SHEEN Sharing

A Project of the Scottish Employability Co-ordinators' Network

SHEEN Sharing Review: Introduction and Summary

Full SHEEN Sharing Review (Final Public Draft) available here.

Extra special thanks to Richard Hall (De Montfort University), George Roberts (Oxford Brookes University) and Sheila MacNeill (JISC CETIS / University of Strathclyde), who kindly allowed me to interview them about their excellent experience in the use of Web 2.0 to support communities of practice in UK higher education. Honourable mention also to Tony Hirst and the Open University SocialLearn folks who also inspired and helped me.

Introduction to SHEEN Sharing Review
The SHEEN Sharing Project aims to support the Employability Co-ordinators’ Network as a community of practice, with a particular focus on utilizing online tools to communicate about, share, and recommend resources of relevance to their employability work. The project will also support discovery and dissemination of relevant employability resources for stakeholders outwith the ECN, e.g. academics, staff developers, student support departments, funding bodies, national services, etc. Outputs and findings will benefit the wider education community, and the FE and HE funding bodies across the UK, by contributing to sector knowledge and understanding of resource sharing and community support using current Web technologies.

In preparing for the major work of the project, Workpackage 4: Trials of Web 2.0 Tools, I reviewed literature about, and current practice with, the use of Web 2.0 for the purposes of resource sharing and community of practice support in higher education. The intention of this review was to inform the SHEEN Sharing project as to the best way to proceed with helping the ECN. The short timeframe and small project team precluded an exhaustive literature review, and it was not intended to be overly formal or theoretical, but rather to offer the project an overview of the current landscape, and key tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid.

This work, Workpackage 2: Web 2.0 Review, was carried out in the first three months of the project from January to March 2009, in parallel with Workpackage 3: Requirements Gathering; both fed into each other during this period. See also the SHEEN Sharing Benchmarking and Requirements report here.

Executive Summary: Tips, Tricks, and Pitfalls to Avoid
Drawn from the various reports, and more crucially from the interviews recorded in the Appendices, these tips and tricks are the key purpose of this review:

  1. Know your community
    • Their makeup, professional background, how diverse they are;
    • Their technical expertise and confidence levels;
    • Their enthusiasm for the project’s remit;
    • Look at their personal resource management strategies (so you can fit in with these);
    • What their local drivers, barriers, pressures and policies are that affect the project’s remit.
  2. Engage and support your community
    • Be aware of individual visibility and ensure equitable opportunities for participation;
    • You need champions and mentors who are embedded in the community;
    • Champions / mentors need to model good practice;
    • Engage the most keen to mentor and teach those who have less time but are interested: that’s how communities of practice work;
    • Use the kind of tools you’re going to be encouraging for project management functions;
    • Offer lunch for meetings – gets folk along;
    • People engage best when they are told stories by their peers (not talked at by experts);
    • Focus on what will make their lives easier, enhance their work, save time and be fun;
    • Find out what their problems are and go down the route of solutions;
    • Look for common tasks that they want to carry out and build activities on those;
    • Use a team-based approach to embed tools, give support (engage line managers);
    • Engage with strategic planning, academic quality, data management needs (these can be management drivers for support);
    • Use champions to mentor on a particular task using a particular tool;
    • Enable them to see from each other one thing that might work or transform practice;
    • Get student volunteers to help with mentoring, ideas- can involve elected student reps with experience in this;
    • Agree collaboratively for everyone to do something every day or once a week etc.;
    • Hold regular Webinar/Web conferencing meetings:
      • These are Web 2.0- good “gee whiz” factor, but easy to use, non-threatening;
      • Allow people to communicate and take part from geographical distance, from home, etc. at convenient times;
      • They can *see* each other: important for establishing relationships;
      • Choose a tool where they can begin to establish a profile online (good introduction to issues around this);
      • Record meeting outcomes for others to refer back to, play back, later;
      • Relatively low access costs, choose a tool that just works out of the can;
      • Have a regular schedule planned ahead of time so they can drop in and out.
    • Abbitt (2009) found people use social bookmarking tool around the time of deadline for course requirements – may be an idea to initially provide structure and deadlines.
  3. Technical issues
    • Need to sell sustainability of Web 2.0;
    • Usability for front-end users;
    • When you have 100s of resources, take a mixed approach (mix of tools and technologies);
    • Be ‘agile’ in your methodology- evaluate as you go and be willing to change course, change tools, add new tools to meet emergent needs;
    • Support people who are finding it hard: they can get scared off at first attempt;
    • Support people with workarounds to institutional barriers like firewalls or blocking of Web 2.0 applications.
  4. Potential pitfalls
    • It’s easy enough to set everything up for people, but they’ve got to be motivated to use it; they won’t use it just because you’ve set it up for them;
    • Minimise or completely remove any artificial barriers to Web 2.0 tools;
    • Local university technical departments can cause barriers by blocking certain tools and technologies;
    • Project participants ultimately focus on whatever the official project outcome is. If it’s a formal report, they will work towards a formal report that ticks the boxes.
  5. Employability and Web 2.0
    • “[…] the dispositions developed through engagement with Web 2.0 technologies – to communicate, participate, network, share etc – overlap with what are viewed both as significant 21st century learning skills and 21st century employability skills.” (Hughes, 2009);
    • This fact could become a significant driver for encouraging employability co-ordinators in developing their own Web 2.0 skills, the better to engage in a useful way, and understand, their stakeholders;
    • SHEEN Sharing can enable the ECN to become champions for all that Web 2.0 represents, of crucial importance at a time when, as George Roberts notes in his introduction to the JISC Emerge final report (2009): “information literacy is being dynamically redefined”.

Hughes, A. (2009) Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World: Report of an independent Committee of Inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies. JISC. Available:

JISC Emerge (2009) JISC Emerge: A User-Centred Social Learning Media Hub: Supporting the Users and Innovation R&D Community Network. JISC. Available:

June 17, 2009 Posted by | SHEEN Project Dissemination, SHEEN Sharing Project | , , , | 3 Comments

Literature review and requirements/benchmarking documents: Final Public Drafts now published

Finally, we now have a Final Public Draft available of both the SHEEN Sharing Review and the SHEEN Sharing Benchmarking and Requirements Report.

The above links take you to each document’s page on Scribd, where you can view, print, download (in various formats) and share them. You’ll also see them listed under the Project Documents from Scribd heading in the far-right-hand column.

I’ve done separate postings for each here and here on the blog, which consist of the introduction and executive summary for each report.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | SHEEN Project Dissemination, SHEEN Sharing Project | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Examples of NetVibes for project dissemination

We’ve all realised fairly quickly that a blog like this, while a good tool for project dissemination and a great way to get started as a sandbox and exemplar of using Web2.0, is not a good place for the complexity of knowledge-sharing requirements at SHEEN Sharing.  We need a space that can pull in resources in a well-organised and structured way, make them available to different interest groups, and allow “push” out again to other interested sites and services (e.g. HEA EvidenceNet).  That space needs to be fairly easy to maintain and self-sustaining, and it needs to be able to interoperate with all the other Web2.0 tools folk in the employability arena might be using.

We looked at Elgg, which allows you to create a website/portal type space pulling in a lot of different Web2.0 feeds, blogs, Twitterstreams, etc.  But Elgg requires a local server, and some technical expertise, neither of which are within the project scope.  Nonetheless, to see an example, look at this JISC-funded communities of practice project Elgg site: Emerge.

We’ve also looked at Netvibes and Pageflakes.  We have some great exemplars of NetVibes being used in the way that the ECN would like to use a space like this.  It can be organised into tabs by subject/interest area, or any other criteria, and it can very simply be composed of feeds and lists and bookmarks and Twitter feeds from all over the Web.  But don’t try to imagine it.  Here are some really good examples:

Connected Practice: Researching Social Services in the Network Society

This is the NetVibes page of Neil Ballantyne at IRISS in Glasgow; even though he has set it up to reflect his own interests, it really looks like a project site, and it is easy to see how the sort of structure he has given it could be used in SHEEN Sharing.  Note- all the “blocks” under all the tabs are dynamically composed of feeds from other sites: blogs, journals, etc.  Also, it looks pretty.  Neil is a one-man project!

Innovation in Public Services

This is a really pretty one; it looks like it’s had some professional design input.  It’s a neat example of the use of a NetVibes site to support a community of practice and provide a one-stop-shop both for the CoP to visit, and for it to push out things it is interested in (e.g. via blogs).  Worth a good hunt around: it should be fairly clear where things have been locally created and where they have been pulled in via feeds.  Really good use of feeds based on searches of blogs and Delicious tags too, so you’re pulling in stuff from all over the Web on a daily basis, not just the stuff you already know about.

The Rhizome Project

This Eduserv-funded project on digital identities’ NetVibes page is not so pretty, but nice and clean nonetheless (I like it anyway).  Just a good contrast to the above: a project using this tool to create something that will live on beyond the project’s end.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Group Spaces Online, SHEEN Project Dissemination, Web2.0 Tools, Tips and Tricks | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tips and Tricks: Getting Started with Twitter

Wondering what Twitter is, exactly? Not sure why you’d want to get started using Twitter? Wondering what the benefits might be? See my previous post on Twitter, and also my newer post on universities’ careers services using Twitter to disseminate to students and others.

First Steps
First, you need a Twitter account.

Then you need some people to follow.

Then, people will start following you as well. If everyone with an interest in SHEEN Sharing gets onto Twitter and starts following each other, we will have a nice web of communications.

Have a Look at SHEEN Sharing on Twitter
SHEEN Sharing itself now has a Twitter account that you can follow. Go to: to see the SHEEN Sharing Twitterstream. The messages in the big central column are the Tweets sent by SHEEN Sharing so far. In the right-hand column you can see basic information about SHEEN Sharing and also who SHEEN Sharing is following and who is following us (see the “following” and “followers” links). At time of writing, Cherie Woolmer and I (morageyrie) are following SHEEN Sharing. I’m sending its Tweets out, but can easily give others access. HOWEVER: the idea is to give you something useful to follow on Twitter when you set up your own account!

How to Set Up Your Twitter Account

1. Go to

2. Click on the “Get Started – Join” big green button (there’s also a helpful video you can watch from the main page).

3. Fill in the form to create your account.

4: Add some identifying details for yourself in Settings. A brief blurb so potential followers know what your interests are, or indeed can work out *who* you are; not everyone uses their real name on Twitter and once you have dozens of followers it can be hard to remember who is who! Uploading a profile photo helps too: it can be of anything but it means followers have a visual reference to remember you by.

5. Get started looking for people to follow, e.g.:

5a: Navigate to and click the “follow” button (which will only appear if you are already logged in using your new Twitter account).

5b: You can also choose to follow me as an individual: You may find this useful or amusing or overwhelming or annoying: I use Twitter a *lot* (which is why I set up a separate SHEEN Sharing account). But you are very welcome to follow me: you can always un-follow me if it gets too much!

5c: Check who else is following SHEEN Sharing; click to follow them if you wish (there should be a “follow” button under their name in the list; if there isn’t you may already be following them). Most folk allow anyone to follow them, some folk may have their profiles locked so they have to approve your request to follow.

Learn a Few of the Tricks

*** Tweets must be 140 or fewer characters; it’s like learning to write Haiku!

*** You can Direct Message (or “DM”) people; only you and they will see these conversations.

*** You can reply to a Tweet and everyone who follows both of you will see it; you can get something very close to threaded discussions this way. Most Twitter tools let you click a “reply” button of some kind but you can also do it manually by typing @ then their username at the start of your Tweet.

*** You can also “mention” other users in your Tweet; it’s just again typing @ then their username; these mentions will appear in their @replies list so they will notice them easily! For instance, I might Tweet in response to SHEEN Sharing “@sheensharing thanks for the conference update. I wonder what @Cheriewoolmer thinks of that?” .. both SHEEN Sharing and Cherie will see this in their @replies section.

*** You can pass on Tweets you find useful if you think not all of your followers will have seen them. This is called “Re-Tweeting”, and the convention is to type RT: then copy and past the entire Tweet (including the original sender’s username). However, most tools now have a “Re-Tweet” button that will do all this for you.

Optional Stuff for the Really Keen

*** Set up your mobile phone so you can post to Twitter by sending a text. (You can also receive text updates if you are a Vodaphone subscriber). Go to Settings > Devices (instructions here).

*** Twitter is getting bigger so you can get marketing spammers and such following you, but it’s easy to block them when they do. However, you can set up your Twitter account so your updates are only viewable by those you approve. This means that, if someone clicks to “follow” you, you have to approve them (so they have to wait for that), and that your Tweets will not appear in any live Twitter streams anywhere, nor be searchable by anyone outwith your followers etc. Go to Settings and scroll down to the bottom, read the blurb and if that’s what you want to do, check the checkbox. NB: If you do this, your Tweets will not be visible anywhere to anyone except those who follow you; so, for instance someone searching for Tweets on “employability” using TweetDeck or similar won’t find anything you’ve posted.

*** Find a Twitter tool that makes it easy for you to keep up. TwitterFox is great for those using Firefox as a browser. If you have an iPhone there are various apps for that. You can get a newsfeed of your Twitterstream and read incoming Tweets in your feed reader (makes it hard to reply easily though). But you may wish to keep it simple at first and just keep a tab open in your browser with your Twitter account on it.

*** Set up Twitter to automatically update your Facebook status.. two birds with one stone.

*** Set up any number of tools (e.g. Delicious) so that when you post to them, a Tweet automatically gets sent to your followers.

There is so much more you can do! Just Tweet me or comment here with questions!

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Group Spaces Online, Microblogging, Social Networking, Web2.0 Tools, Tips and Tricks | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Easing our communications, sharing info, supporting each other: in praise of Twitter

Already know you want to get started with Twitter but not sure how? See my next post with tips and tricks here.

What is Twitter?
Twitter is known as a “microblogging” tool; think Facebook status updates without the rest of Facebook around them. Or tiny emails only from and to people you choose to be part of your own personal community. Or miniature blog posts appearing in your feed reader.

Each update (or “Tweet”) must be 140 characters long or fewer. You read the Tweets only of folk you choose to “follow”. There are many free tools for reading your “Twitterstream” (all the Tweets from people who you follow) – or you can just read your Twitter account in a webpage, feed reader or email inbox.

Why Twitter?
I was planning to avoid talking about Twitter during the early phase of SHEEN Sharing. I felt like it was currently being over-hyped in the media with consequent negative feelings running rampant (amongst those who haven’t used it that is). And I just wasn’t sure it would be useful for people just starting to explore this Web2.0y stuff.

I was wrong about all of that. In several meetings it has come up that people find the deluge of emails and managing information overload difficult these days. With the best will in the world, it’s really difficult for such a widely distributed and busy group to stay in touch and work together supportively (although the ECN folks certainly do manage well with the time they’ve got). Someone said that they wanted something like the way you chat to colleagues in the lunch queue at a conference.

How Twitter Has Eased My Working Life
Consequently, I often found myself explaining how I use Twitter for work and how it has eased my working life to a considerable degree, especially with regard to communications and support within my professional community of practice, and for getting relevant information in a very timely manner. Gradually those interested in SHEEN Sharing have expressed an interest in trying this wonder tool.

How is Twitter Useful?: A Personal View

Here are the ways I find Twitter useful:

1. Ease of integration into my daily work
I don’t have to log into anything- not even a separate webpage in a new tab. I use Firefox as my browser, and there is a free Twitter tool called TwitterFox. TwitterFox sits in the lower right hand corner of my browser window, and has a little number on it showing how many new Tweets have come in.

When a new Tweet comes in, a little balloon pops up, just at the edge of my eye-line, with the full Tweet text (140 characters) and sender’s name and icon in it. I can tell in an instant if I want to follow it up. If I want REAL radio silence (say if I’m writing something heavy duty), I can switch it off. If I want to see recent Tweets, I just click the icon and the balloon expands, but not enough to obscure the page I’m currently reading or working in. I can have it open while, for instance, typing this into our blog post editor online.

2. Choosing my community
I see messages only from those I want to be in communication with. I choose to “follow” people whose messages are of interest to me. I can un-follow them at any time. I can block people who I don’t want following me, or restrict my followers to only those I consciously approve.

3. Flexible configuration for different purposes
I can use a more flexible tool like TweetDeck to group Tweets according to my interests. For instance, I have a TweetDeck stream that only shows messages from colleagues around the world with an interest in repositories. If I’m working on repositories stuff I can look at that stream. Or, I can run a search in TweetDeck for “repositories” and get a stream that only includes Tweets that mention that word.

4. Amplifying conferences: being in many places at once!
I can keep up with conferences and other events or issues without needing to attend them. Conversely, if I’m running a conference I can make sure that it is “amplified” out to many more people than just those physically present.

People at a given conference (e.g. #altc2008), or interested in a current news topic (e.g. #G20) agree to use the same “hashtag” (a term with a # in front). Then, anyone interested in that topic can follow all Tweets that include the hashtag. I’ve followed numerous conference presentations from my desk in this way: people who are at the conference Tweet news, impressions, discussion points etc., and I can respond via Twitter and get further discussion and feedback from others- all in real time. Or, I can go back and read the Tweets later to catch up on what happened. Conference webpages and blogs can include Twitterstream feeds. And so on…

5. “Dear lazyweb” – accessing a world of expert advice and information
I can easily ask for help on a topic by typing a Tweet question, again in the lower right-hand corner of my screen, no need to navigate to a new page or log into anything. My question will go to those interested: firstly, all the people who follow me will see the Tweet (and ignore it if they’re not interested); and secondly, if I’ve included a useful keyword or hashtag in the Tweet, people from further afield might see it and respond. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gathered invaluable information that I’ve needed, generally within 5 minutes of Tweeting. This has also often led to new people joining me via me following them, or them following me, or both.

A good example of this was the SHEEN Sharing Trials Planning Meeting in early April. We explored briefly the idea of using something like NetVibes as a more permanent community web presence for SHEEN Sharing and the ECN. I only had the example of my own rather pitiful NetVibes page handy (I’d only put it together for our initial introductory workshops anyway; it’s not something I was familiar with in detail). Everyone was somewhat unimpressed. While we were at lunch I quickly sent a Tweet: “dear lazyweb: anyone got any examples of NetVibes used as project dissemination?” and within 10 minutes had four rather lush examples (more on that later), better than even I’d anticipated, and showing NetVibes being very close to what we wanted to achieve. When we started up after lunch, I was ready to go! And I still had time to eat.

6. Community membership and support
As a social tool for keeping up with ones community and feeling supported, validated, amused, informed, or just plain part of something bigger, Twitter is the best. I work alone at home, but I feel like I’m in a big, silent room, where I can stand up and walk about, ask if anyone wants a cuppa, ask a pertinent work-related question and get answers, hear some gossip or the latest news, or just tell people I’ve got a headache and get sympathy in response. Kind of like working in an open plan office that you can switch on and off at will.

The thing I can’t emphasise strongly enough is the ease, speed, and lack of intrusiveness with which this happens. And Twitter can now be integrated with most other web tools you might be using, including email, feed readers, blogs, wikis and other websites.

Usually at about this point (or rather, about two-thirds of the way through the above information), someone says “But there isn’t enough time in the world… ” or “How do you find the time… ” etc. All I can say is that it saves me time, as well as bringing benefits I can’t get elsewhere. There is still the problem of using anything like this as a distraction, or getting overwhelmed with incoming information and messages. I don’t think the need to manage these problems as individuals is going away any time soon!

So, the next post will be a HowTo specifically to get you set up on Twitter, and also an announcement: follow SHEEN Sharing itself on Twitter!

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Group Spaces Online, Microblogging, Social Networking, Web2.0 Tools, Tips and Tricks | , , , , , | 1 Comment