Social media for social policy: working together for creative employability skills development

Session presented at the University of York Learning and Teaching Conference, 8 May 2013. See: Conference website.

Matt Cornock, Simon Davis, Heather Stout, Lidiya Cherneva, Megan O’Kane.


This workshop presents the Social Media for Social Policy project. This is an optional, extra-curricular activity for social science students organised by the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York incorporating employability skills contextualised within students’ academic subjects. This approach aims to offer relevant skills development and group project opportunities for students, whilst allowing them to undertake an ‘authentic’ activity they may encounter when in employment in their specialist field after graduating (campaigning, awareness-raising, public engagement).

Full details of the workshop and project are available via the University of York website (links below) and the introductory slides for the session are available to download here also.

Examples of projects undertaken include blogs dedicated to a particular social cause (e.g. Living Wage) or a semi-academic exploration of a social concept (e.g. ‘Chavs’); video interviews with academic staff to explain a social issue (e.g. Child Well-being); videos with current students for recruitment (e.g. SPS YouTube); viral campaigning presenting a message visually to be shared on social networks (e.g. Women’s Rights).

This project not only provided students with an opportunity to collaborate with peers from other Departments, but is also a successful collaboration of people from teams across the institution. Drawing upon pockets of expertise and pre-existing workshops, this course is then brought together into a subject context by the host Department.


We identified a future skills gap in graduates entering the third sector as more organisations in this field are utilising social media to convey a message or engage with a specific audience. We also wanted to provide an intensive, public-facing group project experience that would be more ‘real-world’ oriented than a formal academic presentation. In order to achieve this, we utilised the careers training and multimedia training expertise from central service teams in the institution. The projects had to address a social issue, hence drawing upon students’ subject knowledge and indeed their interests. Conveying their academic knowledge in a non-academic setting was itself a new skill to develop, as the focus on defining and audience was indicated early on.

How the project works

The project begins with contextualised examples of social media in social policy, where possible using cases from staff or postgraduates in the Department. Project groups are formed and, with the aid of the Careers team, formal team work and project planning training takes place. For some students this may be the first time they have begun to reflect on their interactions with others. A project plan is devised setting out the aims, message and audience for the project, which requires sign off before it may continue. Students self-select what workshops to attend from those available, bearing in mind the needs of the project and their own personal reasons for participating on the project. Groups have a further week of unstructured time to complete the project during which they may consult with the project organiser. Final presentations are peer-assessed against the original project plan (Download Peer-Feedback Pro-Forma [.docx]), with the most successful project being the one which met its original aims and intended audience the best, not what is the most technically perfect. Careers colleagues return to help students reflect on the project and importantly how to translate this into CVs and job interviews.


Special thanks to: Simon Davis and Wayne Britcliffe from the University of York Elearning Development Team for providing specialist workshops; Heather Stout from University of York Careers for providing group forming and project review sessions; Beth Watts, Harriet Thomson and Jo Jones, postgraduate students in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work for their assistance and subject expertise during the course; Lidiya Cherneva and Megan O’Kane, participants on the course, for their contribution to the conference session. The project was initially part-funded by the University of York Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning – Enterprise, subsequently wholly funded by the hosting Department of Social Policy and Social Work and contributing staff Departments.


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