SHEEN Sharing

A Project of the Scottish Employability Co-ordinators' Network

SHEEN Sharing Benchmarking and Requirements: Introduction and Summary

Full SHEEN Sharing Benchmarking and Requirements Report (Final Public Draft) available here.

This report is primarily the result of a series of workshops with, and a survey of the Employability Co-ordinators’ Network. My thanks for their honesty and enthusiastic participation.

Introduction to SHEEN Sharing Benchmarking and Requirements Report

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 gathered ECN requirements and ascertained co-ordinators’ level of awareness and experience with Web 2.0 tools in their work. This exercise, Workpackage 3: Requirements Gathering, was carried out in the first three months of the project from January to March 2009, in parallel with Workpackage 2: Web 2.0 Review; both fed into each other during this period. See also the SHEEN Sharing Review report here.

Executive Summary

  1. Who are the Employability Co-ordinators’ Network?

    Etienne Wenger, one of the key educators on communities of practice, notes on his website that:

    “Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.”

    Looked at as a community of practice, the ECN is:

    • National (across Scotland), and geographically distributed, with some members, particularly in the north of Scotland, less able to attend centrally based meetings;
    • Mostly female (76% female / 24% male);
    • A mix of part-time and full-time (59% full-time / 41% part-time);
    • A mix of professional backgrounds;
    • A mix of institutional situations, in terms of:
      • the type of department they are based in (59% educational/staff development / 41% careers service), some being co-located in different departments;
      • the emphasis required by their institution on employability work (including working at a policy level; working on curriculum and course development; and working directly with academics and students);
      • university type, from red brick to the ancients, including the Open University and the federated UHI Millennium Institute.
    • Temporary: funding for their work will not continue beyond the next couple of years.

    Some implications:

    • There is significant time pressure on many ECN members;
    • There are a range of professional and institutional cultures, priorities and communication styles coming to bear on their ability to participate;
    • There are institutional cultures with different approaches to and support for use of technology (for instance, one institution blocks use of certain Web 2.0 tools on campus; another doesn’t allow use of Flash);
    • There is a sense that the work accomplished must somehow not be lost after the end of the ECN’s funded tenure in this role.

    So, although this is a small group of professionals, it cannot be assumed that they have access to the same resources, have the same work priorities and pressures, or have similar jobs.

    However, despite their differences, it is clear that the ECN has worked from the beginning as a community of practice, engaging in a process of collective learning about their tasks as university employees whose remit is to promote employability for the benefit of students in higher education and their potential employers. Given the affordances Web 2.0 can offer to a distributed community like this, the SHEEN Sharing project could have much to offer in their continued work, learning and professional development.

  2. What are the requirements of the ECN?The basic requirements that have emerged are as follows:
    • Communication:
      • Mutual support;
      • Sharing experience, practice and learning.
    • Resource sharing, comprising:
      • Resource discovery, sharing, recommending and rating;
      • Sharing experiences of use of resources;
      • Targeted resource dissemination to all stakeholders.

    During the initial meetings, however, it also became clear that learning new skills in utilising Web 2.0 technologies would be helpful in their roles supporting teachers and students with employability issues, an impression supported strongly by the SHEEN Sharing Review. As noted in the recent report of an independent Committee of Inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies (entitled ‘Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World’ ):

    “[…] 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.”

  3. Benchmarking the ECN

    ECN members communicate less frequently than they would like, largely due to time constraints and issues of information overload, with all forms of communication tending to occur monthly or less. The ability to communicate privately and in a targeted way is valued, as are opportunities to meet in person, or to utilise tools which simulate the informality and support of face-to-face meetings.ECN members use bookmarking as the primary method of saving resources they have found, which points to social bookmarking as a possible way forward for SHEEN Sharing. They tend to rely on Web searching to find resources again, and email to share resources with colleagues. However, a considerable number of ECN members have low confidence in their own efficiency and effectiveness with finding, sharing, disseminating and re-discovering resources; un-surprising given their desire for the SHEEN Sharing project to help with this.

    To date, ECN members have some experience in their personal lives with social networking tools, but not much enthusiasm for them, and less experience with the main resource sharing and dissemination tools required for SHEEN Sharing. However, they strongly support the major aims of the project: sharing opinions, practice tips and ideas around resources with ECN colleagues and other stakeholders, and improving their own efficiency and effectiveness in sharing resources.

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

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: 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/

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