Monthly Archives: July 2012

Can Social Media be taught?

I have been on the periphery of a few conversations and discussions about the use of social media both for teaching and learning and about use of social media more formally in training and learning. Some partly alluded to in this post.

I am generally of the mind that use of  social media are best considered broadly within communication skills and that there may be some forms of guidance that can be offered, mostly in terms of modelling behaviours, it isn’t a subject that either can or should be taught as a distinct subject matter.

These are my reasons

1) We are still at the early stages of knowing, learning and understanding the possibilities, format and etiquette of interactions which take place online. By ‘teaching’ we codify a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way where the right and wrong should merely be an extension of what we consider to be ethical practice and conduct in all spheres of life and communication.

2) We are confusing the tools and the medium for the content. Platforms come and go – from Usenet, bulletin boards, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs – the media can, does and will change. Teaching someone the basic IT skills to set up a WordPress blog is one thing and can be enormously helpful but teaching them what they should or should not put on it?

I think that’s better left to the community around them. Yes, mistakes will be made but that’s how learning grows. If someone doesn’t realise that disclosing details of a visit on their own blog is counter to professional codes of ethics, it isn’t because they don’t ‘get’ social media, it’s because they don’t ‘get’ professional codes of confidentiality.

3) Identifying self-appointed ‘experts’ who do the ‘teaching’ is a tricky area. What makes someone an ‘expert’ in social media? Is it someone with 5,000 followers on Twitter? Numbers are meaningless – followers can be bought and it’s more important who those followers are. Is an expert someone with a blog that has a following? Well, they might be an expert in writing a particular blog about a particular subject but I don’t think that gives them an authority globally. Or is it an academic that has written extensively on and about social media?Perhaps but it is a sector where the learning by doing is particularly prominent.

Learning about the theory of social networks is fascinating but does it help with the practical implementation? And what is ‘good use’ of social media anyway? Building a supportive network of people who think in the same way? Extending ideas and focus of knowledge? Learning about new research? We have different and fluid outcomes that are personal and individual – so how can a syllabus capture that? I’m not sure. Should it try? That’s a really key question.  If there’s one area that self-directed learning and understanding really should flourish, I suspect it may well be this area.

4) Social Media is about building relationships and trust. No one can teach you to be authentic if you aren’t. No one can build an authority for you. You live or die on the content, information and relationships you build.

5) I worry that by creating a culture of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ we are imposing a hierarchy of a system of ‘people who know’ and ‘people who don’t’ into an area that thrives particularly because it is able to break things down.

So how do we learn and ensure that people learn to use these networks safely?

I say by relying on just diving in and perhaps modelling some behaviour around ‘mentors’ – asking and helping as we go. Perhaps when we see people new to these networks we all take a responsibility to offer suggestions and advice.  When I helped someone set up their facebook account, I went straight into the privacy settings with them and explained them.

Sometimes people need to be guided around the etiquette within different networks and forums and a gentle guiding hand can be useful.

My worry is that more formal teaching/learning will lose the instinctive learning-by-doing and learning-by-experimenting which have led to some amazing opportunities.

I’d be really interested in the views of others about this though. After all, we are all still learning. I don’t have the answers and I am willing to be swayed on this as it’s based pretty much on my own experiences and thoughts. So please do feel free to persuade me otherwise!

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Reflections from #localgovcamp

I spent Saturday in Birmingham, attending ‘LocalGovCamp’ an ‘unconference for local government’.  I want to share some of my initial thoughts, impressions and reactions and look at ways forward particularly for the social care sector where I work.

This was the third ‘unconference’ I’ve been to but I’ve not been specifically to LocalGovCamp before. As it’s my third, I feel almost like I’m beginning to understand the process but each have their own flavours and soon I realised that the melding of blogging/tweeting anonymously and turning up at events which have an underlying assumption of openness don’t always meld!

There are a lot of people with a lot of confidence, experience and knowledge and they actively want to share. I felt that at times I had to stop and absorb in order to learn and the live tweeting tailed off as I found it difficult to think, tweet and reflect simultaneously. As someone who is a bit ‘arms length’ from my employers, it was good to feel a part of the ‘local government’ community and I think it’s really important that people like me (not necessarily me personally, I’m probably less confident at these things than I should be) who are on the frontline of practice and service delivery attend as we can add something to the mix – I think!  It’s easy to be a bit intimidated around impressive and confident people but everyone was very kind, warm and welcoming.

I attended a number of sessions including one specifically about social care. I was able to get a broader idea and impression of the place of social work within social care and the place of social care within local authority services.

I want to reflect particularly on that for a moment.

The broad theme of social care drew more interest than I’d expected. I think I always assume that there’s little interest in our work in the ‘town hall’ because we don’t get much feedback and feel a bit distant – especially as I’m seconded into a Mental Health team and can’t get my intranet/email from my local authority employers, let alone accessing any of their databases!

I kind of suspect that they forget we exist so even by proxy turning up at broad ‘local government’ themed events maybe tips a few people off that we are out there, visiting people in their homes every day and actively conducting local authority business, implementing the  policy decided in offices and being a crucial contact between the citizen and the organisation.

A lot of opportunities exist at present in the context  of the recently published Adult Care White Paper which pushes a ‘digital by default’ agenda to local authorities in terms of ensuring information is well propagated beyond those who are ‘eligible’ for care services. There are also increasingly going to be stronger pushes forward to ‘ratings’ sites and responses being collated into information that is vibrate and responsive rather than static.

So where is this work going to fall? Will it be a task given within a back office in commissioning or communication departments? Probably.  I made a plea that there is some involvement from the frontline services that currently exist and hope at least that will be considered in parts.

In some ways health are further ahead with more useful information sites and some of those will be rolled out into social care including 111 telephone response services  – I wonder if local authorities really know what they have been tasked to provide at this point.

Social care is an area where work and progress can make an immediate and active positive impact on the lives of those who might not be those who are shouting loudest.  Broadening commissioning will help, as explained in the White Paper and that will be done by broadening conversations about commissioning and honestly about what is working badly as well as what is working well.

One day, I’d love to see some more  senior people within my own council attending events like this.

Could there be a similar event specifically around social care? I’d like to see it. There are a lot of people who have great passion for the sector but the true value in these unconferences, particularly those outside working hours, are that the people who attend are those who choose to and who want to make things better, differently.

It isn’t all about new technology and new media. It’s sometimes about those meetings, those one to one conversations and discussions by people who can inspire and jog each other to promote change in the areas they work in.

A last thought, which is to mention #lgovsm . I attended the session discussing the community that meets ‘on Twitter’ between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Tuesdays and provides an opportunity to build discussions outside our specific areas of specialism and expertise across local government as a sector.  It was great to meet some of the people behind the conversations and I’m enthused to follow and attend these chats more regularly.

Top down and bottom up conversations are becoming more common as some of the ‘traditional hierarchies’ are being challenged by new ways of communicating–  let’s have more of the cross-sector horizontal conversations. Let’s learn in social care from health, housing, environmental health and street cleaning about ways to engage and grasp the imagination of the public and the sector in terms of promoting new ways of doing things. Let’s learn from our comms teams about how they work and operate and the stories they want to hear from us.  Let’s not hide in a ‘social care’ silo when there is so much information, knowledge, sharing and desire to share with us. Those are opportunities and they should be grasped in any and every way possible.

Let’s make social care and social work work better, but let’s also make local government and local government provided services work better all round. The two are inherently linked and I am passionately committed to being a part of a local authority that delivers the best services it can for all the citizens for whom it works – yes, my ‘specialism’ may well be social care and health but my interest is in involvement and participation at a fair broader level. Thinking ‘holistically’ needs thinking beyond the sector and that’s the joy of these events.

That’s what I learned.  That wasn’t bad for one Saturday in July. I’ll take that.

Thanks to those who organised, coordinated and sponsored this event. It was a pleasure to attend and be a part of it and like a slow cooker, I’m germinating a lot of ideas that I expect will take a good few months to bubble to the top.

Reflections on Digital Health Conference and Hack 2012

Leeds

I spent a couple of days last week in Leeds, attending the Digital Health Conference and Hack.  I wanted to fill in some initial reflections today and write more about some of the sessions I attended over the coming week.

The Conference

The first day – the ‘conference’ part – was put together with thought and care towards the participants with an excellent balance of speakers, workshops and opportunities to talk to one another (or ‘network’).  Having been to many conferences which have overdone the ‘being spoken to’ elements – particularly in a day – I was genuinely delighted by the opportunity to feedback.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the day was the other participants and attendees. There were people from across the health and social care sector, including users of services provided (although as was pointed out, we are all users to a degree), voluntary sector organisations, technology based companies, commercial organisations and people from national and local government.

One of the themes that jumped out at me most spectacularly was how much was gained by putting us all in a room together where otherwise we might have no opportunities to meet, to create a positive energy (tinged with scepticism of reality to a degree) about what is actually possible to ‘make things better’.

Whether it was a discussion about the Department of Health Information Strategy for Health and Social Care (which will be the subject of it’s own post later in the week!) or a closer look at the Department of Health ‘Maps and Apps’ project or a discussion with clinicians about the way they use social media or a look at the ‘Patient Opinion’ model for providing useful communication and feedback between users and services.

Both ‘Maps and Apps’ and ‘Patient Opinion’ will be moving into the Social Care space directly and for me, it was a useful chance to discuss and think more deeply about the ‘social care’ angle on these processes and how they might directly relate to the work I do clinically on a day to day basis.

The second part of the day revolved around planning, discussions and moving forward but it’s hard for me to get away from the realisation that the most important thing that I took away from the day was inspiration and connections.

I met some truly inspirational people (primarily Claire Jones, the organiser of this event) and had some intensely interesting conversations. I connected with people across the traditional hierarchical structures that we are sometimes constrained by as well as some of the traditional ‘silos’ of interest groups that can be seen to exist within health and social care more broadly.

The Hack

The Hack Day on Saturday was a chance to discuss in more detail some practical ideas and uses for technology at work. The group I worked in provided me with an enjoyable, engaging and thought-provoking discussions. We came from very different angles to look at the problems we faced in working/using/dealing with NHS and Social Care systems and how not only technology but better communication and relationships could solve them.

The projects that were presented at the end of the Hack Day were genuinely useful and provided a chance to see change in action. It isn’t just talk although it’s impossible to underestimate the possibilities of talk.

The Conclusions

My main lessons from the event:-

1) Moving away from top/down and bottom/up models of communication as the sole way of transmitting information and ideas. The real change comes from horizontal as well as vertical chains of discussion. Look at other sectors as well as those at all levels of our own.  How is agriculture managing this? What is education doing? We can get lost in our own world and of course, we need to look across health and social care. It’s a VERY big place. Many people who use and need our services to operate well can tell us best where we need to improve. Skills and knowledge is not a top down transfer.

2) Social Care is in genuine danger of being squeezed out in the ‘Health and Social Care’ debate and discussion. I was gently reminding some of the health people that we existed but I’d love to see more input from the sector and perhaps input more myself.

3) Social Media opens opportunities. I would never have come across this event without it. But sometimes, face to face meetings can reinforce ideas and relationships too.

4) Sometimes just sitting a few people together and talking about ‘making things better’ from completely different ‘starting points’ can be both inspirational and revolutionary. Let’s do more.

5)Leeds is an exciting and beautiful place. I want to move Winking smile

I hope to write more specifically over the week about the ‘Maps and Apps’ project and the Information Strategy for Health and Social Care but all in all, I can’t think of a more satisfying and reinvigorating weekend I’ve spent in a long, long time so can only thank Claire for doing rather than talking about doing.

These are the people who will change the world. Rather than talk about changing the world. Thank you, Claire. Thank you, Leeds. I’ll be back and in the meantime, I’ll be plotting, planning but most importantly, talking.

photo by Leah Makin Photography at Flickr

A sad loss for social work as a respected MSc Mental Health programme closes

It was with considerable shock that I learnt that the MSc in Mental Health Social Work programme at the Institute of Psychiatry will close in September 2013 and will not be accepting any new students from September 2012. This decision was taken without any reference to members of the Programme Committee, to partner Agencies or to the General Social Care Council.

I have been involved with the programme since 1996 working with the then course director Alan Rushton to accredit the programme within the Post Qualifying (PQ) framework. I was subsequently invited to join the Programme Committee. It was always evident that the course team recognised the importance of ensuring that they were able to demonstrate to students and employers that the skills and knowledge gained would benefit service users, the social work profession and the mental health community.

I find it difficult to believe how a decision of such magnitude (the end of social work education at the Institute of Psychiatry after over thirty years) could have been made without informed consultation or accountability to, internal and external stakeholders. I wonder if this system of educational governance is common within all universities.

It appears that a decision was made that a new MSc Global Mental Health would be a better use of the HEFCE places which currently support the social work programme. As a member of the Programme Committee I have not been provided with a rationale as to why the course is closing and there has been no explanation of the absence of a proper consultation process. When the importance of inter professional collaboration is being emphasised by government policy it is difficult to understand why the Institute of Psychiatry considers that social work education is no longer a priority.

The MSc Mental Health Social Work programme has, over many years, developed a well deserved reputation for its academic and practice excellence and attracts students from across the UK. The need for such a programme at this time remains critical, given all the legislative changes surrounding the practice of social work, in adult, children’s and adolescent mental health.

The former external examiner Professor Eileen Munro consistently praised the high standards of the programme and its method of developing advanced practitioners in social work. There are strong parallels between her recommendations for advanced practitioners and how the programme develops experienced practitioners informed by research and theory. The emphasis on developing quantitative research skills is important in promoting the evidence base for social work.

The programme has a real commitment to the meaningful involvement of service users and carers which has been cited by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and recognised by the General Social Care Council (GSCC) as good practice

The MSc in Mental Health Social Work uses an innovative form of assessment of advanced practice which provides case consultation followed bya  practice viva panel incorporating users and carers which has now been adopted by other universities.

How will mental health care improve without confident, well trained and  research minded social work practitioners?   A sad day for social work when the Institute of Psychiatry, an internationally renowned centre of excellence for mental health research, no longer wishes to support the education and learning of advanced social work practitioners.

If you wish to express your concern about the closure of the MSc Mental Health Social Work programme please write to:

Professor Graham Thornicroft

Head of Health Service and Population Research Department

Institute of Psychiatry,

De Crespigny Park,

Camberwell,

London SE5 8AF