Do stop me if…

Picture 8I’ve just made it to the end of the first week of term on the MSc course I’m taking full time for the next year.

I’m aware that already my writing style is heading off towards the academic and even-more-verbose-than-usual; and the topics I’m exploring day-to-day are getting relatively specialised.

I’ve been wondering whether I should start another blog for study-related content, but I’ve decided for now, to stick to writing here.

But – this blog is for readers as well as it’s writer. I want to make sure that I can get a sense if readers think the blog is getting too technical. Or indeed, not technical enough.

Speaking at conferences before I’ve used the jargon busting red card system, where everyone in the audience has a red card to hold up should the speaker end up off-topic or using too much jargon. Scary for the person on the podium. But it encourage a great discipline for the speaker to maintain clarity and focus. Seeing a sea of red-cards start to shuffle in the audience certainly helps me to get back on track if I’ve mis-judged how to pitch a presentation.

So consider this post to gift you a virtual red card, and to be an open invitation and encouragement to give your feedback and to help keep this blog useful and practical.

One Interesting Thing about Five Interesting Things

(and a bonus reflection on the network society)

If you write a title of the form ‘Five interesting things about X’ at the top of a page or blog post, where X is an event, a workshop you’ve run, or a paper you’ve just read, chances are you can fairly quickly distil a page or post full of, well, five interesting things..

And chances are that other people will find it useful.

If you ask me, that’s fairly interesting. And it’s got interesting implications.

I’ve just spent three days with various academics, managers and practitioners from the world of human services (which included quite a few folk with experience of youth work) where we’ve been exploring the rise of the ‘Network Society‘ (if the term is not familiar, at least look at the Wikipedia page) and it’s impact on the whole field of human services.

We encountered a lot of challenges: Many of the practitioners and managers can perceive the need think about and adapt to the network society – but they struggle to find the time to engage with both the literature on the network society and the practice dilemmas and tensions that need to be resolved in responding to the rise of a digitally connected world. Many of the academics are doing in depth research and writing great articles (sometimes about the fact practitioners are ever more time pressured) – but are struggling to get that research to influence practice. And both academics and practitioners alike with teaching responsibilities were talking about the challenges of using old lecture & essay based formats of education to equip a new generation of youth workers, social workers and probation officers.

Talking about “Five interesting things” may not offer a resolution to all those challenges, but over lunch today we explored how it might have something to offer. What if:

  • Tutors encouraged students to read recent research and summarise the ‘Five Interesting Things’ from key articles.
  • We combined the lists of ‘interesting things’ produced by different students through an online tool like IdeaScale and encouraged students and practitioners to vote up and down the most and least significant ‘interesting things.
  • We took the top five ‘most interesting things’ and used them as abstracts alongside all the articles being input into big knowledge management systems for practitioners.

A new teaching approach. Turning research into practical nuggets of information & knowledge. And helping practitioners engage with contemporary learning about major social shifts and developments.


(BTW: Do check out the Connected Practice Ning if the idea of ‘human services in the network society’ is one that resonates with you)

TV, Channels and Social Networks – a day with DigiTV

I was speaking yesterday at the DigiTV Stakeholder Event alongside Steven Flower of Substance/Plings – exploring how information providers can ensure their information and services are ready not just to feed into the ‘channels’ young people use, but also into the networks and social networks through which young people and the wider population are increasingly accessing information*.

Presentation slides
If you were at the event and are looking for the slides I promised to share, you can find them as a a PDF download here or Slideshare here.

The future of TV
The last time I lived in a household with a TV was 2003 and that was an old analogue set, so I’ve not yet got my head fully around the current versions of digital TV. Which meant that and hearing Ian Valentine from Miniweb (and formally from the R&D team at Sky) speak about both the present and the future of digital TV was a bit of an eye-opener for me. The convergence of TV set and always-on broadband internet connection looks set to have some really interesting implications.

Below are a few quick reflections on some of the content of yesterday:

  • An interactive platform for the household? – The mobile phone, laptops, and even family computers are set up as private screens. One user at a time. The TV still appears to operate in most settings as a shared screen. With digital messaging (TV e-mail / RSS feed to TV?) and social interaction features (share with a friend etc.) built directly into the television watching experience, not as separate applications that requires a move away from TV watching to access, is there a potential for digital messaging and social-networking features based less around the individual, and more around the household?
  • Digital TV services are not just for access at home – Continuing the theme of the shared screen – one presenter talked about how they have installed digital TV in some community venues they work in, in order to provide access to the services they have developed digital TV interfaces for. At first this seems odd – surely those venues already had internet access and computers which could be used to access the very same services. But the Digital TV interface was, perhaps significantly because of the constraints of the platform, much easier for the target group of the service to use. The idea of simple interfaces to interactive tools on a shared screen is really quite appealing for a lot of contexts (e.g. youth group working on a consultation without other digital distractions etc.).
  • Service delivery via digital TV will no longer just be a way of reaching the 30% or so of internet non-adopters. As the TV becomes a broadband internet access device to parallel other alternative screens such as the phone screen, it is reasonable to assume it will become increasingly important to create TV-ready websites. Ian from MiniWeb spoke a bit about the wTVML markup gateways they have been developing as a way of translating standard CMS driven websites into TV-ready interfaces with the addition of a little XML to the website templates. This makes it more important than ever to develop standards compliant sites from the start.
  • Social Networking comes to the TV. Some of the features of next-generation digital TV shown at the event highlight the potential for rich social networking tools and platforms to be built into the TV. This is one to keep an eye on when it comes to Youth Work & Social Networking – and thinking about safer social networking.

Even so, I’m sticking to the Radio.

A social media game without an evening lost laminating

cardimages.jpg[Summary: Using to make workshop resources]

(This post is mainly for those who have spent far too long laminating little bits of card late at night in preparation for a workshop the next day…)

I’ve used variations on the Social Media Game in workshops before. The game, which works by setting scenarios, and getting workshop participants to explore how they would use different tools or approaches to respond to those scenarios is a really effective way to encourage knowledge sharing and practical learning in a session.

However, preparing the game cards for a workshop always turns into one of those nightmare jobs. Simply printing them on paper or card isn’t enough – they’re too flimsy – and it’s always surprising how much the quality of a resource affects people’s interaction with. So, up until now – that’s always meant an evening of laminating little bits of printed paper to create good quality cards. And I know I’m not the only one who suffers this small but significant laminating challenge – @davebriggswife has rendered great services to social media in this country through laminating little bits of social media game card.

So, this time, as I started putting together the ‘Social Network Game’ for the Federation of Detached Youth Workers’ conference next Friday I though I’d try something different. And this morning a set of wonderful ‘Social Network Game’ postcards arrived on my doormat courtesy of

Picture 21.png

All I needed to do was to create each of the cards as an image, upload them to Moo, pay a few quid, and ta-da – high quality postcard-size workshop resources ready to go.

Why bother blogging this?

Well, asides from trying to save others who loose evenings to the laminating machine – I’m really interested by the potential that Print on Demand solutions like that of can offer for:

  • Creating high quality resources – I’ve always been struck by how having good quality resources for workshops affects people’s responses. But often getting things professionally printed for a one-off workshop just isn’t viable… but can be with Print on Demand.
  • Resource sharing – Using the API I could provide an easy way for anyone else to order a set of the Social Network Game cards I’ve designed. (In fact, once I’ve tested them out in a workshop I might try and create a set for others to get hold of…)
  • Promoting positive activities – Could the Information and Signposting project make use of the positive activities data and multi-media it’s collecting to make it really cheap and easy for activity providers to order promotional postcards to hand out?

Definitely something I’m keen to explore more. Would be great to hear about any other ideas or experience that you have…

Reflecting on social reporting or enabling social reporters

Picture 25.png[Summary: A personal learning reflection on digital reporting from events – enable people to report, don’t report on their behalf…]

I’ve facilitated young people as ‘roving reporter‘ and ‘digital journalists’, or even, in the terminology David Wilcox is developing, ‘social reporters‘, at events before – and I’ve acted directly as the digital reporter at a few events in the past.

However, trying to blog and digitally report from the annual conference of the Association of Principal Youth and Community Officers on Monday I found it surprisingly challenging to tap into the buzz of the event and build up a coherent blog record of what was going on. That’s not to say we haven’t managed to provide a good foundation for online discussion and networking between APYCO members in the future – but it did get me reflecting on the difference between being the reporter and facilitating the reporting process.

Supporting young people to be the digital reporters at events about young people has always made sense. Given the skills to operate video cameras and update the blog – young people are then able to go out into a conference or event and use their insights into the issues that affect them to ask the right questions. Holding the camera or the Dictaphone, and being in control of the blog, alters the usual balance of power between young people and adults in the conference setting – and generally produces great results.

So why didn’t I work with APYCO to equip a number of the youth service managers there to be the social reporters – to go out an interview their colleagues and to talk about the issues that affect them? Time & resources perhaps. And also not having yet had the experience of digital reporting from a managers event to reflect on. But I’ll certainly make sure I take the enabling others to report approach in the future rather than taking on the reporting role directly.