I am passionate about encouraging positive and responsible engagement online, contributing to a culture where people can thrive focused upon areas of digital culture, digital literacy, digital transformation and inclusive digital communities. I work chiefly within the third sector and with values-based organisations and communities, predominantly those related to Christian faith, seeking the wider impact such organisations can have upon society. Specific research on children and the internet led to my publication Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (2014).
My work largely works alongside the title ‘In a digital age’, often addressing questions of ‘digital habits’. I am keen that practical insights are accompanied by more philosophical questioning. Whilst technology offers new opportunities, I reject notions of technological determinism and any accompanying moral panics. At heart a humanities scholar, I believe that, fundamentally, human beings remain human beings, seeking meaning and purpose in life. I draw, rather, upon theories related to the social shaping of technology, as digital culture and practices are shaped by the larger culture and power structures that they are embedded within, and in the decisions that we make as users, both consciously, and in the unconscious habits developed.
My initial research in the 1990s focused upon British Home Front propaganda posters in the Second World War, their planning, their design, and their reception, and in which I noted the following:
In the 1930s Aldous Huxley recognised that propaganda ‘canalises an already existing stream’; it is only effective on those already in tune with the ideas expressed. Propaganda encourages its audience further along the direction that they are already moving, and reinforces partly formed ideas.
These ideas inform my contemporary digital practice, including drawing upon behavioural ‘nudge theories’, as Sustein & Thaler (2009) highlighted how we can make better choices for ourselves, our families, and society, knowing how to ‘nudge us in the right directions, without restricting our freedom of choice’.
I seek to understand the online environment, its characteristics, engagement and interactions, so users at all levels can leverage it well. Organisations and users need to take a responsible approach to online engagement, where relationships and personal connections are key. I am keen to see organisations move beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to embedding organisational values, and not be held back by fears of digital technology, as we learn how it works, how people interact with it, how it influences people, how we can use it for good, and how we project ourselves within the online environment.
I have experience in qualitative methodologies, especially empirical research, case studies, surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, and visual methodology (discourse analysis and semiotics), interested in exploring auto/ethnography and new digital methods.
Keywords: identity, responsibility, values, social participation, online engagement, healthy habits, behaviours, defining/challenging ‘the norm’, online etiquette, online-offline interaction, leadership and coaching, change/transformation, and persuasion.
Journey to Research
My PhD, undertaken at what is now The University of Winchester, was passed without corrections in 2004, by Lord Asa Briggs and Dr Adrian Smith (Soton). It was entitled The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War – and you can still read the original plan for it, access the final thesis through the British Library, or just read the original history of Keep Calm and Carry On. I am currently developing books emerging from the thesis, including a new chapter on the digital and the popularity of Keep Calm and Carry On.
I moved from history to work in developing interdisciplinary research at the University of Manchester, took some time out to travel around the world, and returned to Winchester where I was involved in teaching history and media studies, but also extended my expertise in digital culture, social media and technology-enhanced learning. Five years were spent working on Christian communication and discipleship in a digital age at the University of Durham, including the development a blog focused upon digital and biblical literacy. I remain an Hon Research Fellow for St John’s College, Durham, but work full time for Manchester Metropolitan University as Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing.
I am a reflective practitioner who had an early passion for the teaching and sharing of knowledge. Early signs included leadership within Girlguiding, and the choice of Education Studies alongside History for my degree pathway. I have been involved in the HE sector for 21 years, giving my first lecture in 1998. I have taught across a wide-range of interdisciplinary topics, including history, media studies, digital media, digital literacy, visual culture, postgraduate research and time management training.
Alongside invitations to speak at a range of more general events, I have presented a range of academic papers at conferences and seminars.