Yesterday I went to Blogs, Wikis and Social Networking session organised by a local JISC (the governmental agency promoting use of technologies in education).
Already the first conversation brought a surprise - one of the participants was a HR person from one of FE colleges (I did not expect to meet there anyone but librarians and a handful of teachers). She was after ideas for developing internal communication in the College as the traditional ways like newsletters and emails are not sufficient enough any more. It was refreshing to see that not only librarians are taking the reality of fragmented information landscapes seriously.
There was a lot of discussion around threats (to safety, traditional literacy), barriers (to information as experienced by less digitally savvy people), difficulties (bandwidth, waste of time) etc.
I was left with the question whether damage to an institution from not having a blog (or not being present on, let us say, Facebook; or discouraging employees from creative use of "participatory media") is greater than from having it and dealing with a number of serious chllenges and/or unwanted consequences. It's not even the matter of allowing or blocking access. It's rather a question of institutional culture: are creativity and responsibility encouraged or anything that is "un-official" is discouraged? are staff provided with help and advice on positive engagement with the web? is learners' voice - freely expressed, not pre-selected and beautifully pre-packaged - is present in the whole picture of what the institution (College) is like?
If such participation, responsibility and trust are encouraged, the whole discourse about the institution will be quite different - not as polished as we are used to see it in glossy prospectuses, but much livelier, first-hand accounts of people's experiences. It sounds challenging and even scary, but isn't it what we actually enjoy reading and trust the most? That's why the old school editorial control on the web seems to be of limited value.
Perth College's blogging experience is very interesting from a librarians' point of view. They have two blogs, for users and for their own staff. The first one is used for sharing news. I like the idea of emphasising the new resources purchased. Pity, Heritage does not allow current awareness output in RSS feeds at the moment, otherwise it'd be easy to embed such updates into Moodle pages and Facebook. Another blog is for staff development within the team. The weak point for developing a SD blog is Outlook which - in its current incarnation - does not allow RSS feeds import along with emails. It's not clear to me how to create just one space where all the content and messages intended for the library staff could come and sit together. Will we remember to visit a blog regularly if it's been created?!
An interesting discussion took place during the lunch break. What happens to all the profiles and pages if their owner dies, especially if dies unexpectedly? There was a lot of fun discussing wills which should now include something about Facebook profile management.
One memorable quote from the day? - It's from the Tame The Web blog: "a core value of librarianship - community building". People want to communicate, create and share, learn from each other... where other ways fail - teachers do not have time, insufficient funding, digital divide - librarians (in FE) create physical and virtual spaces for self-guided study and connecting.
One blog post that I made a note of to look at later on more carefully was Should You Friend Your Students? The Short Answer Is No by Josie Fraser from JISC in Leicester. I am pleased that some comments were critical - I do not believe in complete separation of personal and professional life. I mean, it's possible, but rather unhelpful, in my opinion.
Wikis... we used them with Early Years learners last year and it was not as successful as I hoped. Potentially, it can be a great way for keeping library procedures up-to-date and easily editable.
A fantastic characteristic of wikis which I will constantly use when talking to students about Wikipedia: it has a fluid content. It's its strength and weakness at the same time.
Another example of people's desire and need to speak, contribute, being heard - Write To Reply. We do need editors who would inspire learners and staff to write to bulletins, websites, Facebook pages...
A similar session will take place in Nottingham in February.