ECSM 2016 EM Normandie, Caen

IMG_0518 FullSizeRender-5The third European Conference on Social Media ran this week in Caen, France at a business school: Ecole de Management (EM) Normandie. Small but lively conference with delegates from a big range of countries – certainly not just mainland Europe.

As always I am an event tweeter, using Twitter to meet like-minded researchers, connect, share links and remember points that can so easily flash fleetingly through the mind at presentations and soon be gone for ever – faster than Snapchat. A few hours or days afterwards I get to think about my and others’ tweets and reflect on them in this blog.

There were two major themes for me at the conference: social media marketing and social media (SM) in learning – schools, vocational learning and Higher Education. The marketing focus was strong from the outset with challenges set by Ali Ouni of Spectrum Groupe, a consulting company in Normandy and questions raised which reverberated through the sessions on how to measure the impact of social media marketing (SMM). An insistence on ROI provoked hot debate as people sought to find other ways to justify SMM. My guess is that when companies learn how to justify spend on PR and brand awareness and CRM, they will find the way to justify spend on SMM. At least with social media you can measure click-throughs and stimulate discussion and rapid customer feedback, whereas the old-fashioned column-centimetres metric for PR really does not get us far.


James Fox with an image of Darth Vader impressing students with the dark side of social media profiles

Many of the presentations I attended (mostly SM and learning) touched on how to help students understand privacy settings and potential future impact of unwise profile-building online. Some excellent work by Michael Fox and team at Bristol set out student folders containing all they could learn (subject to ethical research approval) on their students and offered them advice once the reality hit home.


Britt and Hannelore from Ghent Uni discussing Twitter tasks

The over-riding apps were Facebook & Twitter in research studies at the conference – even though many agreed Facebook was being consigned to a parental generation and beyond while younger or more connected and cautious students look for end to end encryption (WhatsApp for example) or time-limited exposure (Snapchat etc). A paper from Hannelore and Britt at Ghent Uni found students really didn’t much care for using open social networking on Twitter for academic work, and wanted closed, teacher-led online communities. So much for student-centred autonomy in Higher Education! But of course the devil is in the detail – more study needed here.

There was a great PhD colloquium which I attended and found some very professional presentations from the students.

Athena Choi shows in depth study of the fashion blog in HK

Athena Choi shows in depth study of the fashion blog in HK

Great to see visual affordances of social media being researched from different perspectives. Also to hear that HR professionals consider internal communications entirely their own affair (marketing would be unhappy to hear that) when it comes to internal social media, though none of them had heard of the keywords used in academic research to describe what they were doing – thanks here to Mark Verheyden in Brussels who presented this research. Intriguing presentations too from Britt Adams relating to advertising literacy among young people (given the ubiquitous inserted ads in social media chat forums), Karin Hoegberg’s extensive and wide-ranging interviews in the hotel industry concerning social media adoption and usage, drawing attention to the idea that people’s personal use of SM was likely to affect the advice and direction they gave to their organisations, Zuzana Homanova tackled the tricky topic of social network use in elementary schools and Poornima Srikant gave a quantitative evaluation of the relationship between SMM and brand trust as she reviewed the Facebook pages of four quite different organisations.

selfie at the PhD colooquium led by Conference Chair Christine Bernadas

selfie at the PhD colloquium led by Conference Chair Christine Bernadas

There were some great posters on display at the conference – my favourites where Dr Alison Iredale’s account of her blended programme at Leeds Beckett uni, and Ted Clark’s poster on sociomateriality of social software:


Ted Clark’s poster on sociomateriality of social software – does the media become an extension as well as an expression of the writer?

I had been invited to give the keynote presentation on the second conference day – choosing the topic of Unlearning learning with social media. This was a chance to do some creative theory linking for me as I read widely around not just social media use but also the concept of unlearning – having been first alerted to this by Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) (sad to hear of his death just a couple of weeks ago on 27th June 16). There’s a link to my slideset on the ECSM website here. According to the tweets, the presentation went down well, causing much discussion – my argument was based around the “deep unlearning” identified by Rushmer and Davies produced by an internal cognitive dissonance rather than the “wiping” associated with external imposition of change. For me, social media has affordances of intimacy, speed and serendipity which can trigger personal cognitive and affective responses, just the sort of thing that could occasion deep unlearning. And without unlearning, we face a steady aggregation of filtered responses based on unquestioned attitude foundations – a bad way to think and behave. In view of the positive response, I need to take these ideas further.

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As always at ACPI conferences, Sue Nugus organised the event, our logistics, the parallel sessions, the conference dinner and the publications superbly. Thank you Sue.

Student Social Media Showcase (SSMS) 2016 at Big Bang South East

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Taking the Showcase to the Big Bang event at Ardingly showground this year was a great chance to talk to young people (ages roughly 9-13). Just being at a small display stand and talking to hundreds of the 8000 schoolchildren and their teachers who attended was a stimulating experience.

University of Brighton students of Digital Marketing had shared video presentations with us on the SSMS site and we were able to show them, talk about them, and generally chat face to face with people for whom social media is a given, not a possible.

The top apps were Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube from those we spoke with, but there were quite a few media which were new to us – I Heart You, Steam etc. Most surprising in a way was the proliferation of social media students knew and used. Many could list up to 8 different social media without trying and insisted they used them all. We didn’t do a scientific study here, just a vox pop, but it felt as if these young people collected social media like stickers – badges of social acceptability and status.

There was a clear sense from many that Facebook was less popular in this age group – this has been reported for some time now. Facebook for young people is generally a place to keep in touch with, or avoid, parents and family. The big platforms where stuff stays around for ever are concerning people, so they are moving to WhatsApp or similar where privacy of group chat is possible with end to end encryption, and Snapchat where stuff simply doesn’t stay around. The fashionable churn of social media over the last two decades is not surprising. But of course, social media are not just accessories, they are shaping the way we communicate and learn, and unlearn. More on that one in a later post.

What is publication about?

Spending time poring over proofs, correcting punctuation, reading and reshaping what you write for publication – all these are par for the course. There was a time when I really believed I would never publish anything, especially when my thesis came back covered with corrections to be made (and I had thought I was good at grammar). It took a long time before I had anything in print, even online – blogging seemed more sensible – at least I was solely responsible for my own errors.

But an encouraging Head of School and the belief of colleagues helped me get into conferences, then ebooks, then journals and book chapters and edited books. I’m never going to change the world through my writing, I have a mildly better chance at that in the classroom and the pulpit, but it has always seemed worthwhile, trying to get published.

So they began to pile up, these little publications, until I began editing a journal and now am supposed to know what I am writing about. One thing I do know more securely now than ever before is just how important are the style and the purpose of writing.

Let’s take style. Every teacher will be familiar with the need for balance between correcting errors which change meaning and trying to hold back from fully sub-editing a learner’s work. Grammatical and stylistic horrors in student work don’t even make me cry out now. I have had to discipline that part of me in order to better help the student. However, they do make me wince when submitted to the journal. Many authors are writing in a second language for publication and perhaps they pride themselves on their grammatical powers, just as I once did. Perhaps they ask their friends and colleagues to do the proof-reading. The result is that perhaps a third of the articles we see submitted must be returned to authors for professional proof-reading – and those are just the ones which are worth sending for peer review.

And the purpose of writing? It feels as if the race to publish in today’s HE environment is leading to more and more verbiage which means less and less. If the purpose of publication is to gain promotion, to stay in your academic job or to extol your every new idea, then the Web is fattening with too much unwanted stuff which pretends to offer original contributions to knowledge. If we wish to publish because we have original things to say and want them to be discussed and challenged by others, then publication is a good goal, but first we have to determine for whom we write and why we write.Then we need to present the evidence. Then we need to do the proof-reading! 

Inspiring meeting of the BeL research group today

The Business eLearning research group is part of CIMER research centre in Brighton Business School and today we had an update meeting, as always producing stimulating conversation over cake.

The group was established 12 years ago with a dual mission – to research areas of elearning in relation to business and management, and to support colleagues in the Business School with the use of technology in learning and teaching. We now have five academic members of staff involved and supervise 3 postgraduate research students in related fields.

Activities with which we are currently involved:

  • BSc Professional Development in Business – a part-time blended learning undergraduate degree for people in work, which is based on Open University course material and is assessed and supported by Brighton Business School tutors. This is a pioneering course combining the best online materials from OU and extra tuition and support from our staff plus assessments which are newly designed to relate to students in work. The course is due for validation next month and we are hoping to build it into a Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, open for admission in 2017.
  • Online taster programme for students considering coming to university to study business – Andrea Benn and a team from BBS successfully won funding from Widening Participation to develop an hour long online taster programme which has now been designed and handed over to WP. The process and learning from it have been written up as a paper which is to be delivered at the European Conference on ELearning 2016 in Prague by the team, and has also been accepted as an entry for the elearning Excellence Awards this year. The programme is based on Edublogs and can be accessed via any platform on any device.
  • One of our research students – Ibrahim Zalah – has had a paper accepted for the Doctoral Workshop at the ECEL 2016 conference on  The Acceptance and use of E-learning Technologies by Saudi Secondary Teachers.
  • Business School teaching and learning event – every summer, staff get together to review what they do, and this year we are proposing a number of innovations which have been pioneered either by or with the support of BeL group members, ranging from mobile applications which engage students in large lecture sessions, to the online taster session mentioned above, plus problem-based learning experiences, to using online business game simulations.
  • Student Social Media Showcase (SSMS 2016) – runs again for the third time this year. Originally established at the European Conference on Social Media hosted by BeL research group in Brighton in 2014, the SSMS was an event which offered an online showcase of videos in which students presented their research on or with social media, and which was shared with schoolchildren in 2014. Last year, the SSMS went purely online with new student entries and prizes for the best videos. In 2016, we are taking the SSMS entries and video showreels to the Big Bang event, focussing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, on 29th June at Ardingly Showground where thousands of schoolchildren will get a chance to see what kind of social media impacts students at uni are interested in.
  • Trevor Nesbit, a new member of the BeL group on the academic staff at BBS, is close to submitting his PhD which discusses interactive collaboration and questioning through mobile devices in the classroom.
  • We also have two other FT research students working hard on their respective research studies – one relating to the personal learning networks and environments of female university students in Saudi Arabia and another looking into SMEs and how they support the learning of key workers with dyslexia when so much learning is screen-based.
  • Members of the group also edit the Journal Interactive Learning Environments for Routledge, a journal for which the impact factor is increasing and submissions are so strong, we have doubled issues in size this year.

A bumper package of activity – well done the BeL group!

Has sueg gone a bit quiet?

It doesn’t look as if I have been posting much this academic year – what’s that about? On the academic front, sueg continues to reflect on and develop ideas related to online learning and research methodology. Much behind the scenes work on supporting Tony Greenfield in the editing of the third edition of Research methods for Postgraduates, to be published by Wiley in September this year – some solo written and co-written chapters in there, plus a great deal of further learning about research methods from respected writers in the field. I am looking forward to being an invited panel member at the ENBIS conference in Sheffield in September talking about making statistics understandable for students and non-statistical specialists. Great chance to go back to Sheffield where in 2014 we celebrated a 40 year reunion with fellow graduates. I know, I’m far too young.

And there’s a new undergraduate blended learning course in business, which I have been developing along with colleagues at Brighton Business School – due for validation later this year. Exciting opportunity to put our experience of the theory and practice of blended learning into action.

And an invitation to deliver a keynote at the third European Conference on Social Media to be held in Caen this summer. Having helped to host the first of this conference series in Brighton, it will be great to meet friends and colleagues and share rapid advances in thinking around social media and learning. The recently published Leading Issues in Social Media Research, which I edited along with Asher Rospigliosi, identified some great content from that first conference.

Meanwhile, weekly editorial meetings and from time to time producing editorials for the journal Interactive Learning Environments keeps me in touch with a wide range of quasi-experimental and qualitative research studies and updated reviews of the literature in the field of technology-enhanced learning. We have just published a special issue on Mobile Learning which is attracting attention, and because we are producing bumper issues this year (total of 8), I am currently writing an editorial for the May issue of 18 new papers.

Earlier this academic year, we produced the latest publication from Brighton’s Learning and Teaching Conference 2014, in which I wrote about flipped learning from a practical and a theoretical perspective. And of course there is the series of weekly podcasts for business students during term-time which keeps me busy on top of teaching on a Monday.

So just a few things in relation to research passions to keep the aged brain ticking. Of course, just now there are a few other things to think about – external examining, teaching, supervising, grandchildren’s birthdays, Heydown lambing, leading and preaching at services in Old Heathfield and, just very occasionally, housework?


The e-Learning Excellence Awards 2015

Dr Dan Remenyi has just published an Anthology of Case Histories demonstrating the application of e-learning (publisher ACPI at

Twelve examples of e-learning cases histories were chosen by a panel from 70 submissions to a competition for the e-Learning Excellence Awards conducted by Academic Conferences and Publishing International.

I learned much from being a panel member (other members were Prof. Amanda Jeffries and Dr Marija Cubric from University of Hertfordshire, Dr Laura Czerniewicz of University of Cape Town and Prof.Dr.-Ing. Robert J Wierzbicki of University of Applied Sciences in Mittweida, Germany).  We reviewed initial abstracts for selection and then evaluated entries to produce the finalists who appear in the book. Here are the titles:
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excellence contents_Page_1

ICERI conference November 2015

Unable to attend this conference in Seville later this month, I have registered as a virtual delegate, and look forward to visiting the conference online.

Meanwhile, my paper is submitted to the conference plus a presentation, but that didn’t seem helpful, so I have recorded a video to explain the paper and my findings and placed it in YouTube here

The paper is about the experience of developing an undergraduate business degree with a Problem Based Learning ethos. That experience is in its final stages, as the final graduates should leave next summer and the course is closed to new entrants. Was it a failure? Not for the students, who are some of the best motivated final year students I have worked with, tackling challenges and supporting each others’ learning readily. Perhaps for the staff team, who put so much energy and developmental effort into understanding PBL and creating great authentic experiences for students with local businesses. But there is always something to be learned, and the paper, and video discuss some of the learning outcomes from this experience.

Note added after the conference 27th Nov 2015:

Not only did I have full access online to all the presentations at this conference during the event, able to review keynotes and search for all papers, virtual and present, but I have now also received my virtual delegate pack containing the normal conference goodies (pen/pencil/notebook/postits/certificate of participation/certificate of presentation) but also a data key with pdfs of all presentations on pdf from the proceedings.

This was my first experience of being a virtual delegate and I would strongly recommend it – this conference was well organised throughout and I will be looking to consider a virtual presentation again next year.