual Open Week at the University of Edinburgh

Jo originally presented this at the Blackboard Collaborate Connections Summit 2011 in Las Vegas.

Jo originally introduced this presentation with the background of the University mission statement and international profile. The University of Edinburgh has 26k students, many from Scotland. Of those international students at Edinburgh the largest group is from the US but 137 countries are represented in total.

This project intended to let potential students around the world the opportunity to engage with staff and attend an online open day as they are unable to attend the on campus open day. The idea came from the School of Social and Political Sciences with the idea that this would be important to students from other countries, particularly North America.

It was always intended as an alternative and additional initiative. It’s the first time this sort of project had been done in the UK on this sort of scale.

The planning… we saw this as an opportunity for a central event, here information services would be the central point for coordination. A one day turned into a full week in the end. Some schools wanted to represent the whole school, just one single programme of study. Number of staff (and in some case alumni) varied. Lots of varying technical requirements. We limited registration for academic sessions to 15 people to make it manageable and we decided to record this to see the outcomes, the attendance level etc.

Project requirements – a website, online registration, promotional planning, choosing software and training. We did most of the website central, also used an online tool on the website for registration. Comms and Marketing assisted with promotion. The software selected was Wimba and the training would be by IS.

Wimba was chosen as it is easy to use, there is no client software to install and we already had a pilot running across the university. Wimba also, via the SDK kit, made it easy to replicate classrooms quickly as there were 100s of sessions.

There were 38 staff technically trained to support sessions – Wimba did 2 hour training sessions for these staff. But we also ha 135 staff who would be hosted and/or moderating a session. The training was close to the event – took place in the training suite in the library with headsets etc. We showed them how it worked as a student and how it worked as a moderator. We gave them a role playing session to get used to the role of host, and of students, and some slides and examples to let them get a sense of using the classroom and the etiquette of the space.

We also gave them scripts – hosts with scripts, moderators with scripts etc. We gave everyone a script. People were hesitant but it worked well. We also made the staff try the experience of a participant – questions they would ask, what they would want to know – to help them get an idea of slides or notes to have to hand.

Although people were initially embarrassed etc. But after a few rotations around people really enjoyed and got into the role play. The feedback was that people weren’t sure about the time commitment or role play BUT they felt it gave them a good experience, what they could do on the day etc.

So the Virtual Open Week was 21st to 25th feb 2011. Involving 22 schools, 6 support sessions. There were about 170 unique drop in session visitors. For the academic sessions we had about 740 registered participants. We had 369 unique visitors – registered vs attendance. Roughly 50% of those who registered showed up on the day. Actually not that far off the in-person open day experience.

There was some disappointment over numbers but some great in depth discussions did take place. One chap from the dental school prepared a fantastic presentation but no-one showed up BUT he recorded the presentation and is using it as marketing on the course website.

Feedback on non attendees tended to be that they had forgotten, timings didn’t suit as well as expected, etc.

But those that attended gave great feedback. Most responded that they were slightly or significantly more likely to attend as a result. They felt it was worth while. Some said it was better than travelling to Scotland – the travesty!

Issues and lessons learned – some sessions had no preprepared information, emphasize the need for having some powerpoints to break the ice and engage attendees.

Working around admission deadlines of schools presented a timing issue.. One large event plus various school events would work.

From non attendees:

  • Reminders
  • Better account of timezone
  • And more programmes they were interested in to be included

Feedback from schools and staff has been positive. Since we did this Wimba has been in wider use across the university – PhD interviews, careers events etc. Been good for getting people used to the technology.


Q1) would you do it again?

A1 – Jo) I would but as it happens I won’t be. But I was on the technical end, not managing the whole thing…

A1 – Fiona) It will run again on 23rd Feb as a central University thing. It will be once a month with drop in session on fees, other topics of interest etc.

Q2) It’s very important to note that on-campus that open days only attract 50% – really encouraging that online has same. Also an hour for one student is a great use of time.  And the training sessions were rather lively!

A2 – Fiona) central services found it effective – could work away then attend to students as they came in.

Q3) I used Wimba with students in Japan last year. They had some technical issues with the software. Last summer I tried it and had a problem as well. Stephen Vickers helped with that. But maybe in other countries the bandwidth can/could be an issue with using this. Especially places like China

A3 – Jo) We did put up some training/guidance and a wizard to try out Wimba before the sessions to try and help.


Jen Ross Partnerships and Collaborations: Future Networks of Exchange for Museums

This was originally presented with Angelina Russo (at RMIT) at ICTOP 2011 in Toronto. Jen is associate lecturer at the School of Education and works on various projects including cultural heritage.

This presentation was part of work that began as the National Museums Online Project and that led to the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Organisations project which ran recently. Angelina is a world expert in social media and museums – she’s not here but she says hello! Angelina is also the founder of Museum3 which is a great way to find out about digital innovation around the world.

So this talk was about how museums and cultureal heritage organisations approach social media and digital technology. As they get to grips with this they also have all sorts of organisational challenges around what expertise and authority means now. And how to be relevant in the world. The idea of exchange, the relationship between the audience and the museum as an exchange rather than top down, is something that Angelina has been working on.

So, exchange is a challenging thing for Cultural Heritage organisations (CHos) to think about. Often museums etc. have a real sense of purpose, that they are guarding “everyone’s stuff” so how  you start conversations about opening up that stuff. An exchange is a two or maybe even a three way exchange – there are exchanges between patrons/visitors as well as with the organisation.

Exchange requires people to invest in your project, in your idea. So trialling and piloting ideas can work well but if you neglect that you can lose some of the good will built up in the project.

The idea of communities of practice might be too constraining or problematic in thinking about what the relationship between museums and their audiences. It implies a shared language or a sustained engagement. It is not a realistic paradigm in the online networked world.

Instead we have been thinking about networks and flows. Organisations can trigger these but ultimately cannot control, flows of information and communication in digital space. Digital networks thrive on border crossings. What about “knotworking” (Engestrom Engestrom and Vaaho)? <another ref here too to grab>.

The digital futures of cultural heritage education project

The project had two main aims. To begin to establish a research agenda

Heritage was the biggest group, but there were a number of commercial, academic and government sectors – this is brilliant, you want to create a network of people with a shared interest but diverse needs.

I did want to iklustrate something about how twitter was used in the project. We normally think of tweets as knowledge exchange mechanism – here are five of my favourite tweets (AddressingHistory gets a mention!). But  the power of tweets also moves outside the room – presence, reach, flow…

Someone in the room asked for questions, someone else asked “how you identify your brand/institution fanatics and let them be fanatical about you?” and another person in the room summarised and replied. Artifacts move in and out of physical and virtual spaces in this sort of way. And here we see three very different people retweeting the same information to three very different audiences here.

We think that networks are a very useful and powerful way of thinking abouyt exchange in a cultureal heritage situation and a social media situation. And we nee dto think about how trust is reconfigured and strengtherned by a willingness to echange. Onus is on the institution to earn that trust through their participation with broader audienes.

You have to tie projects up when they finish – fragments on the web can reflect poorly on your institution,


Q1) This might be premature. I can see the power of Twitter and other social spaces but they only reach a particular type/group of people but that canj provide some powerful insights into ow that moves into other digital and real spaces.

A1) That’s interesting. The DFCHE project had museums and RCAHMS etc. all part of this event. RCAHMS has had some dramatic things happen oin their education department happen as a result of these events. People working with digital things are often part of these big educational teams so are able to share that experience and develop it. In the msuems sector can be easier. But buy in from curational staff can be more tricky. Education and curation can be quite separate. Intra organisational issues can be just as profound as extra organisational issues.

Q2) Was the project combined with the resurgence of the National museums that has been going om – it feels really opened up now.

A2) We did have museums staff on the project but their refurb work was well underway. New Museology looks at the power relations within museums.

Q3) Was one project aim to raise awareness of flows and knotworking etc. in a systematic way.

A3) Yes and no. We wanted to establish a research agenda in Scotland. But we were all pleased and slightly surprised by the interest from the commercial sector so it was fantastic to see those people in those groups. Knotworking and flows it was more about what we have seen and looked back on.


Julie Moote & Erin Jackson Student learning in online discussions

Erin is teaching manager at the school of law. This presentation is related to the Principals teaching award. Julie originally presented this at a law education conference

Julie is a PhD candidate from the School of Education and has been working with up on the PETAS(check) project.

Julie – we are just near the end of this project, we really want to disseminate what we found. So this is a content analysis of discussion transcripts comparing synchronious and ascynchornous environments.

First step was to look at the literature of online learning. (e.g. Hara et al 2000, Heckman & Annabi,. 2005, Bliuc et al 2007,). There are real gaps in online learning environments and particularly in law learning and reasoning.

We had here main areas to look at – what is the nature of the learning taking place in online discussions – the level of cognitive engagement, the community of learners. How does the tutors online presence influence learning, the frequency of posts and the interaction betweein the students, and the final aspect – how to support a highly diverse cohort of students online? Suggestions for pedagogy, impact of legal background, language skills.

Over to Erin to introduce the elearning programmes in law. The LLM programme Innovation, technology and law, was launched in 2005/6:

There are three nominate eLLM degrees in IP Law, IT Law and Medical Law which began in 2008/9 and more are planned. There is a really diverse group of students and backgrounds here. And we do assess discussion as part of the programme – 20% usually – and discussions are led by academix tutors often with contributions with guest tutors and visiting scholars. Students value the opportunity to learn form the experiences  and insights of fellow students.


The most time consuming aspect of this project was thinking about how to analysis this content. We found an ascynchonous protocol that seemed to fit the programme. We found one and coded transcripts accordingly. Of the 30 students that consented, 9 students transcipts from the discussions were chosen fro detailed content analysis. One of the potential gaps or issues of this research was we eliminated postings from any student who had not consented so you do not get both sides of conversations often.

We found high levels of cognitive processing in discussion transcripts. They went beyond detailing factial information – connecting ideas, supporing opinions, application of judgements to different contexts. Personal interest side notes and examples etc. also were brought in.

We looked at students over 2 modules. There weren’t any obvious imporvements in discussion performance between modules 1 and 2. There didn’t seem to be a sense of tutor differences in assessment. Explicit student and outline of assumptions. We also did an in depth analysis of referenceing literature and how it was refefrenced.

We found that class size was not related to overall performance in the discussions. English languiage speakers may have a slidght advantage over non English speakers. But Lawyers fo not appear to have an advantage over non lawyers.

Limitations – we need a far larger number of students to get a sense of progression in terms of discussion. And although we used a strandard protocol it’s not well used and tested.

Conclusion s- some suggestions for pedagogy. Support for quality abd depth of student learning taking place in discussions. There are high levels of cognitive processing taking place.


Q1) Do students have marks released between module 1 and 2

A1) Erin: Yes, they are per semester. They get grades and qualitative feedback. They should have had feedback between modules 1 and 2.

Q2) Did students get feedback on the study

A2) Julie: That’s the next step.

A2) Erin: We are looking at how we give feedback to students. Looking at how to use findings from this study to feed into that.


Robert Chmielewski – INTEGRATE – INTerlinking and Embedding Graduate Attributes at Edinburgh

Robert works in IS and particularly on the excellent work that has been taking place with PebblePad in the university. And this was given at the ePIC2011 (elearning Portfolios International Conference).

This was about a project that took place last year. A Scottish initiative run by AQA and HEA and this project involved Jessie Paterson (project leader), Tina Harrison, Nora Mogey, and Robert Chmielewski.

We wanted to look at graduate attributes at the university of Edinburgh. It’s a useful thing for universities to recognise the development of students etc. Lots of projects and work looking at developing this sort of reflective practice.

We identified 3 projects, one for UG, one for PGT and one for PGR students. We wanted to make a story of these that could be shared on the employability website. So three strands were recorded. Graduate attributes are crucial and link to the student experience at the university. It’s a tough choice to pick a programme of study. Many choose the wrong thing, but you learn loads of things even if you don’t want to stick with the subject you studied for your degree… so being able to pick out graduate attributes and skills is really important.

So, jumping into the first branch, for undergraduate students. This was for Divinity students – this is from Jessie. You can become a minister or a researcher at the end of your studies but most become something else. Jessie is running an Academic Skills course for 1st year undergraduates where they identify their existing skills and those they want to develop.

From the very beginning of that course students are given a framework of desirable skills and they monitor their own development against that framework. That’s a compulsory course but not assessed in a traditional meaning of that word.

If I now skip to the second strand. So these are the Postgraduate Tought students, in this case nursing studies. They use PebblePad to make sure that students are able to track their skills throughout their studies. They track their progression, they share things with tutors, and they can build up a more informed picture of their skils. We also decided to describe their journey of how eportfolios began in that department. And how these were embedded within the programme – this work will be published soon so do have a look. Quite an interesting example. All assignments are done through PebblePad and they can also do web essays instead of traditional dissertations etc. Quite exciting stuff.

The third branch is the Principals Career Development Scholarship Scheme – a series of these have been released across schools and this is exclusively for PhD research students and includes training to help them put their skills across and make more informed choices for their career paths. And look at how to engage with the rest of the world – public engagement, entrepeunership, teaching, etc.

So the picture of graduate attributes developed by the employability part of the careers service – see diagram.

So this can be shown in PebblePad and students can grade their skills in each area etc.

And an example of a webfolio from nursing studies – in this case nursing inforatics – this is something students can submit in place of a dissertation.

There is so much mojre I could tell you that is going on now – lots has progressed since this was originally presented.


Q1) What’s happened since that project?

A1) The highlights: An aweful lot of new functionality in PebblePad that are now being used. And the user experience is hugely improved. And it looks like it may move into the School of Law for skills (not core teaching) etc. Also EUSA is working with ePortfolios now, as part of the Edinburgh Award which is recognition for non academic achievements – volunteering etc.

Q2) Is it linked with the new PEER project?

A2) Not yet. Lots of potential there and we will be expanding. It’s beginning to gain proper momentum at the moment.

A2) Nora: that group are well aware of PebblePad so those conversations are happening

Q3) What is the student feedback on PebblePad? How many students use it reflectively?

A3) Really only thoe using it as part of a structured programme in these sorts of way. Few students using it otherwise. It makes more sense with a purpose. At the moment we have about 5000 active users, but maybe less than 4000 who are properly active.  Our users are becoming users after they’ve logged in and begun using it.


The teaching and learning experience – a look back at the last ten years and the way ahead for the school of divinity, university of Edinburgh – Dr Jessie Paterson

This was given at HEA Subject Centre for Religious Education (check) at an event which was the last before the subject centre closed.

eLearning, as I mean it hear, is about teaching using technology usually via the web (not for us to do with teaching spaces). So very much about blended learning with very traditional lectures etc. Our approach has a strong pedagogic basis, teaching first, tool (technology) second.

Our mode of teaching is very traditional. So our Level 8 students (1st and 2nd year UG) are lecture and tutorial based. Our Level 10 and 11 students (3rd and 4th year UG and PGT are small seminar based).

We started out with our Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) from National University of Singapore (U21 partner) as an easy entry point. At the time we looked at WebCT as a VLE and it was too complicated by comparison. But now on WebCT and about to move to Learn9 in 2012.

Initially only a few innovators used the VLE, they wanted to break traditional models a bit. Now all courses have WebCT presence. The usage very much depends on the teaching style of lecturer. The only requirement is that all essays are submitted via WebCT. Adoption based on seeing success from colleagues and also student pressure. The students pushed academics to adopt the VLE in some cases.

Resources are materials that are providing content – in differet ways, in contexts that are unusual.

So for instance we have here Katherine Rutven Seminar – historically very interesting as connected to John Knox, Mary Queen of Scots etc. So we built up this webste where her story could be explored and engaged with and combine various resources.

We also produced a Study Skills Treasure Hunt (HEA funded) – there are hugely good digital resources but students don’t know where they are. We gave students questions and missions to explore to find these resources. We still use a version of this. Students keep going back to this as a hub for finding materials.

An we also did a Special Collections resource digitisation project. There are great resources but accessing them can be tricky. So we took students physically to the library to see the real thing but then they could explore the digitised texts in full detail.

We used the Principals elearning Fund to create flash maps – this is quite a complex course that looks at the history of migration. They work well and help students understand the relationships.

This is a new resource – Jewish Non-Jewish Relations teaching resource – this is actually a new website which is a joint project between us and Canterbury University, it’s still a starting point that we’re just getting started with.

Overall comments

Think maintainability – especially with things like the flash map

Think costs compared with gains – digitisation is expensive for few texts so you need to tink this through

Tutorial and seminar preparation – it’s not about the tutorial/seminar itself, it’s a challenge to engage students to read as needed etd. So we trialled an idea of a Gobbet or Image of the Week (the Gobbet is a small bit of primary evidance).

For the Gobbet work: The students had to post this stuff to the discussion board. They could discuss it but at least they came to seminars really enthused to discuss it on the day.

For Image of the week we asked students to choose for an image that highlights the topic of the week. This again brought them engaged to class but they didn’t discuss the image ahead of time.


Used at all levels

Used in different ways but all have ideas around ownership – blogger versus commenter.  1st and 2nd year students use this in tutorials. A student is assigned to be the blogger and has to write fairly thoroughly on a topic, the others must comment ahead of the tutorial. For honours years blogs are used in seminars, in place of essay? These have really transformed the seminars – students are actually prepared and engaged and make the best of the face to face time.


We use this were we want to encourage group working more formally. We’ve done two honours level trials. We put students in groups of 3 and each had to write 1000 words but the whole thing needs to have a cohersive story – some used comments on wikis and you could see development. Some work more like “blog” but have more scope in what do.

We also have a tutor support wiki – a peer support tool for tutors and they pool and add materials all the time. Loads of great sharing and tips here.

Going Forward

We’ve extended our blogging idea but combine with the ability for students to annotate and critic written texts. So can relate blog comments more readibly with the context.

Blogs have transformed tutorials and seminars and it’s been an easy and effective intervention with few technical issues.

The Wiki needs more management, students can find the medium difficult – the technology can be a real barrier. I’m excited to see how the Learn9 wiki works.

Assessment and Feedback

Predominantly essay based but course work do include blog, wiki, tutorial sheet assessment. Now have guidance on non traditional modes, A lot of our work is on paper, marking is usually on paper, but we do use Turnitin and I think staff will quickly adapt to marking/giving feedback online

Exams on computers

We offer some courses students choice typing or hand writing final exam, only alteration from traditional exams. Doing research on this as we go and have only been using 2 years so far. Exam4 by Externity. Student uptake has been quite low so far. But uptake increasing. And a growth there. A lot to do with confidence.

Autumated textual analusis – we’re looking at help that would be automatic to give idea of needing more referencing, grammar etc. It’s not about marking of text but improvement of pre-submission work. Working with Informatics on this.

We’re also doing more work on why uptake of typing by students is low.

Overall comments

Marking criteria non-traditional modeas need to be clear – implications for common marking scheme and our working group here has made quite a difference.

Exams on computers – think they’ll be an increase of uptake. Some infrastructure issues here – need power at every desk, more space etc.

And we’ve like to be able to give formative feedback on student essays as well.

Academic Skills Course

This is totally online for timetabling reasons. The idea is to ensure all students have basic skill set that they need. They work in their own time. It’s a mixture online resources and it’s non assessed.

We have now embedded Graduate Attributes into that course. We try to get them to write in semi-formal styles, and that is an attribute, speaking in tutorials etc. We are trying to help them to think about that skill and demonstrating that they have these skills.  And starting to use PebblePad.

Pre-arrival skills

We piloted in 2011-2012 we’ve shared this material ahead of arrival. When is a student really a student – A-Level results don’t come out until August, hard to define when they start. So we have a light touch graduate attrivute – two defined areas – academic writing and tutorials. Lots of skills bound up here. So those umbrellas let us bundle all those skills. These resources need to help and be encouraging – don’t want to put people off.

Some issues of the Academic Skills course though. The fact that it’s a discreet course. And studet engagement and sustainable engagement – making it compulsory has radically helped.

Other areas

First year learners experience project. We worked with STEER tracing of VLE usage – with Physics. WebCT doesn’t track everything you’d like really. And we are looking at student technology ownership and issues/opportunities around that.

In the future we are thinking now about distance education. Employability is becoming a growing issue – particularly as course fees  rise. Very few people come to be church ministers and they go on to a whole range of careers – and it’s the skills that enable that. Mobile U@Ed – we will be keeping an eye on. And Flexible learning.


Q1) First of all I was thinking about how fantastic the work you are doing at Divinity is, it’s inspiring! I was wondering about whether you care about sharing study skills with those pre-admission students of any type – other students that don’t come here may value them

Q2) It all depends on the definition of the student – that really matters from a library/publishers point of view. That’s for us to deal with here. Preparation for university is so much about using the library

A2) we really want our students using both the physical and electronic resources of the library.

A2) Christine: Students know they are welcome to come to the library, using a visitor card. Some of our licenced resouerces do allow access for non registered students so perhaps we can give students a taster to work with that. And the library catalogue is completely free of course.

Comment) you could probably stage it so some parts are fine for all, other levels are only for registered students.

Comment) Students do arrive looking or flats and other stuff early, they show up at the library and need that card, that proof of ID for those rental and council tax type things as well. They don’t know when they are a student.

A2) It’s a huge issue.

A2) Wilma: I’ve just become a matriculated student and we are not clear about what we want them to do, what instructions to follow.


“That ever ephemeral sense of being somewhere” – Reflections on a dissertation Festival in Second Life – Clara O Shea and Mashall Dozier

This is to be presented at Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds in Prague in 2012. More on the Dissertation Festival can be found here: http://www.elearning.education.ed.ac.uk/events/ and images can be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/3ap3v32.

Clara teaches on the MSc in eLearning course with various colleagues,  including Marshall. So first off… the programme has about 150 students. About half UK, quarter EU and a quarter other parts of the World. We use Second Life and Twitter and Wiki and Adobe Connect and blogs and a social networking sites, a whole range of stuff. It’s awesome!

But then… students come to the dissertation… after all that aswesome collaboration they are alone and by themselves. They are doing a research projects on their own. They have a bit of a culture shock. And few people will do a similar topic. It can be quite a lonely and isolating experience.

So we thought that would be sort of a need to solve that problem and were thinking about what might work, drawing on our experiences. So we wanted to give people a cjance to get together. But students are very busy professionals. So we need those meetings to be synchronous and asynchronous. We wanted multiple ways to articulate an argument. We wanted sharing and exchange, to feel part of the environment, and to use some of these environments.

So – ta da!  – we wanted to do a Dissertation Festival – inspired by Japanese cherry blossom and Koi fish type festival ideas. So… over to Marshall…

Fiona Littletone raised part of our MSc in eLearning Second Life present out of the sea and made a space where students could share a poster of what the students were trying to address, and then visitors could leave comments, suggestions etc. for each presenter. And also we have them write a haiku summarising their dissertation. These were ways to succinctly describe their dissertation or research.

Clara again. We had  students as guinea pigs for this. The display was up for several weeks and we also had synchronous sessions where the presenters could explain their work.

The feedback boards and comments were useful – students found the summative nature of the displays very helpful, the feedback was great but also made some students feel exposed or a sense of risk.

So for the synchronous sessions we used voice to speak to the audience, the audience mainly used text. A bit like Twitter at conferences. Some of the Second Life “casual” poses tell you very little – so the audience can type “nodding” or “agreement” – some cues but not really disruptive. That seemed to work quite well.

Speakers could also respond in real time – very dynamic. It felt like a real experience of presenting to the student, it had meaning.

On the first day we also had a synchronous session in text for students to discuss the dissertation process – asking questions both straightforward and more complex. Also students not at that stage yet as well. And a champagne poster viewing session (that;s virtual champagne btw).

Students liked the chance to share. Students commented on the invisible blending of tutors and students. We had quite in depth discussion with people who attended. One commented about how nice it was to have tutors there. Another commented that they would have liked to have students there – there was a difference as the usernames aren’t obvious and that really flattens the hierarchy and gives a real sense of community.

Over to Marshall again…

We tried to make this feel like a party – we had sushi and champagne etc. (all virtual). The students said it felt like a group of friends – like discussion boards on steroids according to one syudent. One student said they think of the Uni on SL as a safe space. The wine and sushi gave a sense of presence to on estudent. And another commented that having that space was far nicer than emailing posters around.

The students who attended were current and past student s, some staff and ab outsider. And that was a nice number – like an in person seminar number. It felt very special. It was done in August when things are a bit quiet for students. Just before the restart of courses it sort of warmed people up. Partly we think its partly about how we use SL in the programme – coming together for fun tutorials but also graduations and Christmas parties etc. And that stuff – the sushi and wine and stuff all adds to that great environment. It’s all playful and special. The behaviours we model is very chatty and informal, that makes a difference. The flatterned hierarchy makes a difference. And that synchronous but not exclusionary interaction. And there’s a sense of “hard fun”.


Q1) At what stage were these students?

A1) Different stages – one was writing up and using it to get thoughts in line. One student thought she was further along then she was. She was able to have a reflective moment and get a better sense of her own journey. Another was heading to get stuck. And another had completed and we were just finding out what he’d been up to. We’ve decided to run it once every year. Maybe slightly earlier in August than they were before. But not just people about to hand in. Good kick up the pants.

Comment) All our students hand in at the same time.

A1) Thinking about the idea of exemplars of student work – you show both good and bad work and the range of ideas. I’d like to encourage more students in, those that are a year off say.

A1 – Marshall) Some students were taking a year off and this got them excited about coming back

A1 – Clara) We have a lot of students who get excited about handing in and want things to do over the summer

Q2) IS it still up?

A2 – Marshall) It is down so we can use the space for Innovative Learning Week

A2 – Clara) We left it up for a couple monhs but you can find the Flickr pictures as well.

Comment – Jen Ross) It’s radically asynchronous. A student this semester asked something and it reminded me of one of the boards up on SL and those students have now been discussing their research. Also Clara said “we” but this was her vision.

Comment – Fiona Littleton) We are looking at doing something similar with the Vet school and extending  a physical poster session they do there to SL.

A2 – Marshall) And it would be great to have an archive as well!

And with that we were done for the day…


Dec 132011

Today I will be liveblogging from the University of Edinburgh IT Futures Conference 2011Social media in academia: a tweet too far? – which is taking place at the Informatics Forum in Edinburgh.

The usual caveats apply to this liveblog re:  typos, errors, etc. Today I am also presenting so things will be very quiet in one session I’m afraid.

Here’s what will be coming up:

Welcome and start of conference – Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal Knowledge Management

Jeff is opening the day by saying that it is a time of growing interest in the use of social media. What do you say talking to a room of people on social media – there’s an odd sort of disconnect there. Learning and Teaching, research and administration all benefit from social media. The sort of rolling news feed is great but it can also be a rod for your back. But you are also seeing discourse emerging online between groups who perhaps wouldn’t have been interacting. And you see this idea of reaching out to the community, of transparency, of citizen science can really add value. The discourse is clearly a very important and here to stay activity. But it also presents some real challenges. We only have to think about the REF. As research and as learning and teaching starts taking place away from the normal structured spaces it challenges us in terms of how you keep, how you value, how you refer back to it. And you see those questions emerging in the areas that are most active in that space.

From an administrative point of view even being able to tweet the state of buses, demonstrations, disruptions, changes of venues, events can be increadibly useful. And that forces some of us to participate. If that information takes place on our mobile hand held devices we have to engage with those in order to keep up with that activity. And that produces an odd sense of sczophrenic activity of participating and hiding. And I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about the way that technology is driving us. There is still a lot for us to work out here about how we deal with finding the right balance there.

Session 1 (chair: Hamish Macleod)
Fakers, fools and narcissists: How cultural narratives of blogging affect online reflective practices – Jen Ross, Associate Lecturer, School of Education

Jen is going to be talking about social media beyond the academic sector, particularly looking at blogging. The main arguement I am going to try and make is not that we shouldn’t do it but that we should be attuned to the way that we use those technologies from outside academia. A quote from Carpenter 2009 stats that “electronic environments allow for and even encourage active integration and dynamic interaction, resulting in a mixing of genre and literary practices…”

I will be drawing on my PhD work on reflective writing and online assessment and I found that reflective writing is greatly influences by the wider cultural narratives around blogging. Aspects of self-promotion and authenticity; accursations of narcissicm and pressures to confess; and the growing sense of duty almost for us as professionals to have some sort of online presence.

I am going to tell you 6 stories of blogging and as these are examples from a few years ago I’ll talk about what may be happening today.

Blogs, particularly when tied to real identities, have to be authentic and honest. The idea is that you get something from someone on a blog that you would not get any other way. One of my interviewees, a lecturer of post grad students, said that students shared things they hadn’t even told their partners perhaps, really opening up. Students seemed quite aware of their audience though, they had interesting take on the same issues. Student felt that he had to be creative honest and free – they felt that was part of the criteria whether that was explicit or implicit. Another said they didn’t write for their audience, that it was them… but with the performance indicators for their blog.

Some reflected on too much information being dangerous. One lecturer of undergraduates had put a lot of personal identifying information in their public web portfolio. The student hadn’t thought about the risk but also felt that the lecturer might mark him down for not sharing his information. By contrast others were quite cagey about what was shared, sharing fragments of identity for safety.

Putting your best self forwards… an undergraduate students commented on their own self-editing. Another undergraduate said that there was a difference between her scholarly eportfolio – her serious self and her facebook self, her silly self. And another student reflected that you are always performing in some way, no matter which context you are in.

Many of the students and lecturers were at pains to point out that they weren’t the sort of people to do this sort of blogging thing. Students were keen to point out that it wasn’t what they do. There was a lot at stake as students associated blogging with negative images – narcisscism, geekiness. There were so many ideas of the blogged as shallow and self-obsessed bloggers. A student commented on the cult of celebrity. Another commented on a dependency, getting hooked on the tutor, really needing that feedback, feeling forgotten, worrying that they had been forgotten about. When we set criteria we rarely think about the anxiety and stress about the speed of marking. Curtain 2006 talks about “anxiety may be the key risk associated with blogging”.

And finally there was this issue of the personal brand online. I asked a student about making her blog public. She said she might do when a graduate when she had rewritten or

A student commented that she would not write into an online form but into word first. It felt too live to write into the form “maybe it’s something to do with um what you, sort of preconceptions of what a bvlog is and what the internet is…”.

And I think we need to think about how we adopt these tools in academia and what we do.

So some news

There’s been quite a bit of hoo-hah this week about the idea that bloggers might be revealed by Google Analytics – real tension also more widely on the loss of anonimity.  There has also been a lot of discussion about requests/requirements to take down information on their blog, and freedom of speech. Another story here about a Beirut blogger writing a book – this isn’t news any more, the online and offline is beginning to really merge. This week Disney brought a series of mummy blogs. And there was a news item on “blogging your way to a better career”. And the Guardian is also running a session on blogging for beginners: driving traffic and engaging audiences – that’s something that you would expect media or organisations might do but that’s increasingly something individuals do.

I think if I interviewed my participants today I’d see more on that sense of personal branding and what that means for reflective writing I’m not sure. We need to review some of our ideas about reflective writing for networked learning contexts; we need to think about how we induct students into that culture of blogging at the outset.

And Jen closes with the classic xkcd “someone is wrong on the internet” cartoon


Q1) How much is this an extension of what students already do on the internet, building personas and identity. Does making this explicit make it easier to address some issues now

A1) I agree with you that students are very strategic about how they present themselves online and offline. But in a reflective context they sort of deny that as you are supposed to be telling the truth. I hope my research casts a question on that – are we glossing over some things that are happening there

Q2) I was a little nervous when you referred to an eportfolio that a student was talking about as being “safe within the walls of the institution” – I’m not convinced that anyone can do that…

A2) I had a few students that were saying that they were not worried about their items being used. Then they both told me about a story about one person’s information got shared with all the students… but they weren’t concerned about this. I think there is a real information literacy issue here – these tools are not thought of as “really online”. There’s a real tension there for teachers between opening students up to participate and warning them

Comment) I think there are so many terrorism regulations, for instance, that we have to educate our students about risk and safety.

A2) I think the key issue for me is around work to rethink reflection to see what we can do best online. But we probably do need to back away from the idea of authenticity to make the most of some of these things.

Q3) On that point I wonder about the genre of blogging if we are inducting students. Where are the role models. Should it be the public blogs or should it be something that academics do?

A3) That probably depends on the goal of that particular blogging context. If we give students the role model of public blogging, if we do then lets do that fully, lets make that a beneficial aspect.

Q4) Every student needs to find their own blogging voice and role model. You can put out personal things online but you have to be prepared to take that abuse. There are also lots of role models out there of researchers who blog. I think we need to ask students to explore the blogosphere to find their own voice and their own style.

A4) I think when we are assessing a blog we may have a duty to be slightly more specific about what we want as otherwise we’ll have students concerned about faireness of marking

Q5) What was the background of the students you spoke to?

A5) I spoke to students who were in sort of constellations around courses where they had been assessing online reflection for a year already. Most of those staff were quite committed to blogging but they were from a wide variety of disciplines.

Secrets of writing for the web – Richard Coyne, Professor of Architectural Computing, Edinburgh College of Art

Richard will be sharing his personal experiences of blogging today. Richard has created his ten secrets of writing for the web at http://richardcoyne.com and that’s the theme of his presentation.

I was talking to a colleague in another school and asking if he blogged and he said that he didn’t and couldn’t see the pay off. It’s interesting to have people from all parts of the academic spectrum in the room. Early career researchers have an interest in building their profile. And perhaps more reflective older academics who have, like me, many thousands of words under their belt.

Blogging aids my research, writing and teaching in digital, user-generated content, cultural theory, new media audiences. I’m trying to start an MSc by research in digital media and culture. It’s right that I’m out there and doing this stuff. Perhaps my blog will help with recruitment for that, certainly people will approach me as a potential supervisor because of that blog. And the blog helps explain what I do.

Like many people I’m involved in the REF and funding councils are also looking for impact. Through these media everything becomes numeric. So for instance here we have stats for television viewing. This used to be esoteric and difficult to acquire, now it’s just there online. We know that in mass media large numbers are better than small numbers. Does that apply to academia?

The most viewed video on Youtube has over 180 million hits (recently Evolution of Dance by Judson Laipply), Guardian newspaper averages 232k sales per issue (and falling), top selling book is Harry Potter selling over 45 million copies. The average live sciences paper is cited about 6 times (Maslov and Redner 2008).

We are bombarded with these figures. Whether you like it or not WordPress.com tells you your hits. It’s a think you look at, get worried about. You can tell if your work is getting read whether you want to or not. As a bit of an aside I’ve discovered a trick with WordPress. Bloggers want hits, and people sort of obsess about that. WordPress publishes links to the top ten “best” blogs on the front page. If you click on the page then you find that lots of other bloggers will comment or link to that blog to boost their own hits. Congregations around success.. but to what end?

Thanks to Nicola Osborne (me!) giving an excellent workshop on presence on the internet I realised that Google Scholar gives you your citations on any particular article whether you like it or not, I knew that but what to do about it… so if I search for myself I get a list of all it can find in terms of items and citations. There is also a paper that is not mine for an author with my name with some 9000+ hits. You can get lost in that mass of data. So you can now create a user profile in Google Scholar and you can link just your own papers, and give you citation graphs whether you want to or not, calculates your h-index and your i10-index and so on. Barraged by numbers again, we have to address it, or ignore it or deal with it…

Again on the theme of impact its possible to interoperate these programmes and systems. You can easily link your blog and twitter and facebook. I don’t tweet terribly often but my weekly blogpost is automatically tweeted. My dozens of followers therefore see the linbk, the same with Facebook. And there does seem to be a correlation between these other mentions and the hits on my blog on a given day.

So, what do we want?

Well I want to exert influence. Perhaps an indication of influence if you are into publishing is getting cited. And reputation may help with finding publishers and audiences, to sell books, or indeed for external committees, etc. Although I’ve yet to see much difference in sales of my last two books on my blog yet.

Another aspect of my work is teaching and Jen has already talked eloquently about this. I have used blogging in my teaching and blogging has lots of benefits for me and one of those big pay offs is teaching. My blog post is published at 9am every saturday – they are scheduled that way – and often that will relate to teaching work in some way. A colleague has created a blog aggregation based on RSS feeds – my own and others, one is Media and Culture, and that gathers blog posts for that particular course. I use categories on my posts to indicate which type of post it is, where or how it should be aggregated. Students can then explore and comment on these blogs. So what we require our students to do is not to ask students to blog their own reflective blogs but to comment – they can comment on any of the blogs in these aggregations. One of the advantages for me is that when I give written feedback I can even reference them to blog pages – 60 or 70 blog posts etc. that may give an expanded discussion of an issue.

The assignment regime for that particular course includes 10% of the marks for 1000 words (that the students choose) from their commenting on blog posts. We can do that here as we are learning about media and culture. So the assessment is about comments not posts.

And still rattling along the theme of payoffs… in addition to teaching and more important perhaps is the development of research ideas. My own writing and my own reflections are here being scrutinised by public affairs. Wikileaks, ethics, etc. all hot topics. What does my theory bring to bear on these current issues? Blogging forces me to do that and lets me keep my (public) notes, get feedback, collect searchable links, refine my writing. Now I do want to publish. So far I’ve been rejected by two publishers for the idea of turning my blog into a book… a blook perhaps? I do have this idea of a lexicon of terms perhaps – my grand ideas is to create that glossary – still waiting for publisher comments on that.

Finally there are costs. It takes time to create blogs. I limit myself to one post a blog. During slight periods or vacations one can compile a list of posts that can be scheduled. Time is an issue. I actually like writing – not everyone does. There is the concern that it is self-indulgent. Maybe I may look desperate here? Do we want to buy into quantification? And IP control, saturation,… plenty of issues.

So in summary, managing identity and personal branding is a new thing for academics; masification comes with the medium but there is a long tail, a gift society, prosumerism; scheduling – what is happening to the digital native generation is that they don’t submit themselves to scheduled tv programmes for instance as they download their content. In blogs we think about scheduling  and organising; and there is the danger of submitting to pop intellectualism.


Q1) I think there is an important aspect to blogging that you as a while male senior academic haven’t touched upon, the building of community. That is very important for early career researchers, for sharing experience as a woman in academia, as a non white academic etc. There are a number of bloggers – both under their real names and pseudonyms that do this. I’ll mention them in my talk later.

A1) I guess I was looking at this from my perspective but I’m interested in whether my practice encourages my early career colleagues. But I don’t force my colleagues to start their own blogs – they may not want to, writing ability may not be there. A lot of students may not have the same facility to write quickly without edits.

Q1) Many of those who do choose to do this really find it helps them develop and improve their writing. PhD students and research fellows are finding it really important.

A1) I was trying to work out why students resist. Possibly an issue of future proofing – the reluctance to share half-formed ideas, a temptation to wait until confident.

Q2) Two observations really. Some posts get loads of hits, some get hardly any. It’s great to understand what aspects of academic work chimes with people – that’s hard information to get any other way. An looking at PhD students they get really interesting things out of the process but they are concerned about giving away too much of their work. There is a difficult line to go along with blogging. If you are in a secure job it’s much easier to take those risks.

A2) I do remember you talking about blogging before, it’s value for niche work, do you want to say more

Q2) I had a colleague who was researching a family and had numerous responses to her blog from people who were writing books etc. But in some areas you don’t get that kind of response. And some students don’t blog because they are concerned about sharing information before funding has come in.

Q3) What is your thinking with the Saturday morning 9am scheduling? Is it to do with when students look at the blog?

A3) I think it was that the first post I published was at that time. It’s a bit of a shock that when you hit “publish” that’s it, you’re live.

Q3) Well I tweet and I worry about doing lots of posting in the evening.

The promise and pitfalls of academic blogging – Brad Littlejohn, PhD student, School of Divinity

For a blogger I’m very untechie. I’m a second year PhD student in ethics and I will be talking about my own personal experiences of the last few years. When I’m talking about academic blogging it’s not really for academics. It’s about topics at the intersection of my academic work and everyday life. that makes sense in my own research work – I focus on christian ethics and that is easy to apply to other areas of life. If you’re planning to teach blogging for academics makes sense. But for me I use blogging as a think space – a place to share book reviews, interesting sources, initial drafts etc. I also try to maintain bredth to write, organise and find new insights from my work. Lots of students try to write journal articles requireing huge care of the materials. Blogging is a great outlet to try out ideas without the time or vigour requirements of a traditional article.

Blogging forces you to think about simplifying complex terms, about making work more accessible to your audience. Blogging lets you try to write well, to engage people’s attention. And you can get criticism, feedback, suggestions of sources through these readers. You may find readers from academia who let you learn from them, form useful connections and challenge you in helpful ways. This has been my own experience, I blog for myself but it is useful for my work. I write to share my wisdom… To enlighten them from their misconceptions… it’s very easy to get an inflated sense of your knowledge! You can become a temporary celebrity overnight – for instance when I blogged the theological perspective on the final Harry Potter film. But 1000 clicks is no match for a good report from your supervisor or an accepted paper.

Your own time management can be an issue. If you feel your blog is for readers then you feel pressure to post regularly. If you spend time on your blog that you should spend on research then you have let the blog go from useful servant to problematic master. Comments can also take up huge amounts of time – the more popular your blog the more comments you will get. And you can be tempted to be more polished and post more conservatively – this is not best for yourself or your readers. But a sense that no-one is reading can be risky – especially if you are talking about controversial subjects. There are unwritten rules about how one does this. There is more freedom in blogging but it can be easy to go too far. One can regret carelessness all too easily…

Once in writing about a visiting lecturer I made a few light criticisms that I thought were part of a generally positive post. But the lecturer read the post and angrily rang the school to ask about it. So now I assume that all posts might be read by anyone. You need to be genuine without being too informal. By making your ideas the key focus you can form great relationships and make good impressions. But that works best when it is the secondary goal of my blog, when the ideas are the primary goal.

And to finish a tour of my blog: http://www.swordandploughshare.com/

I have a contact form but I don’t make my email address available publicly. I’ve had very cool people contact me through the form. I show my essays, my recent posts, my publications – and also some unpublished papers that I don’t expect to publish.


Q1) What space are you using? It’s not wordpress?

A1) I use Squarespace – I was advised it was good for technologically challenged bloggers and it’s been great!

Q2) Have you been tempted to edit old material?

A2) I look at the statistics and fewer people read the old posts so I’m not too concerned. But I also don’t want to be too concerned about portraying a certain image. I want to accept and show that I don’t have all the answers

Q3) Why is your name not prominent on the pages?

A3) Hmm… A good question.. it probably should be.

Q3) Some sites use alias or esoteric names intentionally

A3) No, that’s not intentional!

And now for coffee…

And we’re back…

Session 2 (chair: Jessie Paterson)
Blogging on the New Testament and Early Christianity – why? – Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, School of Divinity

I didn’t set out to be a blogger, we just wanted to create a space for discussing the new testament and early christianity and blogging seemed like a good tool. But we didn’t know where to start. A colleague got me set up really quickly. He asked what it should be called – we didn’t want to represent the entire department so we went for Larry Hurtado’s Blog (http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com) and I picked quite a dull template. And we added a few pages about me and the site. And that was about it. And so we hit publish to see how it looked… and the next day I had 11000 hits, I clearly had to do something with the blog. And it probably helps that I’m retired, a very senior researcher I guess. And one of few people in my field. So people found me quickly. The one tip people had for me was “no comments”. At all. But I decided to be difficult. I decided I wanted comments and I did feel I wanted to make expert knowledge available to a wider audience – would you give a public lecture and not allow comments? So overall handling comments may take more time than the actual posting. It comes and goes… if it’s something particularly interesting, or if it’s something that requires reply it can take a really long time.

So a wee tour here… you have current posts of various lengths. My recent posts are shown, I have my tag cloud here for the tags of posts on my blog.

And here is how it looks to the blogger… you can see your stats for your blog. It will tell you about your hits. It averages about 10,000 per month as you can see. And you can look at which posts they are reading, where they came from and where they go to… and how many subscribers I have… I have 198 followers, gee, I’m almost like Jesus! And all of this blog tool and these stats are free.

It seems to me that there are two types bloggers. I believe there is a group that are highly opinionated but typically ill informed about and vent online… they often have astonishingly large followings. And there are blogs that are operated by people who know what they are talking about – graduate students, academics etc. and they are the smaller numbers.

And there are two types of sites. there are those with blogrolls that curate and dynamically add content to your blog. The other type is a public information site, things I’m interested in, books I’ve read etc.

On my site I have prepublications of my work. The copyright applies to the formatted typeset version of your paper so I convert the manuscripts in pre-publication format and share as PDFs with the published versions’ citation. The casual reader can read all the papers. The serious reader can then find the published citable version. And I have the publications list in a more formal way to show my authenticity.

A couple of comments here… Christian comments as with anything in this area always generates huge amounts of interest, often inflamatory. It comes and go. My best day in terms of hits was in May – 10,000 hits in one day – because of a news story about, supposedly, a cache of lead codexes discovered in Syria and that they were possibly the earliest Christian books ever written, by an early Jerusalem community. I saw the story and sniffed a rat and posted as much, that I felt it was a hoax. And that’s where the hits came from. Most days I get 200-400 hits a day. I post once a week or every 10 days on average. Sometimes more frequent than that but usually it’s once a week or so. And I try to put out information on my own work, things I’m interested in, and I try to engage with issues in the field. I try to stay carefully in my field but occasionally I do stray… I did post after woman scholar friends complained about lecherous graduate supervisors… I didn’t name them but I did say I knew who they were and that it was a travesty to our profession and to women… and that generated a certain amount of interest…

A few other blogs I wanted to show. April Deconick writes the Forbidden Gospels blog http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/ – she does use a blog role and includes images of the books she talks about.


Q1) May I ask… was that a hoax?

A1) Yes!

Q2) One of the previous speakers said that posting thoughts online helped them develop thoughts and get feedback online… what do you get out of blogging as a senior researcher?

A2) Some of the time I have readers who are peers, occasionally I’ve had great pointers, references etc. from graduate students and other scholars. That’s definetly worth something. But for me I really do feel an obligation to see that information on my subject gets out there… I get satisfaction from that. And recruitment, one is constantly trying to hang out your shingle for possible PhD students for the school. It’s for the benefit of the school one hopes.

Q3) Can I ask if you’ve ever regretted going for comments? People who were advising you not to were presumably thinking about bad experiences they had had.

A3) I think so but also the time usage. The amount of comments varies enormously. Comments are not time consuming unless you feel you should respond to them. It depends on what the subject is. Some subjects are full of sane people – English, Cognitive Psychology, etc. – but everything to do with religion brings all the crazos out of the woodwork – and they are well known to the bloggers though it took me a few months to discover them. And one of the experts I consulted with said “look, it’s your living room… you decide if you allow guests to smoke or not. It’s your choice”. Some comments are so asinine… they come to you as an email and you choose to approve, or to reply, or to edit it. I have edited some slanderous things before now. It’s your site so you could have responsibility for those. Sometimes I just delete them. Sometimes I patiently email the commenter to explain why I haven’t posted it – that it’s not on the topic, or because it’s slanderous. Some say “thanks for that” others say “well in that case I’m not coming to your site” and you think “YES!”

Q4) Your goal for this site is about your putting yourself out there… do you systematically put yourself out there as connecting to key news stories or key topics etc. You could blog on the Guardian religious site for instance where you might sit next to others comments and writing on the same things…

A4) Maybe I should. But basically I open the window on my workshop and let people watch. I think to be more proactive about reaching out, connecting to major news sites would take time but it would be possible…

Blogging for Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies – Kerry Lee, PhD student, School of Divinity

I will be talking about my work on the Biblical and Early Christian Studies blog (http://rbecs.wordpress.com/) written by students at Saint Andrews and also has contributors in Birmingham, Durham and I’m the blogger from Edinburgh.

We write reviews of books, articles, events etc. I’m fairly new to the site but so far my focus has been our Friday Biblical Studies seminar. So here is my most recent post – it’s one of the longer ones. Generally posts are 500 to 1000 words, relatively short. I tend to add some comment after my reports – questions, evaluative reports, arguements that need work. Nothing too heavy. I’m not sure we’re supposed to do rebuttals here. But that raises the issue of what we are doing here… I’m not sure we’ve worked it out ourselves yet. The contributors are still working that out. We are a little around the edges of the topic, sticking to reports etc. We haven’t decided about sharing our own work – the tacit answer is no/not yet. We are all blogging because we want to – we are friends now and there is an interpersonal aspect here. At least half of the contributors are from outside the UK, not sure if any are Scottish, it’s a fairly mixed group. Our stats show 40-60 hits per day – mainly it comes from other blogs and from our Facebook page. The rest from Google searches. Our blog is being noticed by the wider biblical and early Christian studies community.

So why am I doing this? Well it’s fun! It’s fun to reach out, to have people reading and responding to your work. It helps you develop two complimentary skill sets. We have self-imposed obligations to understand academic papers and summarise it for the blog. Sometimes that responsibility makes me have to tune in and find the value in a paper. Secondly related to that this also helps me to develop my succinct writing skills – make it at least as understandable as the original paper. And if I can make an unclear paper more digestible that’s great.

I do operate another blog, primarily political, where i have met poeple through the blog. I anticipate that happening here. And of course there is a perk of free books – review copies of books are hugely motivating for PhD studies. Can it contribute to a CV? I’m not sure blogging has solidified enough to effect your reputation. I’m not sure I can point to it yet in this way. And this is a blog of limited scope, it’s not about me, it’s me digesting other peoples’ things. Now it could turn into something with more “me” in it. We are discussing as a group whether we share our own papers etc. Of course we could create our own blogs for that purpose.


Q1) Were you forced to do this blog for the Approaches to Research course? I would be interested to know if this was different. That course is very similar to this and we give it to masters students as their first piece of assessed work – a summary and critique of an academic paper. And I’m interested in how that would be for assessment vs. doing that for your own choice.

A1) No, I didn’t do this for assessment. I do find it valuable. I hope if it was for a mark I wouldn’t have found it less valuable. One wonders if shifting that task to a blog output might change how students approach that task.

Q2) I’m really interested in this collaborative approach to bloggers. So are you sensing any tension in the collaborative process that someone will want to take control etc. Are institutions on board or is this individuals?

A2) I don’t detect any tension. There are discussions about what to include. But for this group it’s more about doing the basic thing we are doing. That collaborative effort keeps it really focused. A blog can easily explode into many directions. I know this from starting up other blogs… It doesn’t work. Because it’s a group we stay very focused. I don’t detect concern over control of the content. Today is probably the first anyone at the University of Edinburgh knows of my involvement in this. There are several St Andrews students who contribute though and I think staff there are aware and it’s fine.

Q3) You mentioned your Facebook page. Do you actively promote your blog anywhere?

A3) I think it’s pretty much online publicity via facebook and via other blogs. One of our contributors, Dan, has a really huge presence in this community and his name shows up everywhere and that usually also includes a link to this blog.

Discussion about blogging

Comment 1) I’m interested in the possibility of collaborative blogging but for more generic purposes. But I was interested in the last two speakers. Kelly talked about collaborative blogging and Larry talked about having a big popular blog. I was wondering how having someone high profile

Comment 2) Two models from the science community: 1 is a site that hosts a variety of bloggers, each blog connects to the others. If someone gets a really well known blogger that sparks interested. And there is also a collaborotive Science and Medicine blog that gives a chance for less well known

Comment 3) Multiplicity of blogs… how many read and how many write…

Comment 4) EDINA and guest blog posts

COmment 5) One thing that Kelly has done that is very clever is that they use the names of those that give the seminars – those are well known names that drive traffic. But I notice you have replies from some of those who have given talks – commenting, critiquing the summaries etc.

Kelly) I would welcome that and on book reviews we’ve certainly had some comments from authors

Larry H) Sometimes the topics, the words, the tags etc. of your blog post will be high profile – that’s another way to promote the site. Obviously if you use “sex” or “drugs” you get loads of hits… but obviously names, subjects, terms etc. will all make your blog high profile. The other thing is that I do think that, particularly for junior level scholars, I do think this can be another way to recruit postgraduate students. It’s only been in the last 10 to 15 years that people have realised that there is a web out there and that students are interested in this space and not just in the published space. I think serious worthwhile blogging is another way that Masters and PhD students can find out about a person or a programme and that is very worthwhile. If you do good intelligent helpful blogging, even as a junior academic, you will really draw attention, build reputation, and attract postgraduates.

Comment 8) I think Richard was saying that he did use his blog in that sort of way – that he hoped to attract PhD Students

Comment 9) Is there a collaborative blog internally to manage projects, for sharing experience etc.

Comment 10) I’m actually from student experience and admissions and we don’t use a blog but we do use a wiki for that purpose. That is not public in that way, it’s more for a virtual frontroom for meeting. You can either be a spectator or contribute. And that’s closed to the outside world but open to the university (though you can make wikis public). That wiki is almost like a blog. IS will provide wikis for any part of the university.

Comment 11) Please do feel free to share your ways to read blogs… I use Google Reader and things like FlipBoard for the iPad lets you have a more magazine-like interface.

And now it’s off to Lunch…

Session 3 (chair: John Lee)

Tweet Dreams are Made of This – Nicola Osborne, Social Media Officer, EDINA

And that was me presenting! View my slightly festive Prezi here: http://prezi.com/zawuuuga5tan/tweet-dreams-are-made-of-this/

A Year on Twitter: Self Promotion, Whingeing and Starting Fights – Richard J. Williams, Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures, Edinburgh College of Art

Richard is going to talk about his experience of using Twitter. I’m not professionally involved in this year. It’s the one social media I see real potential in. So I’m going to say a bit about what I’ve been up to.

So a bit about who I am. Like many academics in the middle of their careers I do many hings. I am th edean of postgraduate studies here at the university. I’m also a researcher in architecture and art history. I’m a manager and supervisor of various kinds. I’m also an occasional journalist and critic though the bottom has somewhat dropped out of the architecture magazine market at the moment. Not all of us academics are like this but a fair few of us are. Twitter has helped me maintain a presence in all of these communities. Most of my work is with peer groups and networks with academics and Twitter is very good for that.

What is Twitter – well that;s been dealt with – and how I’m using it, and what has been happening. Nicola dealt with what Twitter is but I guess I’d add it’s a bit of a game to gain followers. It has real potential to displace other sorts of communication. I’ve caught myself being slightly irritated when people aren’t on Twitter. A lot of people use it instead of email. It’s also a sort of defacto news channel. About a decade ago at media conferences people would talk about narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. And it’s routinely faster than mainstream media for news. Anyone with any interest in the middle east will have found the news was routinely  4 to 5 hours ahead of the television news. To me I get increasingly annoyed with the narrowness of the BBC and the Guardian, etc. coverage.

One of the key reasons Twitter is so good is that it’s brief – we need more of that in Academia. It’s in public – I like doing things on Twitter. It’s simple. It’s fast. I’ve tried various social media and I think I was quite a late adopter. I couldn’t quite see what Twitter was for. I got Facebook for a while, maybe for 6 months and went off it as it can be too personal, you get into too small a conversations. And Twitter is quite impersonal in a way. You need a certain impersonality to carry on effective public debate. The intimacy of Facebook was getting on my nerves and I did want to stay up to date. And students, and people I respected were using Twitter. I like to try things out even if I don’t go for it. I actually recently got into digital in a big way. And I really wanted to get into public engagement for – increasingly I feel that if we’re not doing public engagement we are failing in some way. I want to reach out beyond a small academic audience. I wanted to publicise my research and also an MSc programme I was running called The City. And that was partly to do with my frustration with print media – mainstream architectural journals have a circulation of maybe 6000, some only a few hundred.

In 2009 we tried Twitter as we thought it could publicise the MSc programme. We were sharing our news, we were boring, we hadn’t found our voice.

In 2010 I decided to try again. I decided to go beyond my own interests, I just signed up for anything that I thought was interesting – following all the news channels, also things like NASA, lots of other things, lots of people I knew. I was very catholic in who I was signing up for. And I tried to develop a mode of conversation  that would work. And I started to enjoy the discipline of writing at this very short length. And I try to be funny a lot of the time. But also to be serious – always a serious point there. Occasional anger or irritation. I tried to filter that stuff out but just occasionally there’d be an angry or irritated tone. I thought quite carefully about what the identity would be.

I found it a great discipline. I am convinced my writing has improved. I almost wondered why write an 80,000 word book.

So what was my experience… it’s been a fantastic way to find out about stuff, for news. It’s more or less displaced my use of paper. I was quite a major newspaper reader before, I just want electronic newspapers now. It’s displaced a lot of printed material. And it’s been a great way to find things out fast. And in an academic context it’s been a great way of testing opinion. A lot of us like to have our ideas tested. I like to be challenged and it’s been a really good way to do that. So I’ve put out ideas about potential grant applications and they’ve been instantly been shot down and that’s very useful. It’s also been really useful for thinking through my ideas on some topics. So there was a book earlier this year, Katherine Hakim – Honey Money, a sort of post feminist take on the workplace which caught a bit of a stink. And discussing that has been fantastic.

I’ve had discussions with Simon Kirby, Tiffany Jenkins who writes about museums, etc. I have conversations with them every day and I don’t think I’d have done that in other mediums.

There’s quite a range of things I’m looking at in my stream now. In the future I want to develop better more focused network on Twitter. Test out ideas for grants and research. Do more with images – I’ve been testing that more now. Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened in the last year. I got an early approach from a TV company called Utopia about a large scale international TV series on Culture/Art – an updated take on Micheal Clark’s Civilisation. We had 3 or 4 serious meetings. That came purely from Twitter. They said they deliberately looked for academics using social media and how to communicate using social media.


Q1) You said right at the start you got annoyed with people not being on Twitter. I don’t think that Twitter is perfect for real time conversation. I dont see it as a means of conversation

A1) It’s a particular form of conversation, it’s far better than email.

Q1) You’re bringing others into the conversation and I see that but if I’m offline for a while how do I know what you’ve been saying

A1) Well if I’m away it’s easy to look back at what the person you’ve been talking to has been saying. And if it’s important then people will say it again! It replicates a conversation in the real world – like a pub chat – in a lot of ways.

Q2) If there’s a consensus it’s pretty easy to have a conversation but for disagreement it’s not so straight forward

A2) There are a number of ways you can stage that – you can sent private messages. That’s a useful stage between shouting across the room and doing something more serious. It’s very brittle with anything that involves real conflict.

Q2) Someone did some analysis of video, voice and text. And synchronously and asynchronously. That conversations move from box to box.

A2) I wouldn’t do accurate things with this but for sharing, for networking,

Q3) Do you separate personal and professional accounts?

A3) At first I intended Twitter to be fiercely professional but it’s been almost impossible to do that. But there is something helpful about that. It doesn’t seem like work. Maintaining a webpage seems like so much work, this almost seems like play. But that also means it’s never off.

Q4) People are trying to compare Twitter to email and other forms of writing to people. Saying “but you can’t have this deep conversation” and that’s missing the point. I was teaching a course in informatics and suddnely I was taloking to Jimmy Wales one to one. And I’m working on Digital Scotland and then I got to meet the head of BT in the pub this lunchtime. I could not meet those people any other way. Seeing Nicola’s presentation I saw that map and I hadn’t seen that before – I have followers all over the world! It’s not a replacement for email. It’s something different.

Q5) You said you got a lot of your information on what was happening in North Africa. A lot of spoofing and inaccuracy has been reported. How do you know it’s reliable.
A5) It’s fair. You take all news with a pinch of salt. But that’s true of any media, including the established media. A lot of my news was coming from a Libyan friend who was a fairly reliable source. Many of the print media are staffed by almost no-one. The Evening News is pretty much written by 2 people.

Q5) Surely you limit your horizon to who you choose to follow, the limited filter of your interest. Google already filters results for you, there’s a danger of only listening to what you want to hear.

A5) My experience is that I look at more stuff, a wider range of stuff, but it has the possibility to do that.

Q6) One assumes that Lady Gaga does not read what all her followers write. Of your followers how do you pick who you will follow back.

A6) I tend to follow those people I know already in some way. Theres no strategy.

A rollercoaster ride through the world of social media in science and medicine – Maria Wolters, Research Fellow , School of Informatics

Maria will be doing a whirlwind tour of science and medicine blogging. The four topics I will focus on are transparancy, engagement, privacy, ?

I am going to start with blogging and that’s about a long format dialogue in the community. There is a huge culture of public engagement type science blogging on the Research Blogging (http://www.researchblogging.com/) site. If you include a link in your post it will be indexed and surfaced there. That is one way communicating science, aggregating.

I want to show you two examples of specific bloggers:

Brian Switek (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/lealaps/)

Did not train in palentology but through his blog he has become part of the paleontology community. He started blogging and improving his writing based on feedback. He started writing a book and sharing that process on his blog and then, bang, he had the preorders. And now he writes for Wired and is a really prominent blogger.

So now we will look at Context and Variation – Kate Clancy. This is a blog that cross the boundaries of sciences and humanities. She looks at reproduction in a cultural context. She takes studies poorly explained or distored by the mainstream media and she explains and expands and reinterprets those studies. She also looks at what it means to be a woman in academia. Women have childen and being a parent in academia is much more of an issue so she also loooks at that.

Now staying with the theme of Kate’s blog we have Petra Boynton who is also very prominent on Twitter and on television. Her blog http://drpetra.co.uk/blog addresses the distortion of sex education and research on her blog. And her personal experience of being a prominent woman educator in this space.

The view from the states is Dr Jen Gunter http://drjengunter.wordpress.com/ who is on WordPress. She disconstructs an app that Cosmo has about the sex position of the day and she deconstructs the ridiculousness of this.

These are all science communication, communicating the outputs of science.

Now if you remember the arsenic-is-life work but scientist Rose Redfield cried foul – see http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/tag/rosie-redfield – so she pointed out all the holes in the paper. The authors were appalled that this criticism had been done on blogs, rather than in letters to the journals. And now they are live blogging an attempt to rerun the experiment to check if it really does work.

For women the classic is science professor – http://science-professor.blogspot.com – this blogger posts anonymously about being a woman in academia. So he blogs about strange occurances and latent sexism in academia. If you want a UK version of that sort of perspective you can see Francine Donald’s writing on being a woman in science in the UK.

Scientopia – http://scientopia.org/blogs/scicurious/2011/07/24/on-the-issue-of-pseudonymity – defends her use of a consistent pseudonym across the web. She wants to be judges on the quality of what is written, not who is behind it. She is a woman and wants to evade the sexism against women in sciences. And she conducts animal research so her use of a psuedonym is a safety measure for her and her family. And it also is liberating for her.


Q1) I have a question about abuse online from a feminist perspective. I don’t blog but I comment sometimes under non gendered handles, and sometimes under gendered handles. I know that on newspaper comments sites – even on the Guardian – you will get far more abuse with a female handle than a male one.

A1) My personal practice is to stay sane. I try not to comment on newspapers anyway. I try to comment in spaces where the community is engaging in a more constructive ways – specific blogs etc. I’ve not personally had any issues. But I’m not that high profile. But I’m also up front, I don’t tolerate abuse. And I take swift action when needed. And I always moderate comments.

Social media: Steering a safe and responsible path – Dawn Ellis, Director, University Website Development Programme

This is a little overview of social media guidelines that are coming up, it’ll be very brief.

The background to the document is that an IS communications meeting about a year ago I mentioned that quite a lot of people were coming to me and my team asking about how to get started with social media. I knew that Nicola was doing lots of activity in EDINA and other active groups. And we had a document in a 2008 Web 2.0 guidelines. and also to look at the EDINA Social Media Guidelines. And to come up with something. And about it being a guideline NOT a policy. To be supportive. We put together a group from schools, support groups and EDINA. And we have been producing that document.

That document has two areas. Firstly on personal presences. Then on hosting a professional official presence. And some general good practice. There is some legal considerations materials – some indications on how to find out more on data protection, university policies etc.

On building an official presence, the key area for help here, we focused on approval, making sure that your supervisor knows that that is going on. Is there contact information. Are you prepared to actively manage your profile and keep that up to date – how will that be monitored in that absence. Monitoring mechanisms for your social media spaces – we’ve heard today about the importance of moderating comments. And your brand and identity.

We encourage you to think about tone and authenticity. To manage comments – and that being a core part of having a social media presence. And you need to think about your exit strategy – you know what you will do at the end of your project. Just to make you think about what you do.

And you will also find handy checklists, links to other university policies, and a flowchart to help you deal with comments which may come in.

And that is it!

It will be placed as a live document in several places – the Comms & Marketing website, the IS Apps website, the Website team website. This document has gone to the website governance steering group and they have suggested an all staff email to all staff with the first page and a link to the rest in the new year – so look out for that. Comments and contributions are welcomed as it should evolve.


Q1) Are guidelines re: the University crest in the guidelines

A1) There is a reference out to the suitable part of the Comms and Marketing website.

Discussion about Twitter and tweets on the Twitter wall

Comment) I was helping my wife set up her Twitter account yesterday and she was asking me how to use it and I said that I mainly follow on Twitter. And as I said earlier I use FlipBoard to look through linked images, etc. rather than tweet.

John Lee) Yes, I think that’s quite a common approach. We have question about people who tweet as part of the community.

Discussion around accessing old tweets…

Comment) who in the university is researching Twitter? Do we know? It might be good to

Peter) Nicola is doing so much on this is because EDINA wants to find out what’s going on. How others use that tool and how we as an organisation engage with that. We don’t… in the R&D arguement we don’t do big R’s we do little r’s and a big D. But we’d love to work with you to work out how one can properly engage without showing up at the disco every time, where you are positioning yourself. If you are reaching out with services etc. you have to be reaching out. And to get that knowledge would be great.So we’d be interested in EDINA to finding out what you want from our platform for your research.

And finally we ended with discussion of the best way to encourage students to follow a course account on Twitter, suggestions were to post engaging content that is slightly off topic, to share essential information that makes the account indispensible, and above all to tweet regularly.

And with that we are done with a really excellent day!

Dec 072011
LEGO Pirates #7 by Flickr user mac_filko

One of the inevitabilities of running a widely-used WordPress-based blogging platform is that we have to deal with a lot of spam messages every week. Despite ensuring no comments can be posted without successful completion of a ReCAPTCHA, and having a significant and regularly updated blacklist of IPs across all of our blogs the various EDINA blog editors and I still have a lot of spammy comments to deal with…

Sometimes those comments are huge screeds of URLs, sometimes they are offers for unique financial opportunities, most often they are attempts to sell something – uggs are big right now but a while back it was botox and drugs of all kinds are perenially in vogue. More interesting are the increasing number of spam comments that, like their Twitter counterparts, are quasi-valid looking and include text clearly mined from elsewhere. These can just read like nonsense – and they are an easy delete – but with others you have to look out for a total genericness to the text and/or find the URL to confirm that they are indeed spam.

So, I welcome you then to my first in an occasional series highlighting my favourite of the weird spam comments deleted recently. I was tempted to include an excited offer of CIA Training but my favourite spammy comment this week was actually this comment:

Shiver me timbers…

Can you see these goosebumps from the spectacular blog post….

It’s a fantastic image – lets call it the Pirate of Flattery – and, of course, just the nice words needed to make you spend an extra nanosecond reading the comment before checking sender details, the accompanying URLs etc.

The Pirate of Flattery was almost beaten by a spammer claiming (across multiple blogs and with generous URL inclusion of course) to have caught his son reading our blog(s) rather than doing homework. Presumably the intent is to make bloggers panic and reply although I think most would see that as a flattering sort of chastisement – indeed it was almost tempting to publish it to reveal our previously unrealised teen appeal!

Image Credit:  LEGO Pirates #7 by Flickr user mac_filko

 December 7, 2011  Posted by at 11:12 am Week In the Life Tagged with: , ,  2 Responses »
Feb 032011

As many of you may already know I’ve been working with my colleagues to create a set of guidelines on blogging and social media for some time. I am therefore very excited to let you know that we have just published version 1.0 of the EDINA Social Media Guidelines on the EDINA website under a CC (Attribution-ShareAlike) license.

The guidelines are intended to encourage and support use of social media but also to provide some common sense advice about getting presences set up, dealing with difficult comments, etc.  We have been using various draft versions of the guidelines internally for some time in order to gather feedback on how well they work, what else should be covered, etc. and this has been an invaluable process. I think the guidelines that have emerged are much stronger for the community input we’ve had and this first full version feel really compact, really relevant and cover a lot of ground, or, as my colleague Paul puts it: the guidelines are “a short but meaty” document.

Obviously social media moves fast and to stay relevant these guidelines will continue to develop, iterating regularly to take account of new tools and technologies and to take account of the feedback we receive back. With that in mind I would love to hear your comments and feedback on this first version.

Publishing the guidelines means we are not only being transparent about our own processes of adopting and using social media but it also means we can learn from others’ experiences and feedback. We are also sharing what we have learned over a roughly two year process. When I began drafting the guidelines I reviewed other social media guidelines (for which Jeremiah Oywang’s blog is always a useful source) including those from IBM, the UK Government Twitter guidance (links to Guardian coverage as the original copy is no longer available), various local councils policies, the BBC guidelines and, curiously but very usefully, the US Air Force flow chart for dealing with comments (which has inspired our own comment moderation guide).

We’ve also used the guidelines as an opportunity to flag up some of our current social media activity. We already have a social media page on the EDINA website but we’ve also posted a news item today to highlight some of the recent activity on those blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. that we list. My colleagues at EDINA share their substantial expertise and experiences through project, service and team social media presences and I highly recommend taking a wee look around the blogs in particular.

I hope you’ll find the guidelines interesting and if you think they might be useful for your own organisation please do have a look, grab a copy and adapt as you’d like – though I’d love to hear how you’re using them – do leave me a comment or drop me an email!