Social media platforms and practices and the ways in which they can support, transform or enhance what and how we teach and learn are becoming alternately controversial, polarising and frequently misunderstood and misused or banal, taken for granted and dismissed as trivial.  The results of these debates can sometimes end in spurious and ill-informed bans of social media engagement, the creation of poorly created safe or unsafe spaces and the delivery of at best reactive and at worst reactionary programmes of skills development around identity, social media use and the dangers of revealing that little bit too much about yourself.

Part rooted in digital literacy, part in disciplines and embedded in the way we engage in teaching and learning in the modern age, debates around social media and how we use it has become another way to veil conversations about people and how complicated relationship building can be.  Social media use has become the lightning rod for debates around authenticity, reliability, exchange, professionalism, realness and the decline and fall of western civilisation*.    * one of those may be hyperbole

What is clear is that social media, when its context is expanded past the simplistic assertions that it is all just Twitter and Facebook, represents and facilitates a complex array of practices, acts, processes and communications.  Sometimes lost in the shouted insults of fake news and stranger danger is the capacity of social media to engage in emancipatory and educational processes such as making, sharing, learning, identity formation and expression, community building, digital citizenship and creativity.

So, we came up with Future Happens 2 – Social Media Connect:Disconnect.  The aim of this hack event is to bring people together to work out how we can collectively change the discourse around social media in higher education and to empower our institutions, our teachers and our students to actively reshape teaching and learning through and with social media. What are the principles for how education should use social media?  What are the challenges, barriers, myths and strongly held beliefs about social media and education and how do smash them, change them, embrace them or ignore them? How do we embrace what social media can and does do in for our learners, for us, for our institutions and for society as a whole to make our education better?

Welcome to the changehack

A changehack is a way of engaging with staff, students and the community. A changehack is about making change happen, coming up with the innovative and workable solutions and ideas.  Building on the practices of a hack which seek to collectively solve and ‘nut out’ technology problems, a changehack uses similar principles of time-limited engagements, specific rules of participation and a casual but slightly pressured environment of crowdsourcing.  A changehack can bring together people into a learning community to collectively solve educational and organisational problems.

Being there and taking part

What we want from Future Happens 2 is a form of radical pragmatism. You are in the room, because you are the institution, you are the senior management, you are the experts, you are the teachers and you are the students.  At the end of the hack we want to have something that we all can use in our own institutions, classes, courses and lives.  What does this look like? We don’t know yet! That’s what the hack is for! What we want to do is move away from the reactive and develop proactive and modern educational ideas and solutions for people teaching people how and why to use social media and for learners teaching us how social media will shape their lives and careers.

We have chosen 4 scenarios in which stories, ideas, principles and radical innovations can emerge.  What is important to remember is that you have the capacity to make change happen.  You are committed to doing good teaching and learning.  You don’t use social media in education because it is fun to do or because it is “cool”, you do it because it makes for good, challenging and transformative education.  Each scenario will challenge you in different ways to think about social media and how you use it.  What should emerge is a series of stories that lead to the development of a toolkit if you will that can be shared with the entire sector.

We would like to invite you to join us at Future Happens 2. You are invited to this event to become part of the solution.  This is not a talk-fest.  This is not a place to moan.  This is a space for us collectively to shape the debate in our institutions.  This is a chance to hack the solution to our shared problem. And to break bread, pizza slices (and beer) with people who have a shared intention to be a part of the conversation.

The face-to-face event took place on the 5th May 2017

Making education better – what happened at the Social Media – Connect:Disconnect hack

Follow the debates that are emerging on social media from the FH2 hack – Social Media – Connect:Disconnect

A blog by Andrew Middleton (@andrewmid) of Sheffield Hallam University, reflecting on the hack

A Social Media Learning Space: reflections on #FutureHappens – Connect:Disconnect

A blog by Future Happens peep, Dave White (@daveowhite) about the hack afternoon

Future Happens – Social Media

A blog by another FH peep, Donna Lanclos (@donnalanclos), reflecting on the connect:disconnect part of FH2

Connect : Disconnect

A response to Donna’s blog post by Sheila McNeil (@sheilmcn)

My connect: disconnect struggles

So, follow the debate through the blogs and on the #futurehappens hashtag

Future Happens 2 landed on Friday 5th May in the form of the Social Media – Connect:Disconnect hack.  Bringing together 39 people (staff and students) representing 21 different institutions and groups, the hack was a space to generate and test positive ways to intervene and engage in teaching and learning through social media practices.  The people in the room were there to make the most of social media in teaching, learning and assessment. They recognised social media as a complex, emotive, powerful, fast changing and sometimes controversial aggregation of practices, attitudes, technologies and learning. Through a series of fast-paced, intense and sometimes personal and experiential engagements, the crowd in the room generated positive principles for engaging with social media against a series of knowledge and skills capabilities that social media can help enhance.  What was critical to us was the assumption that none of this was easy. The spaces in which social media have inhabited are rent with tensions, which we try to expose in the section of the hack called Burnt.  Sharing the crowds real life horror stories, super positive personal aspirations and imagined worst case scenarios allowed the people in the room both a chance to make the pictures of the scenarios we face more real, but to also test their principles in the wild.

Ultimately Future Happens is not a talk fest.  We started this because there is frequently disconnections between the practices of higher education and technology and the strategic intentions and actions of the institutions.  Our ambition for Future Happens is that we can be part of the nexus between those two states, supporting the people who want or have skin in the game.  It is easy to make pronouncements about pedagogical, technological or institutional change from the ‘islands’, when the consequences of advocating for and implementing that change are limited to your world, your classroom, your twitter feed.  They are safe spaces, full of friendly faces and welcoming and supportive practices.  But decisions, assertions and opinions all have consequences; for your students, for the worlds they inhabit and for your institutions.  The challenge comes when you need to scale what you speak.  You need to make the future happen for your entire institution. What happens when the VC, the Dean or the Director says ‘we need to this transform the whole institution’? What do you say and do? How do you make sure you say the right things, in the right rooms, with the right people?

We hope that Social Media – Connect:Disconnect can provide some of the catalysts for these debates, discussions and change at your institution.  Maybe you will run a post-changehack, maybe you start a conversation, maybe you will engage with people who don’t agree with you, maybe you will hear more of what your students and your staff are telling or maybe you will just ban Facebook and Twitter at the firewall level.  But at least the start made by the crowd of 39 at FH2 is there to help with whatever you and your institution want to face up to.

Have a read of the documents produced by our crowd right here…

FH2: curated principles

This is a list of the principles generated by the hack groups (generally two principles per group).

How can social media practices help:

Hack 1

Develop and share identity

  1. Freedom of choice
  2. Respect diversity
  3. Allow students & staff the freedom to have an identity (or various identities) that they do not need to disclose within the context of their learning
  4. Create a special learning and teaching community for collective, collaborative learning = disciplinary identity
  5. Facilitate entry point to professional networks/ break down barriers (virtual and physical)
  6. Developing or evolving identities in multiple personal and professional networks
  7. Valuing difference in yourself and others, being civil and inclusive
  8. Enabling informed choice and empowering through awareness of options
  9. Embedding mutual respect and trust in learning And teaching environments, online and/or offline

Build and support community

  1. Support people to enter the community
  2. Form a collective ethos (organically)
  3. Encourage positive but critical feedback
  4. Promote positive silent observation
  5. To enhance the communication channels between staff and students (combining instant and recorded/revisitable, frequency of interaction)
  6. Removing barriers and exposure to people beyond one’s immediate physical vicinity enhances communication networks
  7. Connecting with like-minded individuals and professionals via social media allows students to slowly (or at their own pace) enter the community of practice in their chosen discipline
  8. Crowdsourcing/co-creation via social media enhances a sense of belonging and gives access to a greater diversity of perspectives, facilitating critical reflection

Hack 2

Engaging in debate and dialogue

  1. Listen, reflect and then respond (if you choose to)
  2. Encourage debate to span multiple spaces, including out of sight of the institution
  3. Social media removes the “walls” of the classroom to enable wider discussion
  4. Rules of engagement, agreed set of behaviours
  5. Social media can enable the process of learning rather than assimilating content. Sage on the stage vs guide on the side vs crowd-sourced knowledge?
  6. Respect multiple levels of engagement
  7. Burst the filter bubble!!!!!
  8. Learn to time travel
  9. Learn to process (or not)
  10. Providing the opportunity to students to engage across disciplines, departments, continents. And across cultural backgrounds
  11. Providing space and time for everyone to reflect properly on what is being said and what they might want to say- to develop personal perspectives

Support and build citizenship of a discipline or society

  1. Self-formed virtual nations based on shared interests
  2. Participation comes with an understanding that their are collective rights and responsibilities
  3. Being aware of and embracing institutional risk in the use of social media
  4. Engagement and networking to enable inclusive, open and fair opportunities for learning and teaching
  5. Enable the transfer of knowledge to and from the classroom (between the classroom and the world beyond) to bring about opportunities for authentic lifelong learning.

Hack 3

Defining and understanding authenticity

  1. Equip students to evaluate and interrogation sources – information capabilities
  2. The social media you is a source, and deserving that same evaluation and interrogation
  3. Provide opportunities for open and honest interactions
  4. Understanding authenticity in different contexts
  5. Developing a culture of sharing stories where authenticity needs to be questioned
  6. Being human is super important
  7. Must embed digital literacy
  8. Student and staff generated content can define and create authenticity

Generating and sharing creativity

  1. Working in the open, sharing work in progress and being in perpetual beta
  2. Collaboration and remixing: build – break – rebuild
  3. Social media context is the right context for knowledge
  4. The Wikipedia model shows that knowledge is growing, fluid, and could be used positively in teaching and learning
  5. Offer learners a range of opportunities to share and collaborate with people beyond your tutor or class
  6. Making work (especially assessed work) open rather than hidden, ensuring that degree of openness is an informed decision

Hack 4 took the form of a discussion in response to items from the ‘BURNT’ activity


This was the first activity of the afternoon. Participants had to write three post-it notes relating to the use of Social Media in teaching and learning to ‘clear the air’:

  • Orange: Imagined worst case scenario
  • Green: Super positive personal aspiration
  • Pink: True life horror story

We then clustered these into sub themes over the course of the afternoon and revisited them in the final hack session.

ORANGE – Imagined worst case scenario

Theme: Disconnection

  • Idea for using social media for learning/teaching which fails to engage
  • Expectations of what using a service/operating in a place will deliver are not met by reality – rather than feeling more connected people end up feeling disconnected – damaging on self-image and personal narrative
  • Having no connections
  • Excluding students through choice of social media
  • Unmoderated posts – possibly leading to exclusion

Theme: Psychological/physical harm

  • Band of trolls – cascade
  • Student commits suicide because of trolling on course FB page
  • Having an academic come to you to say a student is being abused
  • Physical harm and/or death
  • How to react to negative comments
  • The entire thing is reduced to personal and institutional marketing.  We are all just doing unpaid digital labour in the service of corporate platforms to organise students (and/or colleagues) suffering harm/distress as a result of social media interactions
  • Bullying of an individual/group of students
  • An increase in student mental health problems (depression, anxiety etc) from 24/7 connectivity
  • I encourage ECRs and PhD Students in my institution to share their experience and their security and mental health is threatened as a result (we have a responsibility!)

Theme: Tech Fail

  • Massive security breach where sensitive student data exploited by cyber-criminals
  • Failing to educate learners about how to safeguard themselves and their data on social media
  • University data etc. being hacked or having data stolen
  • Host company loses all your stuff!
  • A platform goes bust and you lose your interaction/pricing model makes features unavailable

Theme: Abuse of power

  • Delivering students to markets
  • Governments using social media data (predictions, profiling etc.) against students and people in general
  • Using SocMed with students to discuss e.g. Human Rights, students coming from Human Rights abusing countries, identity revealed and they get hunted down and killed for having opened up or criticised regime
  • Donald Trump using Twitter as official communication platform
  • Neo Liberal Agenda neutralises critique

Theme: Reputation

  • Damage to reputation
  • “Losing Face” especially if you are a newcomer in an online community of practice
  • Lack of understanding of what SM are (associating it with Facebook)
  • Self-misrepresentation
    • Typos etc
    • Being misunderstood and not realising it
  • Comments taken out of context – escalation and loss of reputation

Theme: Job insecurity

  • An innocuous comment destroys your life/career in the future
  • Getting sacked for putting something “out there”
  • Sharing stories impacting job security e.g. gender pay gap, HE staff experience survey
  • Oversimplification of ideas and expression: the redaction of complex ideas to soundbites, memes (itself a simplification) and LOL2

Theme: Exposure

  • Students may not think about the fact that they are vulnerable as social media is in the public arena and their contributions can be found by anyone.  They may see negative effects and regret what they have put “out there”
  • Someone forces me to use it/share stuff I’m not comfortable with
  • Super duper personal info going viral and damaging individuals’ wellbeing (and reputation)
  • Using the wrong Twitter ID when you have a professional and personal account
  • Using social media to encourage discussion in and outside of class and it gets out of control, i.e. something someone said is taken out of context and shared widely outside of the class space.


GREEN – Super positive personal aspiration

Theme: Open and flexible

  • Secure, open, non-proprietary, seamless, multi-functional, “hackable”
  • Using social media to support openness, in particular for leadership roles

Theme: Political Activism/Citizenship

  • Social media mirrors a critical and positive society
  • Eliminate the need for facilitation and moderation
  • Help create a fair internet by re-balancing gender inequality
  • Master civil disagreement (instead of disengagement)
  • Making people more engaged with activism
  • Ability to create global citizens with more emotional intelligence
  • Trolled by neo-Nazis

Theme: Connected Teaching and Learning

  • Using social media to diversify the channels of communication and open up the walls of the classroom
  • Finding ways and platforms that engage students – across their perceived social only/education barrier
  • Potential to connect, collaborate and share with people globally
  • Able to link students (teachers in training) to other HE teachers around the world for genuine exchange of practice
  • Breaking down of barriers to knowledge and the people behind that knowledge
  • Access to spaces to have conversations and formulate new world views

Theme: Career benefits

  • Making connections through social media that lead to exciting collaborations
  • Trusting my network (and beyond) enough to take risks
  • Raise academic profile globally
  • Become an influencer able to spread critical, intelligent insights/research
  • To have a strong personal/professional network which I actively contribute to (I MUST blog)
  • A PHD thesis 140 characters at a time?
  • To turn my social media interactions into useful scholarship and give something back to the online community that has inspired me

Theme: Breaking down barriers

  • Connecting students and teachers and changing lives locally and internationally
  • Using social media to connect rather than as broadcasting tool.  That’s a high aspiration for me
  • Use of social media to extend the discussion outside of the classroom into students’ life – the inspiration of teaching bleeding into other spaces
  • Finding “peers” in far off places
  • Breaking down barriers of local/institutional silos
  • Collaboration (notes, valuing ideas from online chats or events/conferences) – collaborative notes planning/idea shaping
  • Meeting up and finding people at my time who had very similar interests as me
  • Crowdfunding problems
  • Social media used to connect globally, share resources and knowledge
  • Students speak to one another and share positive experiences
  • Embedded use of social media e.g. Twitter for CPD/show good practice across the institution
  • Expanding personal/professional connections – meeting great people


  • An end to superlatives and hyperbole
  • To take down the @crosscoutryou train website (get them to change their ux)
  • To be or not to be: Authentic self online

PINK – True life horror story

Theme: Bad things happen to them

  • Made an unguarded FB comment about a team whose purpose I question, and a member of that team took it personally and reported me to HR!
  • Student insulted key project partner on Instagram – the partner found out
  • Broke own rules about posting negative comments about someone on FB – happened to be a relative of a colleague – I deleted it just in time!
  • Somebody’s career ruined by a throwaway comment
  • Students started a derogatory, misogynist hashtag about a female lecturer on Twitter
  • Loss of reputation/losing job
  • Students responding negatively to course on social media.  Publically “trolling” and disrupting activity

Theme: Bad things happen to me

  • Trolled by Neo-Nazis
  • I found myself at centre of a Twitter storm for calling out a professional athlete for sexism
  • Informative history video hiding facts and harming a group of people (nationality) – got massive spam for trying to get the facts straight (and insults)
  • Trolled because of a post, online, then offline then at an event
  • Nasty comments on Twitter in response to pro-Remain campaign in Brexit aftermath

Theme: #fail

  • Putting the wrong date for an event…and it being retweeted (yesterday!)
  • When I said: “Ignore these scantily clad women” and posted Calvin Harris on the VLE
  • Institutional blog w/o a shaving feature
  • Blanket ban of platform (YikYak) to “prevent bullying” rather than addressing underlying behaviours
  • An implementation of WordPress that was done with the robot.txt file instructing search engines NOT to index blog posts was not discovered for about two years

Theme: Falsification

  • Someone I know faked having leukemia via blogs and social media very convincingly
  • LinkedIn request was not the person he was claiming to be


  • Social media used by students to air grievances and discuss things that should be handled with discretion – a side effect of the normalisation of social media
  • Multiple personas – contamination from one persona to another
  • Wanting to post and then thinking which grammatical error because of the 140 character limit
  • @piersmorgan