Social academics Laurel Hitchcock and Amanda Taylor - Laurel based in Birmingham Alabama in the US, Amanda in Lancashire in the UK - met over a year ago on Twitter. Since that time they have been meeting regularly using Skype and FaceTime.
Their frequent meetings provide them with a space in which to share ideas, develop projects and create teaching and learning methodologies with a more global feel. They share many interests, framed by their innovative identities as digital scholars.
Their connection inspired me to commission a guest blog from them about one of their more recent innovations, the Social Work Virtual Pal. I am delighted to share it with you now.
"Before the internet truly came into its own, the prospect of a social work academic in the US working closely with a UK counterpart would have seemed unlikely.
Thankfully, technologies have changed the way we work and connect. Today’s digital and social media platforms present all sorts of possibilities and opportunities. Being social workers with a natural orientation towards creativity, we decided early on to exploit these platforms for the purposes of professional development and the benefit of the wider social work community.
Our mutual interest in creative teaching methodologies, and an acute awareness of digitalisation’s increasing utility, led us to connect online - initially via Twitter, but latterly through Skype and FaceTime too.
Across these various channels we have talked about connections and being connected. We discussed the notion of geography and the more interesting idea of connectography. We shared ideas about the way in which the online realm is making the physical world seem smaller, yet more diverse at the same time.
We went on to think about our respective student groups and how we could facilitate their learning in a more global context. This led us to the notion of peer support, communities of learning and the fact that exposure to knowledge should never be a local affair.
During one of our more creative moments we came up with the idea of what, in old currency, would have been known as a pen pal.
At our fingertips we had the means of our connection: the social media platform Twitter. We quickly set up an account @SWVirtualPal and used the hashtag #SWvirtualpal to collate and curate content.
What follows is largely for Twitter newbies, but assumes some basic knowledge of the platform. Apologies to any long established tweeters reading this blog!
Like any hashtag, #SWvirtualpal is an aggregator of information - a way of drawing conversations, topics and individuals together in one place. In our case, we’re using it to create professional connections between social work students, practitioners and academics across the planet.
Social Work Virtual Pal can broaden your professional networks; expand your knowledge of global social work and the varied social environments where it is practiced. It can also enhance your digital skills and help you connect with new friends and supportive peers.
So, assuming you’re already on Twitter, start following us @SWVirtualPal and use the hashtag to search and see who is tweeting when, where, with whom and about what. Then start following the people whose tweets intrigue you the most, begin a new conversation or contribute to an existing one.
Ask to be added to our #SWvirtualpal Twitter list by following @AMLTaylor66 and @laurelhitchcock then tweet us directly. We will add your name to the list and someone may reach out to you. Feel free to tweet us with any questions too!
Please note: this is an informal way for professionals to connect and share with each other, not a therapeutic approach or means of referral. Check with your local community for direct services.
Thanks to Lyn for inviting us to present this blog. We hope to see our many social work colleagues across the world connect and collaborate to effect change in these very difficult times."
Social work educators and the otherwise intrigued will find a wealth of useful information to enhance participation in #SWVirtualPal on Laurel’s website. May your interactions be mind expanding, supportive and inspiring!