A Happy 3rd Birthday for Engage!
2014 was a big year for Engage: Social Media Michaelmas from offering a programme filled with dynamic speakers to gaining recognition at the annual Oxford Teaching Awards (see earlier post). As in previous years, IT Services teamed up with staff at the Bodleian Libraries to organise a series of free events (lunchtime seminars, courses, workshops etc.) to explore different social media strategies and digital tools for use in an academic setting. The series ran between October and November 2014 and through hearing the experiences of others, the sessions aimed to inspire researchers, staff and postgraduates to consider using social media and digital technology to develop their online presence for impact, outreach and public engagement. Alongside these events attendees were encouraged to participate in the self-directed online programme called ‘23 Things for Research’. In addition, we were delighted to welcome four guest speakers: Aquiles Alencar-Brayner (British library) who came to discuss how the library promotes its open, online services and collections; Simon Delafond and Jesse Alter from the Imperial War Museums who presented on a staff digital training initiative called ‘Computer Club’ and Mechthild Herzog from the University of Luxembourg who discussed @RealTimeWW1, a Twitter project she was involved in.
The lunchtime talks covered a wide range of topics including:
- Using twitter for research projects, academic networking and in cultural heritage settings.
- Creating videos for outreach purposes.
- Making effective use of Facebook for personal and professional pursuits.
- Using digital tools to track the impact and reach of an online project.
A Growing Interest in the Digital
The interest shown in these areas by University staff and students alike appears to be growing as sessions attracted over 400 bookings; an increase from previous years. The two departments where many of the attendees came from were the Social Sciences, and central administration. It was noticed that, in general, the sessions which attracted the highest numbers were those that:
- explored tools/ topics relevant to the daily practice of the university community e.g. Social media analytics is a metric that many staff and students are now being encouraged to work with.
- possessed topical value e.g. visualisations or ‘infographics’ is seen as one way to meet the increasing requirement to present data effectively to stakeholders.
This year was particularly unique as the series took part in a University software trial whereby 12 of the talks were live streamed to the wider public, both the speaker’s voice and slides were captured. This proved successful in attracting further interest to the series. In the cases where the live stream links were sent out in advance through various mailing lists, significant numbers of users tuned in remotely. For example, over 60 people listened to the ‘Engage: Facebook Pages that Work’ session. Users reported that it was very useful to have this alternative way of accessing the series especially when they were located in other parts of the city/county, and, of course, it opens the programme up to those based in other institutions and countries.
Practising What We Teach
Each year we try to develop the series so it is bigger, better and always in touch with what audiences at Engage really want to hear and learn about. To do this we evaluated the social analytics data collated from Twitter, Facebook and the Engage blog, and reviewed the feedback offered in post-session surveys. This process was really valuable and provided a ‘way in’ to gauging users’ expectations. Our team found out the following:
- Many suggestions were made as to how some of the talks would meaningfully lend themselves to hands-on workshops.
- Several attendees stated how they greatly appreciate time to network with other colleagues, ask the speaker(s) questions, and when specific tools are being discussed, view a practical demonstration.
- Thus, it seems that the seminar over lecture model is preferred in the majority of cases.
- Paper still matters: some of the delegates suggested that it would be helpful to access the speakers’ slides as printed hand-outs.
- Twitter remains a powerful tool in disseminating news about upcoming events followed closely by more traditional forms of communication such as mailing lists and promotional postcards.
- Copyright in the digital age is a ‘hot topic’ in higher education. This complex yet important area attracted considerable interest during the series and served as the basis for many questions. Some attendees wanted to learn more and requested more than one session in future.
- ResearchGate, Academia.org, SumAll and Storify tools were all highlighted as areas of further interest. This has been noted for the 2015 programme and indeed the ongoing desire to learn how to track what people are saying online about specific projects and indeed the reach of this work.
When All’s Said and Done (and Tweeted)
It was excellent to be involved in a series such as Engage Social Media Michaelmas as the topics covered were often very innovative and topical. All of the speakers were passionate about their respective areas and the attendees ensured that subsequent discussions were fruitful and interesting. It was particularly rewarding when I began to recognise a group of ‘regulars’ who attended the sessions each week. For this reason, I would like to thank all those who took part in the talks, who supported the programme and in particular to those who completed the follow-up surveys since it is this valuable feedback that allows our team to develop the programme effectively each year. Roll on Engage 2015!