Hash Tag(#): ‘Humble Pie’

Our guest blogger this week is Denise Turner, a Social Work doctoral candidate in the School of Education and Social work at Sussex. Denise shares with us her journey in the world of social media and highlights some of the rewards reaped so far.

I have always considered myself to be part of the ‘lost generation’ technologically – those of us who left school and indeed University, long before computer use and IT became widespread. This has left me with a lingering mistrust of technology and an irrational fear that by pressing the wrong key I will somehow cause irretrievable global damage.

It was with some consternation then, that I greeted a recent suggestion from Andy Cheng, a fellow doctoral candidate, to try and establish a weekly ‘live- chat’ on Twitter. I had met with Andy as part of my remit to support part-time and distance PhD students in Social Work. For those who are working, have other responsibilities or are geographically distant it is much harder to establish links with colleagues and to attend the regular opportunities to build networks. Andy’s idea was to use Twitter as a way of ameliorating this, by allowing students to ‘meet’ regularly in a space where they could discuss topics relevant to their research. He told me there was a weekly Twitter resource similar to this called #phdchat which had proved highly successful, but suggested that ours be specific to education and social work.

Even as an age-old Luddite, this idea did seem sensible – I just wasn’t convinced I was the person to carry it out. Andy may as well have suggested I try open-heart surgery or join the Space programme – I had no idea how to use Twitter and my teenager’s constant fascination with it had led to several arguments. However, I duly set up an account and gingerly interfaced with a few others. We held our first ‘chat’ which helped me at least to understand how the process works. After a couple of weekly sessions, Brian Hudson, our newly appointed Head of School, generously agreed to be a ‘Guest Tweeter.’ Brian was already receptive to the benefits of Twitter and had used it to form contacts within the School prior to his appointment.

Gradually news of our regular #eswphd chats has begun to grow and although participation from our own students is still limited, there is a small but regular group of these. The resource is also being used by students, academics and practitioners elsewhere, with some very positive feedback.

One of the most inspiring outcomes has been in the way other Twitter users have offered to help. For example Steve Moss (@gawbul) archives all our posts from the ‘live chat’ for those who missed it, whilst Paul Brownbill (@paully232000) has just set up a voting system for deciding each week’s topic. Amanda Taylor (@AMLTaylor66) and Joanne Westwood (@JLWestwood) Senior Social Work lecturers from Uclan have also agreed to ‘Guest’ on their highly innovative ‘Book Club,’ which recently appeared in Community Care. Harry Ferguson, Professor of Social Work at Nottingham and a keen Twitter user has also offered to ‘Guest.’

These offers of help, for no financial gain have convinced me of the value of Twitter in building community and thereby demonstrating the values which underpin both social work and education. Choking on a large piece of humble pie, I am now a complete convert to Twitter and aside from its efficacy at building community, I have learned about research; teaching and networking opportunities which would not have been available to me otherwise.

As academics engaged in research, within a competitive environment, we want our work to reach a wide audience and our University Departments to be recognised – Twitter offers a highly time and cost-effective means of achieving this.

Additional information:

Anyone interested in helping us develop the School of Education and Social Work social media strategy we are setting up a small Working Party, please contact Denise at D.M.Turner[at]sussex[dot]ac[dot]uk.

#eswphd chats take place every Wednesday evening 8 –9 p.m and the archive can be found currently at https://www.freeside.co.uk/~gawbul/eswphd/eswphd_tweets_090113.html (cc @gawbul) #eswphd. We are aiming to set up an accessible ‘Wiki page for the chats before too long.

To vote on each weeks topic visit: #socialwork #phd #highered http://twtpoll.com/ie6uka @DeniseT01

The Community Care piece on Uclan’s Book Club can be found at http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-work-blog/2013/01/how-were-using-j-k-rowlings-no.html


January 14, 2013. New media & new technology, Social work education, Social work practice, Social work research. 1 comment.

Foster care and user engagement in research

Nikki Luke, our guest blogger for this week, is the Research Officer at the Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education at the University of Oxford. Nikki is an alumna of the University of Sussex, having recently completed her doctoral work in the Department of Psychology. The work of the Rees Centre, which has been set up in order to identify what works to improve the outcomes and life chances of children and young people in foster care, is of direct relevance to social work and we’re delighted to host Nikki’s post reflecting on her first few months with the Centre. Read more about the Rees Centre at http://reescentre.education.ox.ac.uk

I recently completed my PhD in Psychology at the University of Sussex. For me, as for many Doctoral students, participants were the people I interviewed and tested, while I was the researcher who came up with the questions, ran the studies and interpreted the results. And then I saw a job advertisement.

What appealed to me from the beginning about the Rees Centre was its aim of engaging with the people who are the focus of its work. The Centre is headed by Professor Judy Sebba, who came to Oxford from the School of Education and Social Work at Sussex, where she has written about the need for user engagement in research. While I had made some effort towards this in the early stages of my PhD – by involving foster carers in a focus group session to see whether the research question I had formulated bore some resemblance to their day-to-day experiences – it wasn’t something I had carried throughout my work.

At the Rees Centre we’re doing it differently, by establishing systematic methods of consultation with foster carers, young people and practitioners at every stage of the research. What this means in practice is that firstly, we have experts we can turn to who can tell us whether we’re asking the right research questions. Working with those involved in foster care means we can identify the issues that they feel are most in need of answers.

Secondly, we are engaging service users at the point of data collection. Judy and I are currently recruiting a batch of foster carers who will work with the Centre as carer-interviewers. Not only can carers as participants often be more open with those who have shared similar experiences, as interviewers their own understanding of the situation means they can come up with questions that we as researchers would never have thought to ask. In future when we look at issues for young people we aim to have a similar arrangement with young care-leavers.

Finally, we are engaging carers, young people and practitioners in the interpretation of the results. ‘This is what we’ve found: how does that fit with your experience, and how can these findings be translated into something of practical use to you?’ – these are the questions we are asking. This is true not only for the original work we conduct, but also for our literature reviews. We know that social workers and foster carers have very busy lives – they don’t have the time to sit for days on end at a computer screen, trying to decipher whether something they’ve read is in line with the general consensus from the evidence and doing battle along the way with information access systems which would put Fort Knox to shame. So alongside our own research, we are keen to distill the key messages from existing work in a format that is accessible and useful for those they were intended to help.

The Rees Centre is still in the early stages of its journey into foster care research – but I’m confident we have some pretty good travelling companions to help us find the best routes.

November 19, 2012. Children & Young People, Social work research. Leave a comment.