This advice represents a general framework. Relevance will always be dependent on individual course needs, however, a practical example shows how a social media slant can be applied to pre-existing activities. The following concerns an imagined conservation course field trip to Australia.
Choose media to capture, then assign roles: video, words, audio. Who, is collecting what? This is a group activity. Practice in advance to expose any limitations in skills, before the event occurs. Training can then address any identified shortcomings.
What are you trying to capture with the media? A reflective journal, photo gallery, video links to research outputs? Commit these ideas to paper first, where revisions and corrections won’t mean ‘starting again’. The reflective journal could be half-audio, half-written blog. It could be partly concerning the purpose of the group being there (conservation) and partly about the human experience of studying on another continent (the social interest). All BBC wildlife documentaries include social strands at programme close (featurettes), as part of their purpose is to inspire, not just to inform. The group could be split into four: two audio groups and two video groups. One group in each pair focussing on research, one on the experience. The photo gallery could be group work, with species-related or behaviour-related galleries. They can be competitive, with global publication of the best shots. Annotated video is a way of branching videos: to other videos (by clicking within them), or to abstract summaries of research material. The detailed research material can be privately held within the university VLE. Further options for storing content include the Exeter blogs and Confluence wiki.
Process and edit the material to improve its quality. All media needs some level of processing from its raw state. In addition, a form of creative ‘synthesis’ should occur at this stage. Ideally group members consider their material from a third party’s point of view. “This is interesting, let’s make sure the most interesting parts don’t get eclipsed by the method we’re using to deliver them.”
Platform choice. This is where the menu of platforms from the previous post, can be browsed for suitable social media sites. For the gallery: we can choose a Flickr stream and the competitive images can then be pinned to Pinterest, for wider sharing. Blogger can be used for developing the written blog and Google+ Communities for publicising snippets from this reflective journal. The audio can be recorded on a smartphone (iRig greatly improves fidelity), processed and edited in Adobe Audition, then uploaded to Soundcloud for sharing. YouTube is the platform to deploy video annotations to, which could link to research outputs stored privately on the Exeter VLE: ELE. Twitter can be used to connect all these disparate activity channels, using a #BioAus2014 hashtag.
The platforms are then encouraged to work in the project’s favour. The following is an example workflow: post the pictures on Flickr, then pin from there to a Pinterest board. You can vary whether pictures from Pinterest link to the original photo, or an article in the blog. The blog posts can also link to separate Pinterest boards, focussing on links to article detail, with abstracts used as captions for the photos. Edit the video on Adobe Premiere Pro, then upload to Youtube. Collect article links and place them as annotations using YouTube editing tools, you can pin the video to Pinterest too (on a video board). These photos, videos, pins and posts can then appear in tweets and Google+ Community posts, greatly extending their reach. This social publicity draws external attention to your activity’s original content.
With careful management, the material being produced will interest and entice collaborators, globally. Once the media is uploaded and publicised, identify people and institutions who may be interested in your research and rather than simply pointing to it, attempt to think laterally in order to encourage engagement with it. For example: plan to ask the Australian Conservation Foundation to pick the best of your top five gallery submissions. Don’t however, ask for their assistance as your opening gambit. First read some of their material and offer a view, then offer to assist with issues they might need attention drawing to. Perhaps then, when some goodwill has been established, ask them to be involved in your galleries. “Ask not what they can do for your social sites, but what you can do for theirs”, (as JFK might have suggested).
This collaboration phase comes late in the life-cycle, where the content will continue to work in the project’s favour, long after the media has been deployed.
What’s rarely considered in a social project life cycle is: its legacy. Does the lifetime of the project really end when the group returns from the field trip? How can the communication channel be maintained and what purpose might it serve? Perhaps an inexpensive webcam could be left behind, and a monthly liaison with the field trip hosts be arranged? This should serve, in all instances, the needs of the project. Which technologies to combine and fulfill those needs, comes later in the project design phase.
Social ecosystems are non-prescriptive. However, by developing a framework of useful tools and involving students in the process of determining the scope of the project or activity; a repeatable process can be established. This process will provide many opportunities for group-working, increased engagement and original, creative synthesis of information, collected while studying a diverse range of university modules.
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