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Meet FE’s social media movers and shakers

We speak to five of the 50 most influential social networkers in the sector

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The 50 most influential social media users in further education and skills are to be publicly recognised for the first time. The list has been compiled by Jisc, the government-funded technology organisation for further and higher education, to recognise outstanding practice that has made a significant impact across the sector. Ahead of the publication of the full list next week, five of the practitioners in the top 50 take time away from their tablets and explain how they have used social media to transform the way that they work.

Simon Reddy, teacher at City College Plymouth

@reddyplumbing

I started using Facebook because my research study of full-time courses and apprenticeships identified a disconnect in the plumbing curriculum between college and work learning, which impacted on students’ level of understanding. I realised that I could take advantage of my students’ widespread use of smartphones to increase their participation.

Apprentices take pictures in their work settings – particularly showing problems that are difficult to replicate in college – and share them on their closed Facebook site. Other students then respond with comments like “Nice work” or “Cowboy”; students who post negative comments are encouraged to put their own work up for similar peer-scrutiny.

The Facebook groups have allowed the students to become engaged learners, and have helped them to develop a level of digital professionalism, as well as collaboration and critical engagement skills. As a result, they are achieving higher standards of workmanship. The Facebook groups have also had a positive impact on my teaching practice, because the photos show emerging technologies in the profession. In addition, I now have a growing library of real-life visual plumbing problems that are highly relevant to the curriculum.

Deborah Millar, head of e-learning at Blackburn College

@DebMillar24

I created the Learning Wheel: a way to raise awareness of emerging educational technologies and identify the latest digital pedagogies. Each Learning Wheel has a number of spokes that signpost teachers towards digital resources with the potential to engage learners in four modes: learning content, assessment, communication and collaboration.

The wheels help educators and students to gain knowledge and competency, from building confidence and understanding around digital technologies through to the application of that tech within their own curriculum areas.

To create a truly rich and collaborative resource, the content for each wheel has been curated via social networks. The spread of the Learning Wheel has been supported by organisations such as Jisc, the Education and Training Foundation, Learning Futures and Coralesce. A recent serendipitous development has been a Conference Learning Wheel for real-life events. The project featured at the Bett education technology show, and I have been invited to deliver presentations, workshops and write blogs.

Carolyn O’Connor, lecturer at Blackpool and the Fylde College

@clyn40

In 2013, I stumbled across UKFEchat on Twitter. I was welcomed with virtual open arms. It has helped me find the courage to blog on a variety of FE issues, such as the impact of the government’s maths and English agenda. Furthermore, it has helped me to realise that I’m not on my own with the difficulties I face working in FE. I’ve also been able to attend meetings with the likes of Ofsted and the Education and Training Foundation.

Last year, I finally decided to figure out LinkedIn. After bumbling around, I managed to write a profile on my experience in FE, share links to my blogs and other writing contributions. I have made fantastic connections, and have also received messages about job and writing opportunities.

I love using Facebook socially, but decided to move beyond status updates about what I was drinking on a Friday night. I now also share things I’ve come across on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as useful resources for my colleagues. Social media has helped me to voice my opinions and, more importantly, be taken seriously.

Yousef Fouda, group vice-principal at Warwickshire College Group

@YFouda

Social media is a powerful tool and many use it to tell the world about their achievements, share good practice or ask for help. But a big challenge is communicating this within our institutions.

What we needed was an informal online social network for staff across the organisation from different departments, roles, sites and interests. So we made Google+ available to staff via the intranet in October 2013. We had no rules on how it should be used.

Within two years, we went from two or three users to more than 1,100 users daily.

Sharing became the norm: staff posted their achievements, asked questions, communicated good practice and even posted lovely, friendly and supportive messages to their colleagues. Hundreds of pictures and videos were being put up weekly by staff across the organisation in ways that we have never seen before.

Sarah Simons, lecturer at colleges in the East Midlands

@MrsSarahSimons

UKFEchat started on an afternoon in 2012 when I noticed that I couldn’t find FE people on Twitter easily. Irritated by this, I sent a tweet asking FE colleagues to say hello.

Before long, a small group of FE tweeters had gathered, so we decided on a hashtag and a regular time to meet online. The weekly #UKFEchats have continued ever since. We have regular, real-life get togethers, and have met with sector leaders for open discussion. Last year, we held our first national conference; we’re doing it again on 22 October in London.

We have a cross-section of professionals working at all levels, in all types of provisions. The opportunities to learn from each other are vast, empowering like-minded colleagues to support and collaborate beyond their own organisation. Times are hard in the sector, but our students still need the best from us. The trick is to find people who are still optimistic despite the challenges; this is what the UKFEchat community strives to be.

Digital festival

TES is media partner for the Jisc Digital Festival from 2-3 March at the ICC in Birmingham. The full list of the 50 most influential social media users in FE and skills will be published on Thursday 3 March at www.tes.com/fenews

This is an article from the 26 February edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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