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3.4 Public engagement 

As higher education is increasingly expected to show the value of its activities in relation to the wider economy and society, public engagement takes a progressively important role, with social media providing an immensely useful set of tools for this purpose.

The University of Oxford: has won a UCISA award for its effective use of social media for public engagement. Its Engage website was set up to show the academic community how online and digital technologies can play an important role in engagement activities, enabling them to reach, interact, and work collaboratively with a range of audiences. Guidance materials are complemented by a range of inspiring case studies, two of which are summarised here:

Professor Marcus du Sautoy has engaged the public in solving mathematics problems. His BBC TV series, The Code, grew a large following of individuals using social media to collaborate to solve puzzles by setting up their own Crack the code wiki and Facebook group. Professor du Sautoy also used online crowdsourcing techniques as part of a follow-up series called Numbers.

Scott Billings used social media to maintain a public presence for the University of Oxford's Museum of Natural History whilst it was shut for the whole of 2013 for repairs. Starting with the difficult but important question of whether anyone really wanted to see social media from the Museum (later framed as the question “Does anyone really want a digital Dodo?”) his team secured buy-in from other staff and adopted a step-by-step approach to building an online presence. A blog and Twitter account gained an active following and online activities were integrated with real-world events e.g. activities in a van used for outreach and a mobile app to complement a town trail and competition.

University of Exeter: lecturer Ceri Lewis is featured in a case study by RCUK in the Pathway to Impact series for her work in public engagement using Twitter. Dr. Lewis, a marine biologist, regularly tweets about her daily life as a scientist. She also writes blog entries and records podcasts whenever she has anything particularly interesting to say, such as for example, when she goes on an expedition to the Arctic. She says: “I want to break down the image that some people have of scientists. We really are just normal people, doing normal jobs and by giving people an insight into my daily life, I hope I go some way to changing our image and perhaps inspire people to become scientists.” Dr. Lewis also makes her data available for schools to use in lessons.

The University of the West of Scotland: was one of a number of educational partners in the Citizen Relay Olympic Torch project in Scotland in 2012. This was a participatory project which used social media and the involvement of ordinary people to report on local stories about the creative ways that Scotland's citizens were interacting with the Olympic Games based on the progress of the Olympic torch as it made its way through Scotland.
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