Category Archives: EMA

Digital tools for study – updated

Not long after I arrived I write a post about the digital tools I was thinking about using for my studies. I thought it would be interesting to look back 8 months on and see which I found useful, which were replaced by something else, which didn’t deliver and which new ones I picked up along the way.

First I’ll look at the ones I mentioned in the original post.

1. Evernote

I’m still using it, but not as much as I thought. But it’s really useful to have a note-taking service, and I do use the widget on my desktop to clip links, or take little notes while I”m working on my laptop.

2. Flipboard

Dear me, I love this tool. Not only does it make reading social content so much more pleasurable than most interfaces, but it is a fantastic content curation tool. I’ve been using it to curate content for the company where I am working, as well as putting together magazines on several issues of  interest to me.

3. Mendeley/Zotero

I mentioned Mendeley as a reference management tool, but in the end I went with Zotero. It has a Firefox add-on so that when you download the pdf of an article, you download it directly into the service. Then you can search all articles by title, content and author, read the articles and generate references. It’s difficult to over-estimate the importance of generating references, in terms of what a time-saver it is for essays, and I have found that Google Scholar’s references just aren’t reliable.

4. Wunderlist/Trello

I do love Wunderlist, but I haven’t used it as much as I have been using Trello, and actually good old pen and paper. But as an online tool, Trello has helped me in all sorts of ways. It’s great for keeping a note of what you need to do and with the upgrade you get for inviting new people and tweeting about the serivce, you can add calendar reminders and various other useful enhancements. Trello really comes into its own for project work: we used it for our (winning!) team at start-up weekend and in our final project management class it was a great way for us to keep in touch as a team when the group was physically broken up. I’ve had a go at other management tools like Asana and Knotable, but Trello seems to have got a great balance of simple and effective.

5. Dropbox

Dropbox has remained a staple for me. It integrates into my Finder window so it’s a seamless part of my set up, and it also makes it easy to share content with others. Definitely a gold star service.

6. Scrivener

I haven’t really had call to use this yet, though it may come into its own with my research project next semester.

So those were the ones I thought I would use a lot. I was right about some, not about others. So which were the ones I hadn’t thought of that I use?

7. Google

Another set of services that in spite of myself I really couldn’t have got here without. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides have all been invaluable for the various group projects we have had to do across a number of subjects, plus presentations in Google Slides seem to avoid incompatability problems. They are not full versions of their equivalents in Office or the Mac Suite, but for collaborative working, there really isn’t anything like them.

8. GoodReader

One more to add to the ‘indispensable’ list. Goodreader is a document reader which I have on my iPad, allowing me to make notes, either free-hand or typed, highlight sections and generally read the many many articles that are part and parcel of a social science Masters. It links to Dropbox, so I can access whatever I save in there.

9. Meetup

Not really a digital tool, but something that has been pretty central to my life in Melbourne, Meetup has been a wonderful way to connect with a range of interesting events and people, from startups to music fans to my favourites, the monthly French-speaking meetup. Chouette!

Some thoughts on the future world of work

I have been absolutely useless at blogging recently, largely because there has been so little time and head-space for it. If I thought I was taking a career break to take it easy, I was very much mistaken!

Although Semester 2 has just started, there was no real Winter Break for the EMA cohort, with intensive courses all through June and July. We just finished one on the Secret Life of Organisations, which I found utterly fascinating and will probably be the broad domain for any future research, if that’s the route I decide to take.

While reading the final set reading for the course, Workplace 2025–—What will it look like? by Linda Gratton (Organizational Dynamics (2011) 40, 246-254) I came across the following paragraph:

[At] the U.K. telecom company BT ,…flexible working has been embedded across all the corporation through home-based working, flexible and part-time work, and job sharing. BT found that the real win occurred when senior executives became role models for flexible working, and when it was conclusively shown that those who work flexibly are up to 20 percent more productive and significantly less likely to leave the company . This wide-scale adoption began after a series of trials in which BT employees began to discover new and more flexible ways of working, with the real shift coming from measuring output instead of measuring input. At first, employees working from home or working flexible hours found it difficult to escape the engrained attendance mindset. However , once the metric of value had been explicitly inverted from time to output, then flexibility became more acceptable. A second breakthrough came when the executive team at BT decided that it was the responsibility of the employee to present a business case that illustrated the personal, collegial and organizational benefits of working flexibly . Over time, these initial experiments became custom and practice, with over 20,000 people from all generations working on tailored flexible working programs.

I’ve highlighted the three sections I think are particularly salient. Firstly, flexible working isn’t some kind of sop to working women, or a way to appear progressive. It makes a difference to productivity and staff turnover, two crucial factors for any organsiation, public or private. Secondly, I believe we have to move away from a mindset where presence and process is all that is measured, towards one more focused on outcomes and outputs. I admit this is not easy in an organisation where there is no money coming in, like the one I used to work in, but I truly believe it is worth the effort. Measuring our worth to an organisation by the amount of time we spend at a desk, or the number of pieces of paper we move from one place to another just seems anachronistic. Thirdly, there is a cultural change that is necessary and the senior management have to be on board with that. I have been lucky enough to have a number of managers, since the very earliest days, that trusted me to be working out of the office when that is what I said I was doing. And of course, they saw the results. But it is still the case that people have called me when I am working from home and said “sorry to bother you”. I’m WORKING, it’s fine to call me! For some, there is an implicit assumption that if you are working from home, it’s because there is some other priority. Sometimes, often in fact, I work from home because work is my priority and I can do it better there.

Gratton’s article (very interesting if you can get your hands on it) highlights three major factors that will affect the future of work: technology, globalisation and carbon. The third of these is another reason why working outside the office is going to become so important. How many times did I think, as I stood on the train to Cannon Street, squeezed in with hundreds of others, ‘Why are we all doing this? Why are literally millions of us all spending 2 or more hours a day travelling to and from an office to do things we can do as well, or better, walking distance from home?’. There are of course reasons to go into the office – meetings, interaction with staff and colleagues, for example – and occupations where you can’t work from home, but for a large proportion of us, it’s an option. And think of the impact it would have on any major city’s public transport and road systems if hundreds of thousands of people were removed from rush-hour.

Looking to my future, I’m still not sure what it holds. But I’m pretty sure I want to work in a place that allows me to organise myself best to deliver what is expected of me, rather than somewhere that focuses on desk- and clock-watching.

Crowdsourcing research ideas

It seems incredible to think so, with more than a year left on my visa, but I really have to start thinking about what I’m going to do after my course finishes. Decisions I make in the next couple of months will need to take this into account – do I do an internship? If so where? Or do I undertake a mini-thesis, maybe with an idea of going on to further study, i.e. a PhD. If I do research, I’m pretty sure it will be somewhere in the political communication/digital media area.

This is where you come in. Is there some research that would help you? Is there something specific where you have thought “it would be great if someone could look into this”? If I am going to spend time on a PhD, or even just a mini-thesis, it’d be good to do it with something that would be useful to people in the field.

Do leave me a comment, or send me a tweet at @euonymblog or @antoniam

Photo by Nancy Phillips used under a Creative Commons license.

The sociology of sport

There are many things to love about Melbourne: its cultural activities, its coffee, its food, its parks. But one that I am going to really enjoy while I am here is its obsession, and that is the word, with sport. It proudly stakes its claim as the only city in the world to have both a Tennis Grand Slam and a Grand Prix. This weekend I went to a rugby union match on Friday, an Australian Rules football match on Sunday and I could have gone to Rugby League on the Saturday, if another Melbourne stalwart – incredibly changeable weather – hadn’t been threatening. The UCI track world championships were held here in 2012 and may be again next year, and there are two football teams. When you wander down Olympic Boulevard, you have the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Cricket Ground and AAMI Rectangular (Yes! Rectangular!) Stadium, all fantastic venues, within a few hundred metres of each other.

Given my own interest in sport – watching, not doing – it was good to combine it with my research interests today.  I was giving the first presentation of my graduate career, as part of my  elective course for this semester, which is called Mobility, Culture and Communication. The course is predominantly a sociological assessment of the what, how and why of mobility in the contemporary world and how that affects and is affected by issues of culture and communication. For the presentation, we have to choose a site and analyse it in terms of the themes of the course.

I took as my site the London 2012 Athletes’ Village which I had the privilege to work in during the 2012 Games. I was looking at how the athletes and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) bring a sense of identity to the village, and how the organising committee works to create a sense of community in that same space. Here’s the presentation on Slideshare.

What I found really interesting while researching the issues I wanted to cover was that almost nothing has been written about the sociology, or even the social science aspects, of Olympic Villages. Lots about environmental management, engineering etc, but next to nothing about the people that inhabit the space. There is more about the sociology of sport in general (searching Google Scholar for “gentrification of football” throws up quite a long list) but even then, given the cultural and social importance of sport in so many societies, especially the one I currently live in, you’d think it would be more of a thing. Have I discovered my niche?

A returning Masters student’s view on digital environments

On Thursday I took part via online conferencing in the European Commission’s Digital Competence Day 2014. I was asked to talk about the digital experience going back to University. Due to the somewhat intermittent nature of Aussie broadband (or maybe the instabilities of the conferencing system) I got frozen out at the end, and I’m not sure how much anyone really heard of it. So I thought I’d write up the main points I was trying to make.

I was last at university in 1993. We didn’t have email then. There was an internal messaging system called the Vax that we used to send ridiculous messages within our group of friends – I think I still have the print-outs in a box somewhere. There were a few computers with the library catalogue, but loads of card catalogues still around. I typed up my essays on a word processing machine (a sort of glorified typewriter that saved the text).

Now the university experience is completely digital. Your interaction with the university administration is completely through the online portal. You enrol, register, get your timetable, pay your fees there. All information about your classes is sent via the Learning Management System. Most lecturers ask you to submit essays through TurnItIn, a system for checking for plagiarism. The library catalogue is online, you can request books online from other libraries, renew online and pay your fees. Pretty much any article you want from an academic journal is available online. You can get serious research done without going near the university. You can send things for printing from home, and access them once on campus by swiping your student card.

You have no option about this. This is the way things are. Digital by default indeed. But there is a lot of help. The library has a student-run IT help-desk. There are Twitter and Facebook accounts to help you and they reply very quickly. The library has an online chat function, which I have used and is incredibly practical. There is even a phone number to call if you need advice or assistance!

The other interesting element is the focus on BYOD – bring your own device. Obviously for a university, the provision of equipment is not a resource option (though there are of course workstations in the libraries that you can book. Online of course!). Space is at a premium and teaching spaces take priority. So the university sees BYOD as an opportunity.

Wireless is available to staff and students in all buildings of the university. There are higher levels of security than logging on to wireless in most public spaces. Each student has an allowance of 1GB of data per week from external (non-University) websites. It is clear what the rules are (no copyright infringement etc) and there are sanctions for breaching these rules, such as a loss of access to the network. The system is designed assuming that most people will play by the rules, and builds in how to deal with those that don’t, rather than designing it so that no-one can break the rules, but making it unwieldy and hard to use.

Of course, a university is different from a workplace. For one thing, work is much less collaborative here. (Something I found when applying and being asked to provide examples of my writing: if I hadn’t had the blog I wouldn’t have had anything to show that was me.) Also, this is a place of ideas, free-thinking, innovation. They can’t lock us into certain processes or tools as that would shut down the very freedom and creativity they are trying to develop in us.

But I do think there are lessons to learn.

Firstly, people work in different ways so providing one way of doing things is counter-productive, in the literal sense that it will reduce people’s productivity. Creating an environment that recognises and allows those differences will, I believe, be positive for the organisation.

Secondly, the leadership challenge is in helping people to adapt to the change. It isn’t good leadership to allow them to avoid or bypass it. That is self-defeating for them personally and for the organisation as a whole.

When I look at the change in the Commission’s digital mindset over the time I have been involved in this, I think we have a lot to be proud of. But we also have a long way to go and I hope we can learn from outside experiences such as this.

Please take my survey on mobility and identity

My elective this semester is a sociological course on ‘Mobility, Culture and Communication’. I have a paper to write as the main part of the assessment and I am hoping you can help me, by taking this short survey (also embedded below). I am looking at the issue of mobility within the EU and how it impacts on the nation state. Within that, I’d like to examine how intra-EU mobility affects people’s sense of national identity. If you are a national of one EU member state living in a different Member State, please do take the survey and pass it on to others you think it applies to. Feel free to contact me either here, via Twitter or privately via the contact page, if you have anything else to add to the issue.

The survey


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Mixed blessings – the joy of multidisciplinary learning

I’ve just started my first week at Melbourne University, but have been coming to campus across the two weeks I have been here, initially for various admin things and last week for Freshers (“O-week”) activities. Of course everything is new and exciting, and returning to full-time learning after a gap of almost 21 years feels like a privilege. But one slightly unexpected aspect is standing out for me at this stage and that is the energy of being in a multidisciplinary university. I did my first degree at the London School of Economics, an incredibly vibrant and stimulating seat of learning. But it was specialised and most of the people you met were doing something not that far away from your own interests. Here, you are in the coffee queue with neuroscientists, in the bookshop queue with architects, in the bank queue with creative artists. When I am thinking about essays or projects, I feel an unlimited landscape rolling out around me, with many possibilities for bringing in methods, models and thinking from very different subjects. I find that incredibly exciting.

Digital tools for study

With O-week starting tomorrow, and several sessions programmed about returning to study, I’m getting really excited about embarking on my academic adventure the following week. But there’s one area that’s going to be really different for me this time and that’s the use of digital tools for studying. Last time I was at university we didn’t even have email, and you could handwrite assignments. I remember writing what I thought was a satirical article about the LSE in 2020, when lectures would be delivered straight into students’ rooms and essays submitted electronically. Well, that all happened a lot earlier than 2020!

But of course, it’s me, so I have done some thinking about and digging around for digital tools that will help me organise my study. Here are the ones I’ve lined up for the new semester. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few weeks and see how they’re going.

1. Evernote

I was slow getting into Evernote. Well, I set up an account ages ago but never used it much. But the development of IFTTT transformed my use of the service. I have IFTTT set up so that when I favourite a tweet, it gets saved to Evernote. This is a really easy way to mark things for later reading that I come across on Twitter. I can then later organise them into my various Evernote notebooks, one of which is for the EMA. I went the whole hog and bought premium – only about £30 for a whole year. It means you can use the notebooks offline and search them better, though I haven’t yet got it to search the photos I take from real-life notebooks, which it said it could do.

2. Flipboard

Flipboard is a very attractive way of reading social content, slurping your feeds from Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and whatever else you use into a magazine-style interface that you can leaf through. It used to work with Google Reader, but since that was closed, you need to feed from individual sites. It’s not great for the interaction element of these sites (it’s driving me mad that you can’t read Twitter bios) but is a great way of curating content and sorting it into categories through their magazine function. I now have a magazine called EMA Times, into which I can flip any content from across my feeds that I think will be relevant to the course.

3. Mendeley

I’ve just signed up for this tonight. It describes itself as a referencing tool and academic social network. The idea is that you load your PDFs of articles and it slurps the citation information. It also allows you to connect with academic colleagues. I can’t remember where I came across it (it was in Evernote, so maybe on Twitter?) but I’m willing to give it a go.

4. Wunderlist

Assignments, research activities, parties, club meetings: uni is going to be about time management. There are thousands of to-do list apps out there, but Wunderlist is the best one I’ve come across. Partly it’s the attractive interface, partly the flexibility in nesting activities, setting due dates and prioritising. Also it syncs seamlessly across the desktop, iPad and iPhone.

5. Dropbox

I bought a MacBook Air to come to uni, and it’s great that it’s so light, when I have to walk to campus in the morning, or lug it on the tram. But it doesn’t have much storage space. So Dropbox is a saviour. It’ll also mean that my research, drafts etc are accessible whether I have my laptop with me or not.

6. Scrivener

I bought this software at the suggestion of a friend who said it was extremely helpful for preparing drafts of academic papers and other manuscripts. It’ll be a while till I need this, but as it is linked to Index Card, which I already use a lot, I thought it was worth giving it a go.

I’m sure I’ll also be using a lot of the tools I found useful when working, such as Prezi, Yammer (there is a unimelb network), and Pearltrees. Though at the moment the best ones are those keeping me in touch with family and friends, and helping me make new friends here!

Settling in and making Aussie contacts

So, I have made it to Melbourne! The trip was fine, if long, and I was lucky enough to be met at the airport by a family friend, Deborah, who drove me to my temporary accommodation and handed me a very welcome care package of fruit and stuff. Helped when the jet-lag munchies hit in the middle of the night. Since then, the focus has been on sorting everything out at the university and finding somewhere to live. I’m enrolled in my courses for this semester and already have the assignments for the Critical and Creative Thinking course. My timetable will mean I am in seminars all day Tuesday and half of Friday. It’s going to be an adjustment after more than 20 years of getting up and going to work 5 days a week! At the moment it feels a bit like a holiday, but once the university stuff kicks in next week (Freshers Week! known as O-week here) I’m sure I’ll start getting my head round the fact that I am here for 18 months.

Twitter has proved its usefulness here as much as in the UK in connecting with interesting people. There seems to be a strong social media scene here, with people doing some real thinking about the issues around its use, including in a public sector context. Craig Thomler of Delib (whose UK arm managed our online debate for the Citizens’ Dialogue, as it happens) did this presentation on record-keeping of social media, an issue which I think generally needs more consideration in the digital age. What are future historians going to use as material for understanding the 21st century if everything is either locked away in defunct technology or lost in the ether? This image from Craig’s presentation says it all.

Retention of recordsThey also have a project where they highlight best practice from public bodies on Twitter: GreatOzGovTweet. Wonder what would get picked up if we did that in Europe?

By the way, if you’re interested in the more personal aspects of my time in Melbourne, then take a look at Euonym’s bits and pieces on Tumblr.

Thanks to matt.davis on Flickr for the feature photo, which is used under a Creative Commons license.

Moving to Melbourne

Well, the day is just about here when I load as much as I can into two suitcases and head to the airport to fly to Melbourne. It simultaneously feels like I’ve been planning this for ages and that it has come round very quickly.

I will try to blog a bit more than I have been doing recently, not least because things will be so different and interesting. And I will, for the first time in years, have time to really think about things and I can’t tell you how exciting that is.

The course I am doing is the Executive Master of Arts and one of the reasons I chose it was for the strong focus on communication. One of the core courses is Professional Communication and many of the possible electives have a communication focus, such as Mobility, Culture and Communication. So who knows where this will take me.

I also thought the move and change of emphasis (from a work blog to something more academic) justified a new look!