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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/documents/heweb2.aspx
JISC Emerge (2009) JISC Emerge: A User-Centred Social Learning Media Hub: Supporting the Users and Innovation R&D Community Network. JISC. Available: http://reports.jiscemerge.org.uk/Publications/
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.