Sometimes I forget how integral web 2 technologies are to my working life. I blog, facebook, twitter, bookmark, aggregate RSS feed, do a bit of ‘waving’, you know all the usual suspects. And I’m always up for trying any new shiny service or widgety type thing that comes along. There are certain services that have helped to revolutionize the way I interact with my colleagues, peers and that whole “t’internet” thang. They’re a habit, part of my daily working life. So, last week I was fascinated to hear about the journey the SHEEN Sharing project has been on over the last year exploring the use of web2.0 tools for a group of practitioners that have barely got into the web 1 habit.
SHEEN, the Scottish Higher Education Employability Network, was set up in 2005. Employability is one of the SFC’s enhancement themes and almost £4million was made available to Scottish HE institutions towards developments in this area. This led to a network of professionals – the ECN (employabilty co-ordinators network) who had some fairly common needs. They all wanted to reduce duplication of effort in finding resources, share and comment on resources being used and to work collaboratively on creating new resources. As actual posts were on fixed term contracts, there was the additional need to capture developing expertise in the field. So, they started the way most networks do with an email list. Which worked to a point, but had more than a few issues particularly when it came to effectively managing resource sharing and collaboration.
One of the members of this network, Cherie Woolmer, is based in the same department as a number of us Scottish Cetisians. So in true chats that happen when making coffee style, we had a few discussions around what they were trying to do. They did have a small amount of funding and one early idea was to look at building their own repository. However we were able to give an alternative view where they didn’t actually need a full blown repository and that there were probably quite a few freely available services that could more than adequately meet their needs. So, the funding was used to conduct a study (SHEEN Sharing) into the potential of web2.0 tools for sharing.
Sarah Currier was hired as a consultant and her overview presentation of the project is available here. Over a period on just about a year (there was a extension of funding to allow some training at the end of last year/early this) without any budget for technology Sarah, along with a number of volunteers from the network explored what web tools/services would actually work for this community.
It was quite a journey summarized in the presentation linked to above. Sarah used videos (hosted on Jing) of the volunteers to illustrate some of the issues they were dealing with. However I think a lot of it boiled down to habit and getting people to be confident in use tools such as bookmarking, shared document spaces, rss feeds etc. It was also interesting to see tension between professional/formal use of technology and informal use. Web 2 does blur boundaries, but for some people, that blurring can be an uncomfortable space. One thing that came through strongly was the need for face to face training and support to help (and maybe very gently force!) people use or at least try new technologies and more importantly for them to see themselves how they could use it in their daily working lives. In effect how they could get into the habit of using some technologies.
The project explored a number of technologies including scribd (for public sharing documents), google docs (for collaborative working)twitter (which actually ended up being more effective at a project level in terms of extending connections /raising awareness) and diigo for bookmarking and sharing resources. Diigo has ended up being a core tool for the community, as well as providing bookmarking services the group and privacy functions it offers gave the flexibility that this group needed. Issues of online identity were key to members of the network – not everyone wants to have an online presence.
I hadn’t really explored diigo before this and I was really taken with the facility to create webslides widgets of bookmarked lists which could be embedded into other sites. A great way to share resources and something I’m playing around with now myself.
I think the SHEEN Sharing journey is a great example of the importance of supporting people in using technology. Yes, there is “loads of stuff” out there ready to be used, but to actually make choices and create effective sharing and use, we rely on human participation. Supporting people is just, if not more, important if we want to really exploit technology to its fullest potential. It also shows the growing need to share expertise in use of web2.0 technologies. You don’t need a developer to create a website/space to share resources – but you do need experience in how to use these technologies effectively to allow groups like SHEEN to exploit their potential. I was struck by how many tools I could see Sarah had used throughout the evaluation phase. Only a couple of years ago it would have been almost impossible for one person to easily (and freely) capture, edited and replayed video for example. A good example to highlight the changing balance of funding from software to “peopleware” perhaps?
More information about SHEEN sharing can be found on their recently launched web resources site – a great example of a community based learning environment.