In advance of the SWSC media ‘Twitter Chat’ on the use of social media in social work and social care education, I thought it was a good time to pull together some of my own thoughts as a frontline social worker about using social media to learn both formally and informally and what using ‘social media’ has meant to me as a social worker and how I have practically used ‘new media’ forms to promote my own learning in the field.
While Martin Webber has written about how he uses Social Media in Social Work Education as an academic and Jackie Rafferty has given us a historical context about the use of social media (or technology as it used to be called) in social work education – I thought it would be useful to add my own insights as a current, frontline practitioner who is not currently enrolled on any formal post-qualifying programme. Education is something that we, as practitioners have to take responsibility for and ensure it doesn’t just happen ‘to us’ when we are enrolled in specific courses. Education and learning happens around us and we need to take responsibility for it ourselves to become the best and most up-to-date practitioners that we can be.
I participated in a #lgovsm chat a few weeks ago which had the use of social media in social care as a ‘theme’ and provides some interesting background to the issue as a whole, I want to explore the subject in terms of my own learning as a neonate in parts who is experimenting with a lot of different forms.
The important distinction between media and social media is conversation and two-way discussion. As a practitioner, I see opportunities to have a voice and to feedback with academics, managers and service users in ways that have not been possible before. Using these methods wisely gives us more control over the direction of our profession and the leadership that we demand, rather than allowing those self-appointed leaders whose agendas are sometimes seem to be more around self-promotion than the sector itself.
I wrote a broad post about why I think Social Workers should use social media and some of the challenges that we might face.
There is though a difference between uses for different purposes and I see my use of social media as a way to both promote my own learning through conversations and links but also to educate others about social work and social care as an ‘ambassador’ for the sector.
I want to explore the different methods I use, have tried and have found useful (or not). I’d love feedback about what others have found through their own trials and errors!
Online communities and forums are some of the older types of social ‘discussions’. It was from the early days of email lists and Usenet groups that the internet sprung in those heady days before the World Wide Web had been created. The heart of these first forums – which tended to exist in academic communities (as universities had the hardware needed to run the networks) – was one of open sharing of information and discussions. Academics could ping ideas to students in universities across the world. It was about being a part of a knowledge community. In some ways, forums are the core of sharing. They allow interaction and static postings to hold information and links. Often they develop their own cultures and communities. We can look at the way Community Care’s CareSpace has grown to see that there is value in professionally based communities – but it is easy for powerful voices to ‘take over’ groups.
We can see how a useful resource is only as powerful as the members it attracts and the ways that they use it.
Forums are also generally a form of ‘top down’ trickling. Organisations/hosting companies/individuals start forums and often they create their own hierarchies but used well and responsibly, they can be one of the strongest learning and communication tools. Closed and limited forums have a particular use and it’s important to differentiate between open and closed and to find the value and strengths in each.
I am a member of an email ‘yahoo group’ devoted to the Mental Health Act and Mental Capacity Act and while there are significant ‘voices’ it is one of my best resources in keeping up to day on Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law.
But if you take anything from this post, you will check out the ‘Communities of Practice for Public Service’ and join their free discussion groups . I have gained a broad base of knowledge, access to free webinars and have found endlessly helpful groups of people in relation to social care and social work that it has been an absolute gem of information to me and helps me grow and learn as a practitioner.
More open forums, like the one at Community Care allow for different voices to join in and should never be discounted. Often the key in learning within the world of ‘social media’ is about developing skills to sort the wheat from the chaff – and to never take a disagreement personally!
I’ve written posts at the Not So Big Society as well as here and have to admit having a fondness for the long form post. It can help with elucidating ideas beyond short phrases and can act as a repository for groups of ideas. Communities can grow around blogs. There are many different blogging platforms but they are enormously accessible and the world of social work blogging is developing and becoming more sophisticated as the form develops. One of the joys I’ve found about both reading and writing blogs is the ability to comment in threads on posts which ‘keeps’ the conversation static.
As far as education and training go, they can be good for reflection and discussion of research and for keeping up to date with news and policy issues. The benefit of a blog is that it can be whatever the author chooses it to be and gaining immediate feedback is something that can challenge and promote and disseminate ideas.
We learn through both reading, commenting and writing. It is a potentially powerful tool for a practitioner to share their voice and insights ‘from the frontline’.
Twitter and similar micro-blogging platforms show their strength in providing an open, democratic – if somewhat chaotic – platform for driving together ideas and information. You can challenge people directly on Twitter and you can collaborate and build knowledge, understanding and learning. This blog is a case in point as I only ‘met’ Shirley through Twitter but our connection has led to an immense amount of learning on my part.
My most positive uses of Twitter in forms of gaining knowledge are in respect to conversation and content curation. Having access to social work managers, academics, practitioners in different areas and in my own field across the world has opened up my mind to different possibilities and ways of doing things. I can ask a question about a piece of policy and receive answers from those who might have been responsible for creating it. I am pushed towards interesting articles and thoughts and I can build links with service user groups in ways that were not possible previously as power is stripped away to a great extent.
The democracy of Twitter charms and educates me. The cream rises to the top but there are limits to the medium. 140 characters. Writing concisely is an art form though and it does help sharpen the mind.
Facebook is where the ‘eyes’ are and most people I know have Facebook pages. It is a useful tool to build groups and discussions as long as privacy settings are acknowledged. Personally, I don’t use my Facebook page for professional knowledge and growth but that’s my choice and there is no reason not to as long as you use the page as if your parents/children/boss/service user were able to read it and bear that in mind when you write. Particularly Facebook groups can be useful in particular circumstances but it’s important to remember the limits of the form. It’s easier to let down your guard if your friends are doing the same.
I’m going slightly left-field here and saying that I think there is a role for Google+ in education. Similar privacy issues exist as they do with all these networks but it has the ability to create ‘hangouts’ – group voice and video chat and it allows many more options to ‘group’ people and information according to whether someone is a close friend, acquaintance, work colleague or family member. Facebook has developed these but as someone who likes to separate personal from professional, it allows another platform for me.
It is still at an embryonic stage at the moment but I’ve found it useful to tinker with and think there’s potential scope if people do seek an alternative to Facebook to build connections and build conversations.
There isn’t enough traction to have promoted it as a true educational tool yet, but I’m biding my time.
Personally, I’ve never really ‘got on’ with LinkedIn – I dabbled briefly but it didn’t seem to be functioning well for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t enormously helpful for others but it seemed to be very ‘top down’ in focus, building on heirarchies and I saw no benefits that I did not gain from forums. It focuses on creating a professional ‘brand’ and I’m not sure how well that fits with front line statutory social work but I can see a role for those who wish to promote their brands and ideas across more traditional business sectors. Maybe I’m just not as invested in it as others but I wouldn’t rule anything out as having potential in the future or for different groups of people.
Within the statutory setting, I’ve found the Communities of Practice far more valuable as a learning tool but that’s a personal decision that I’ve made and would be interested to hear about other experiences.
There are other means that I haven’t mentioned but these are the first that sprang to mind – please do contribute in the comments with others and with thoughts about these forms and particularly, bring up your thoughts in the Twitter Chat on Tuesday 29th November run by SWSCmedia!
There are other platforms such as Second Life that I’ve never even attempted but perhaps a game-based platform isn’t as strange an idea as it initially might sound. I suspect that might be some way off though if we’re still trying to encourage people to join forums and contribute to blogs!
Education in Social Work and Social Care has never been something I feel I should be ‘given’ by a place of learning but in order to benefit, I have to truly engage myself in the learning process and more and more, I have learnt to take responsibility for my own learning – especially as council budgets are being squeezed and access to training is limited.
Social Media gives me as a practitioner a chance to build and make my own training and education opportunities and to challenge some of the status quo about trickle down ‘drip drip’ of knowledge.
I use these different methods to inform and research my own understanding, to develop a wider range of skills that I can use in practice and to ensure I take learning seriously as a personal and professional responsibility.
We all owe it to ourselves to become the best and the most knowledgeable practitioners that we can be. Social media provides a tool. We do not need to wait to be ‘given’ knowledge but we can search it out, challenge it and benefit from it ourselves.
Use it. I know I am!