Blogging for the CultureHive Digital Academy

DMA-logo1I’m currently working for a new project run by the Arts Marketing Association called the CultureHive Digital Academy, which is an initiative aiming to innovate in digital learning. It’s run by Carol Jones, recently of Chapter, who also teaches the RWCMD in Cardiff.

The Academy’s model is to encourage its fellows to learn through rapid innovation, experimentation and reflective learning. They are encouraged to develop initiative ideas, implement and evaluate them, then reflect on their experiences through the Academy blog. This participatory education programme consists of online action learning sets and regular sessions with a mentor, and I was asked to be one of those mentors in the summer of 2014.

From September 2014, I’ve been meeting with fellows via Google Hangouts and Skype, helping them to think through the programme and develop their learning from the programme.  So far, I’ve been working with; Amy Rushby, who works in digital marketing for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Ruth Catlow, a digital artist and leader at the digital arts collective Furtherfield in Finsbury Park, London and Jamie Eastman and Jamie Wooldridge, who work at Live at Lica, a University based multi arts venue in Lancaster.

The programme leaders have asked me to reflect on my experience as a mentor through the programme’s blog, and today I published my first post, which is about establishing the purposes for setting up a digital media initiative, and ideation, the process of generating and combining ideas for solutions. You can read my post, Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives on the CultureHive Digital Academy website.

I’m chuffed to have been asked to continue being a part of this exciting initiative when the next batch of fellows join later in 2015, and I’ll continue blogging about my insights into what the fellows have needed to tackle during their mentoring sessions with me over the next year and as long as I’m involved with the programme. You’ll be able to access an archive of my posts into the future. Enjoy!

Eight things we’re learning about social media training

This year NativeHQ have been running social media training courses in collaboration with Cyfle and also running workshops with our clients, who ask for training as a bundle with other services like strategy and campaigns. Here are some provisional thoughts we’ve had about the training experience. Some might be useful to trainers in other disciplines.

There are eight of them because I thought of eight.

1. Practices and platforms

When an organisation asks us for YouTube training (say) or Platform X, then they already know about that platform and they’re looking for relevant ways they can use it. Usually they don’t need us to tell them how to set up an account or that posting video or whatever is possible. They are looking for creative practices, inspiration, guidance, mentoring, feedback and the benefit of our experience. They want to know how it meshes with other activities. They want to know if it’s actually relevant for them or just a time sink and are relying on us to give them honest answers not hype. All this can get lost in the discussions of the role of social media in organisations and the role of the experienced trainer. A lot of people are using Platform X now but exactly HOW are you using it? These are the things that are worth talking about – practices as well as platforms.

2. Publicness

Usually, for social media training to work, real things have to be posted on the public web. Although there are good examples of social software that are not on the public web, e.g. a private collaboration wiki for a team, many of the joys of social media learning happen without such restrictions – or safeguards, depending on your point of view. If you’re wondering then there are ways of managing the reputational risks of that – for example, using a pseudonym or an individual person’s account/identity with appropriate disclaimers instead of a company account.

3. Group dynamics

In our experience there is a group dynamic for hands-on training with one trainer which can be sustained with up to eight to ten participants. After that it starts to break down – the session becomes less of a hands-on practical session and more of a presentation.

4. Shared note taking

We approach training workshops like mini-conferences with a ‘backchannel’. In practice I mean that at the beginning we invite everyone to a Google Doc for sharing of notes and links. This is suggested as a potential replacement for eight (say) separate sets of notes and thus reduces repetition, allowing more time for learning. It’s a snap to share links within the group. We are also trying to illustrate how shared notetaking can be amazing for collaboration with colleagues for other kinds of work beyond training. Sometimes people like to take additional private notes on paper or on a device, which is fine, but once they’ve tried shared notes they often tend to like it. One day maybe all training courses will adopt this – from video production to healthcare.

5. Skill levels

It’s obviously good to have a diversity of participants. An exception to this guideline: we prefer that the skill level of everyone is roughly level. This is to avoid causing frustration for the confident and for those less experienced on social media. This can be managed with clear publicity before the course.

6. Language

We distinguish between language as medium of instruction (a training course offered through the medium of Welsh or English) and language as content (discussing and exploring multilingual use of video, blogging, WordPress, etc). In practice the two are distinct but related because we are talking about the Internet, where content, communities and networks converge in particular ways. We are based in Wales which is a country with two official languages. For people who normally work in Welsh it’s important that they do training in that language where possible. In an organisation if you are planning to offer both Welsh and English medium training then both should be clearly publicised as equally valid choices from the beginning. Oh and a single session labelled as ‘bilingual’ tends to please nobody!

7. Initiatives vs. projects

It’s important that participants gain practical hands-on experience. We have heard of social media training courses which are actually just presentations. We love presentations but would question the effectiveness of these if billed as training. A big part of some of our courses is the practical initiative. We try to avoid ‘mock’ projects as much as possible. There is only limited relevance in something which is worked on for a few hours then abandoned, especially online where things take time. If each participant can work on a real initiative then that is much better. The word ‘initiative’ allows for things that don’t have a definitive ending; ideally they continue beyond the end of the course. If you can think of a better word than ‘initiative’ to capture this meaning, let us know.

8. Principles vs. platforms

We hold each service lightly because they in turn hold us lightly. What I mean is, there is no guarantee of the long-term future of many social media platforms. What we try to impart are principles. We can use WordPress to illustrate the main features of blogging. But from that if we can help people to really understand blogging in its essence then that will be useful on the web in the long-term, whether they are using WordPress, Tumblr or blog-like services and post-blogging services (as it were) such as Pinterest, Google+, Facebook or Twitter. Beware of the “Google+” training being offered by some at the moment. Why? Well, will your community be using it in the future? Is your community there now?! It’s far better to discern the principles that underlie the social web. Right now I’m not sure that these principles change radically with the arrival of each new platform pretender. That’s a topic for another post.