Interviews and Ideas

Please forgive the blatant self-promotion in this post but it’s Friday and I’m feeling a like I have a bit of a cold coming so I’m less ‘perky’ than usual.

Dorlee from Social Work Career Development has published an interview which she did with me and it concentrates on what I do at work and some of the ways it differs from Social Work in the United States.  Excellent work, if I do say so myself – but joking apart, it is a good way for us to learn about social work in other countries.

Shirley Ayres has written a fantastic post for PSW, the BASW magazine (yes, I know.. ) and it includes some gems from myself. It’s a piece about social media use for social work specifically and is definitely worth a look.  The PDF is available here

As for my twittering on last week about wanting to work collaboratively on more online social work conferences/learning/interaction – well, it’s VERY rudimentary, but I’ve set up a ‘holding site’ here

Feel free to nose around as the whole point is to emphasise openness, conversation and working together on something that can be led by social work and improve social work without having a cost barrier to entry and that allows all who want to learn and contribute to do so. I’ve also added a very basic forum just to collect ideas.

I don’t have any great desire to ‘run’ this project and if anyone with greater technical skills wants to volunteer them then please please do but it’s a start and I hope someone will – even if it isn’t me – because I think something that adds value to our collective, international knowledge base and moves learning out of universities and into practice will be a real ‘hook’ in convincing more practicing social workers to engage with social media and new technologies.

Enough from me, the forum is here. Do join and share ideas.

(Don’t be scared that there isn’t much there yet.. everything needs to start somewhere!)

Online Learning and Social Work – A proposal

I’m on a theme at the moment so run with me. I have through various conversations that I’ve hooked into among Occupational Therapists come across this programme OT4OT (Online Technology for Occupational Therapists)

"Make a photograph... [@dailyshoot #ds134]


connectlrmeli @ Flickr

It is a proposed, international educational programme using occupational therapists internationally to provide and support web-based learning or as they call it a ‘virtual exchange schedule’ to promote learning and understanding and uses of technology to grow international knowledge about occupational therapy internationally.

It’s a fantastic model but I’m desperately jealous. Where is the social work equivalent? How about an international ‘virtual exchange schedule’ of free programming that social workers internationally can both contribute to and participate in? Why do we leave these things to those who organise and charge fees which are too large for individual interested practitioners to attend?

I’d love to find out more about this model and see if there’s a way of pursuing a similar experience in social work internationally but I’d need people to come on board. Is there anyone firstly who would contribute their expertise to run virtual sessions or discussion groups throughout a ‘day’. Any social work departments willing to help with technology aspects and providing an educational ‘oversight’ to the quality of submissions? The idea would be for an international event to broaden international experiences of social work. I think it could be a fantastic resource and opportunity.

An opportunity for ‘people like me’ who are not linked directly to universities to run ‘events’ online, it could also be an opportunity for those who teach to share some of their information globally and gain experience and exposure of running online events.

I need to do a bit of work behind the scenes regarding technical aspects and how that  might work but I don’t think it needs to be complicated.

Anyone interested? I can put together some kind of mailing list or group on Google to discuss further. I just want to know if I’m shooting into the wind or not!   I’ll do a bit of investigating regarding hosting and technological needs over the weekend and will write up posts as I find out information. I think it could be something really exciting.

(just as an aside – wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if this was something our ‘College of Social Work’ or BASW were to put together without nudging – that’s the kind of innovation and progressive thinking I’d like to see from a professional association rather than messing around and replicating unions that already exist).

Technology, Social Media and Social Services – Finding new ways to ‘help’

iPad con dock y teclado inalámbrico

Image via Wikipedia

I have some across lots of discussions and debates about ways of using social media and new technologies and interactions to ‘help’ social services become more effective. Most of it seems to revolve around building online directories and databases of micro providers and services that are available which build on so-called community capacity to improve the way that personal budgets can or might work.

At the risk of sounding overly cynical there is nothing ‘innovative’ in my mind about building a directory of services.  To me, this is not a particularly innovative way to use ‘technology’ in social services.  It taking a very obvious and well-trodden route to using new technologies. Providing directories while being useful to a certain group of people again exacerbates the isolation of those who are not party to or able to use them.  Being innovative isn’t always necessary to be helpful but it is very important that new ideas are focussed so we don’t just end up with increasingly specialised, localised directories that might have more ‘interactive’ features and feedback, look more ‘user led’ and compatible with the buzz words of social media but in the end they are brushing the surface of possibilities.

It feels more and more as if that there is a growing division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as far as personal budgets have been extended and does absolutely nothing to address or use technologies to address those who reside continually in the ‘have not’ section.

While at work, we labour with database systems that have clearly been developed through conversations between commissioners and software companies without any recourse to frontline practitioners, nice new provider directories are being tinkered around with while the fundamental foundations of the systems we work with remain resolutely inaccessible.

I’ve had a few ideas myself and whilst I lack the technological expertise to see any of these ideas to fruition, this is a kind of ‘wish list’ of the sorts of things I’d like to see.  I’m under no illusion that these are ‘new’ ideas. I am sure similar things already exist in some form but they are things I’d like to see pan out in the longer run. Things I’d like to use at work.

I’d like to see more creativity in the use of technologies to assist with decision making for adults who have some kind of cognitive deficit. I’m a great fan of the ‘tablet’ and ‘touch screen’ model as I think it is intuitively an easier interface to understand.  When I see people instinctively reach out to touch the screen of my Kindle (which isn’t touchscreen!) I realise that we are becoming conditioned to seek the easiest input methods which are about touching a screen and speaking into a microphone and perhaps writing on a tablet. Now, voice recognition has improved, I’m yet to come across very successful handwriting recognition (possibly because I have scrawly almost illegible handwriting) but there is potential there. In the meantime, pictures and touchscreens seem like a good way to go.

Using pictures/sounds/music it can draw on multi-media ‘shows’ and explanations of different options – moving beyond the ‘written word’. Providing documentation in aural form or in pictorial/moving form rather than reams of leaflets. Having recordings of familiar voices or pictures of familiar faces might help to reassure. I’m a great fan of telecare in general with the proviso of always being mindful that the human contact is not replaced but in days where human contact is sparsely provisioned anyway, it may be something that can be experimented with.

Why not a YouTube type video to explain how services can be chosen instead of reams of ‘easy read’ leaflets which really aren’t remotely ‘easy read’. Instead of flooding people with lists of providers (which, while good for some ignores those who are restricted in terms of capacity and carers to choose ‘freely’ the types of services they garner) why not explain and expound in different ways the ways that services can work?

Why not explain providers in terms of what they can actually provide and what purpose they serve rather than creating directories that are meant for people with a good understanding of what they want and need?

I was in a day centre last week and there was a seemingly unused Wii. I wonder if he Kinect might be a better project to develop some type of interactive play, exercise and work as it doesn’t need a controller at all and uses the more innovative way of body movement.  Using participatory games with larger screens in company can provide different stimuli. I know why games developers  haven’t tackled directly the ‘older’ market with games that might otherwise reside in memories but why not repackage old school yard games and board games with Kinects and iPads? It may be a good way to introduce the use of these new technologies in a ‘friendly’ manner which may then see them used in other wider ways – such as directories or personalised information sources. Using YouTube video channels for personally designed ‘reminiscence’ therapies could personalise the delivery of memories and digitise memory boxes where items are not there to build up the frames of someone’s life and people aren’t there to fill in the gaps.

There are many ‘dating site’ type services that match people and organisations. Volunteers to voluntary groups etc. How about a type of match between schools and residential homes? I know it’s something that’s sometimes done locally where I work and having spoken to both providers and some of the kids who go in, they seem to enjoy it and it can change and break expectations – each of the other.  I

We talk of social media a lot and often it is used to provide ‘recommendations’ to particular services through these databases. Perhaps more user and carer led general recommendations can be collated. Crowd source an ‘introduction’ to social services provisions by those currently using the service.

Ask ‘what do you wish you’d known?’ ‘what do you wish someone had told you?’ and while taking out all the obviously libellous stuff, a local authority must be brave enough to leave in the criticisms. We learn through complains and criticisms and it can take a lot of guts (or anger) to make a complaint or to criticism and that MUST be respected by the service and the individuals at fault and used as a means of improvement.

I don’t want to see local authorities ‘whitewash’ problems in order to gain sparkling OFSTED or CQC inspections. It sullies the whole process and makes the inspections worthless. Regulation should be less authoritarian and more about actually making improvements and making things better for the end user – not about allowing local authorities to produce the ‘right’ results while poor practice is brushed away from the sight of the inspectors.

But back to my point about using social media to crowdsource – it is important that social media ALONE is not used as an ‘answer’. Crowd sourcing must be honest but it must also be broader than putting out an ‘internet consultation’ and having a Twitter account or blog. There must be pounding of the streets too to engage those who are not able to use digital means to put their points across. There should be knocking at doors and face to face discussions – not leaflets, not inaccessible (for some) groups.

Talking about crowdsourcing though, there’s a much better and perhaps more obvious way it can be used and certainly isn’t being used at the moment and that’s to engage other social workers and professionals into putting together more information and useful methods of practice for ourselves. Sure, it needs time but we remain reliant on organisations to provide ‘guidance’ such as SCIE (who do provide fantastic resources) and BASW and the College of Social Work but why none of these organisations who purport to exist to help social work and social care practice actually engage more directly and use social media and open access blogs/discussion groups/forums/micro blogging etc to engage with currently practicing social workers is completely beyond me.

I’ve become very interested in open access education and resources and feel there is great scope for professional engagement and information to build its own resources and information together with users and carers, together with other professionals but there has to be a push for social workers to see the benefit of sharing and finding appropriate ways to share the information that we learn every day.

I have other ideas which will come in different posts  but I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ ideas for uses of ‘technology’ in the very broadest sense and how they can develop to help the broadest range of people we see in social services – particularly those who are less able to look information up in various fancy online directories.

Social Media and Social Work – Part 2 Social Bookmarking

Bookmarks made of strings. Spin.

Image via Wikipedia

Social Bookmarking is a way to share links (or ‘bookmarks’) with other people or ‘on the internet’ rather than locally on whatever internet accessing device you are using.  The first ‘weblogs’ or ‘blogs’ as they became were social bookmarking sites. They were ways of sharing with others links that you found interesting or useful.

As  a disclaimer I’d say I’m not an ‘expert’ in social media but this is a personal exploration of how I use these tools to help me both in my practice and to keep up to date with issues for the purposes of writing my blog (although those two things can’t be kept separate!) as well as keeping track of interesting random things I find online that I want to come back to whether academic articles, newspaper articles or recipes to try!

Delicious is probably the best known social bookmarking site. It’s future is also somewhat uncertain as Yahoo (who own it) want to close it down or sell it so bear that in mind when I write about it.

It allows me to mark and bookmark sites and pages of interest and create ‘tags’ for them. For example, I have a ‘socialwork’ tag that has all the pages and sites I come across on my random forays through the web that I can come back to when I am writing or thinking of writing a post but also it allows me easy access to the sites that I read most frequently.

I have a ‘newspaper’ tag to group together the journals and standard sites I read and a tag for policy information. The advantage of holding this information online or ‘in the cloud’ is that I can access these bookmarks from any computer I use.

You can add more than one ‘tag’ to each site or post.

The social part comes in that people can share their bookmarks with each other.

My bookmarks are here but tread carefully. I tend to save mostly for myself and my tagging is a bit haphazard (I have a special ‘todo’ tag that means I intend to read a particular article, for example!). I also have some other, random sites in there but you might get an idea of how it works.

This post explains ways of using delicious but it is more adventurous than I have been. I use the Firefox addon.

Pinboard is very similar to delicious but it is a paid service. There is a one-off charge of about £5 (depends on exchange rate) and allows for an online backup of bookmarks and easy tagging. I probably still use delicious more but I signed up in case delicious disappears as I could port over all my saved bookmarks there.

I’ll group Tumblr and Posterous together. They are alternate blogging platforms that while allowing longer form posts referred to in the previous post in the series, seem to be better suited to sharing links, photos and ideas very much along the lines of the original ‘weblogs’.

I haven’t much experience of Posterous but have played around with Tumblr a fair bit.

Tumblr again, I often use as a bookmarking site as much as anything. I use it to put articles and information that I want to come back to but more traditionally, it can be used as a simple blogging platform. I assume Posterous works in a similar way. It is a good way of sharing links, commenting on articles and creates a ‘short form’ blog. Comments can be added via disqus. RSS feeds can be added as well.

I set up a Tumblr account here (although I have another private one!). As you will see, it is basically a mirror of this site so don’t bother following it but it is just as an example of the kind of thing that can be done. It is very easy to add posts direct from the browser (there’s also a firefox extension to Tumblr).

One of my favourite uses of Tumblr is a site set up by Malcolm Payne (of Modern Social Work Theory fame – is there any British Social Worker or Social Work Student who doesn’t have that definitive textbook? (if there is, go out and buy it! Now!)

Basically we live in times when sometimes we can suffer from information overload. We need to develop skills to sift through the information and find what is most important and relevant to us. Whether that is as social work professionals trying to keep up with the debates around us and find different views or whether it is about locating the best recipe for Lemon Linguine – sometimes we might surf past a site and want to keep record of it somewhere other than on the PC we are using at the time.

That, for me, is the beauty and use of these sites. I’m sure there are a million uses and I’d be interested to know how other people use social bookmarking sites and ‘short form’ blogs. If you have a tumblr or posterous site that you want to share, do leave a comment!

Next week – Twitter

See the my previous post in the series – Social Media and Social Work – Part 1 Blogs

Social Work and Using Technology

Yesterday, I was reading the ‘Social Work Tech Blog’.  It’s a blog which, as Roy Walker would say, does what it says in the title (forgive the Catchphrase reference  – I expect you have to be ‘of a certain age’ to pick that up!).
Bare bones computer

It focuses specifically on the use of technology for social workers as practitioners although I expect the uses can be a lot broader for professionals in many branches of work.

It made me think about the ways in which my own uses of technology not necessarily in the workplace but around and about it have developed.

I am slowly shifting from a paper-based diary system to logging all my visits on Google Calendar. I log them on my phone and it them pulls through to my home PC and Outlook. The idea generally being that I will never double-book appointments again. It doesn’t ALWAYS work and at the moment, I’m having to double-log in a paper diary (for the purposes of having a document and record keeping)  but I find it may well make my life easier as I streamline a little bit.  I can also use my beautiful Android phone to insert appointments which will carry across to all the information sources I use.

I’m scatty by nature and have a fear of ‘forgetting things’. I just need a way to work out how all my training days can be, in the future searchable and logged automatically. I’ll get there eventually.

I have to be careful what I write as log. I’ll only write in visits by initials anyway. One of my biggest worries was leaving my diary somewhere previously due to the names and addresses that it had in it. I now have a separate (paper) address book – a nice little Moleskine one for reference. It tallies my initials to addresses and yes, there are thousands of crossings out as people are allocated and deallocated  but some things shouldn’t be committed to online databases!

Talking of my beautiful phone – I think I’ve written about it before but there is an application available for an MMSE ‘on the go’ which has helped me out for a rough idea when I’ve left paper versions behind.

And I would literally be lost without the Google Maps and GPS on my phone. Helps me out with visits on a day to day basis. I’ve saved a lot of trees in the amount of maps I used to print out!

I like the suggested idea of using Google Documents for an online resource document – perhaps for students coming into the team and for ‘new starters’ although at the moment, the thought of there being any new starters at all in the current decade is something of a pipe dream.

If I ever get more time, I will try to do something about putting together a current resource documents. I have a small resource pack I developed with use of online tools, sites and educational material which I wrote about at the time that I compiled it. I like the idea of extending it to more localised information and with more information that would be useful to professionals in the area.

My pride and joy (I know, this classes me as VERY sad) is an Excel document that sits on my desktop at work (not online!) and contains all useful telephone numbers. It was actually put together by someone in an office I used to work in about 5 years ago and he emailed it to me. I still use it and update it. I’ve sent it around to a few colleagues. Simple and undeniably useful.

The thing with technology is that the use in professional and personal life overlaps. Of course the information available on blogs, websites, forums has increased many times over in the last five years or so.  I don’t necessarily use them at work (because,  of course, I’m so busy working when I’m at work!) but they are used around work and to improve my knowledge of the work environment. One of the greatest joys is that I have a far better understanding of social work around the world, and particularly in the United States simply by being able to key into the writings of practitioners in different places. These are the ties that will make the profession as a whole and as far as it exists grow.

Twitter is another quite fine use of technology. As well as allowing me to pass the time while sitting on various buses from one visit to another and keeping up with day to day news that would never otherwise have been possible in a work day, it has allowed me to gain insights into different lives and different types of lives and more importantly to make connections in ways with people I would and could never have had any interaction with otherwise. I have two ‘Twitter’ streams. A personal one and a ‘blog face’ one although to be honest, sometimes the ‘personal one’ gets a bit ignored because most of what I want to say is either work-related or political.  For anyone that hasn’t given it a go or doesn’t quite ‘get it’, I’d say, try. It’s hard to explain why it is so appealing until you give it a go for a week or two.

Facebook I tend to use wholly for personal purposes. The people I know on Facebook are, by and large, people I ‘know’ or certainly people I know well enough. I still retain a background thought of ‘this is information I should be happy for anyone to read’ which, although I’ve locked down my profile regarding privacy settings is a factor I am constantly aware of. That’s why I am less likely to enter discussions about professional matters (and I mean broadly of course because I would never discuss particulars) on Facebook.

On of Ignacio’s posts refers to ‘Digital Storytelling’ and the use of audio materials. I don’t run groups and although potentially in my job there could be a role for me to develop some groupwork, at the moment, it hasn’t been my priority on the basis of time available. I do listen to podcasts constantly though – like the author of that post – I much prefer audio information to video – because I can listen while going to work.

I tend to use podcasts for personal development, information and entertainment but there is fantastic material ‘out there’ if you go looking for it. I’d love to use audio a bit more  – talking through theoretical approaches. It may be a project I work on in the future although if I do, because of tedious stuff like ‘recognisable voices’ it is more likely something I’d make available by request rather than openly.

At work a colleague of mine has made CDs for a service user who cannot read and send him ‘audio letters’. He listens to these sometimes when he is feeling over-anxious. It has been a great use of audio in a therapeutic setting. It wouldn’t work for everyone but there is a place in some situations.

I think I’ll come back to podcasts specifically in another post. I have a lot more to say about audio than I thought I did!

I know a lot of colleagues shy away from the overuse in technology in ‘downtime’ but it is something that is being incorporated increasingly into our lives.

For me, it is important that I keep learning, keep developing and keep improving both in my work and in my knowledge base which often I have to grow outside the work day. Technology is vital for that. It might not be something that is necessarily welcomed  but the use of information should be invited in all its forms.

I’d recommend going to look at the Social Work Tech Blog. It’s both an interesting concept for developing professional practice but it is also has a lot of good ‘how to’ guides for those who might not be familiar with some of the software available.

I’d be interested to know about other peoples’ uses of technology in general and how it has worked for you. Please do leave comments if you want to share..

Meanwhile, I might try to develop to ‘resource’ posts which collate some of the information gathering that I’ve been occupying myself with through various sources over the years!