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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Digital Participation, Digital Inclusion and Social Learning

Digital Participation - Why?

Attended the 'Measuring the Unmeasurable: Digital Participation' Seminar at Birmingham University on Monday 19th July. I was unsure as to what to expect. My motivation to attend stems from my interest in informal online learning and how connectivist methods of online learning can be used to promote digital participation. Also interested in the notion of measuring participation. The purpose of the session was to provide a forum for discussion of the meaning and measurability of digital participation
. Key objectives of this initiative from Birmingham City University was to:
  • To start up a continuing dialogue between researchers, activists and policy-makers about issues of research and measurement.
  • To identify key concerns about the meaning and value of digital participation.
It would seem and i agree that widespread digital participation is a desirable aim for the government of any country. Desirable if you are a government that wishes to be inclusive and not have certain sections of the nation excluded from modern communication. Indeed here in the UK the topic has attracted interest because the previous government identified a goal of increasing digital participation. The new coalition Government also shares this ambition. More information can be found here at the raceonline2012 website. The importance of digital inclusion and digital participation for the Government are emphasised by Martha Lane Fox, the governments UK Digital champion:
"We need to be ambitious, ‘think internet first’ when we design services, and put the needs of the hardest to reach at the heart of industry, charity and government. There is a social and moral case to make sure more people are online but there is a clear economic case too. We will all be better off when everyone is online." July 2010
Throughout the seminar i kept asking myself why - Why are the Government pushing this, What is their motivation, What is their Vision. Martha Lane Fox offers this:

and the seminar introductory text offers this:

"Lord Carter presented the final Digital Britain report in June 2009 (. The report highlighted the need to engage a wider cross section of the public in going online; identifying that such engagement would result in the efficiencies and economic benefits expected from living and working in the digital age. It is quite a detailed report and i have not had a chance to read it yet. As part of the digital participation agenda the following were identified as important topics to address:
  • Digital Life Skills
  • Digital Inclusion and
  • Digital Media literacy

Overview of Proceedings

Speakers at this event included:
  • Professor David Macguire Birmingham University, Pro-Vice Chancellor Corporate Development
  • Paul Watson – Director, Digital Economy Hub for Inclusion through the Digital Economy
  • Catherine Bunting – Director of Research, Arts Council England
  • Alison Preston – Senior Research Associate, Ofcom
Proceedings were kicked of by Professor David Macguire who emphasized the point that we are now part of a knowledge sharing economy and that through the development of digital technology their has been an information revolution, but without effort to achieve digital participation throughout the country then we will perpetuate the digital divide that exists, whee currently 12.5 mullion out of the 65-70 million will not be participating.

Keynote Speaker Paul Watson told us about the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy
. (side) research project that looks at problems of accessibility, connection at home and in society, transport and capitalizing on the emeregence of creative industries through the eyes of technologists, sociologists, business leaders and end users to provide scalable, sustainable and economically viable solutions. This project goes much wider than just ensuring that people have access to the internet, but does encapsulate good practice in promoting a model of joined up thinking on the subject of digital participation. This short video explains the sort of thing Paul Watson and his team are researching:

Alison Pearson outlined what Ofcom who had been commissioned under the Cartrer Report (2009) to collect statistics on digital participation outlined
the approach they have taken to measuring digital participation. This included measuring:
  • Reach: Who uses the Internet, Where do they use it, How do they access it.
  • Breadth: The ranges and types of Activity
  • Depth: User contributions and Content creation.
Part of the role of Ofcom is to them measure the social and economic impact i.e. The extent to which participating online had improved social contact and economically whether savings had been made. Additionally Ofcom looked at the appetite for take up amongst non users and the reasons why some people do not have the internet at home.

Whilst the final speaker Catherine Bunting had some worthwhile incites into using cluster analysis and segmentation research methodologies to get a firm grip on who is participating in arts based events (off line) and lessons can be learned and applied to digital measurement I was much more interested in How do we get people to participate, what does participate mean or simply asking the question why should you/me participate.

Presumably others felt similarly as the afternoon workshop by Jennifer Jones on Depth
was by far and away the most well attended.

Why is participation important? - Some thoughts!
Well too me it depends on who is answering the question, but the bottom line to me is that participating online promotes social learning and learning in all its forms is a strong foundation for progress within a society. There was a strong feeling i got from our discussions on the day that one of the strong motivations was to save the government money by moving services online - which is all fine, dandy, proper and good but whoever is driving this vision must be driving with a passionate belief that being a digital citizen allows the individual and society to develop and improve both from a social and economic point of view.

If we leave the top end knowledge workers to one side, to encourage full digital citizenship there needs to be a social, life benefit to participating which will attract interest from all levels of the community. To the individual if their are benefits to be gained economically or in terms of convenience then this will indeed be one strand of the motivation. If digital participation can have a link to offline activities that foster community and social activities that would be another important and worthwhile strand. Participating online, mixing and socializing will inevitable lead to informal social learning, but there are also fantastic opportunities to support people online who are looking to learn specific skills and competencies.

So underpinning effective and inclusive digital participation will be education and especially education in the new media literacies that are required to function effectively in a wide range of activities on the web. This may require a change in teaching mentality that embraces new media technology in schools. The video below will set the scene for creating digital citizens for the 21st century.

Alison Pearson of Ofcom talked of the importance of media literacy and on that subject here is a fantastic resource from Ruth Howard one of the participants of a recent CritLit2010 worldwide online course pondering the critical literacies required for the online networked learner. A lot of links here to educators around the world that are discussing and debating how the web can foster social and informal learning.

To wrap up i would say obviously that massive investment in kids education from 5 upwards is imperative. Reading and writing would be a good place to start (and overcome the nonsense of kids in the UK not being able to read and write effectively as they move into teenage and adult life), followed by good grounding, good experience and good discussion on how to participate in a social media driven web world. On that theme Howard RheinGold's Participatory Media And The Pedagogy Of Civic Participation presentation is a comprehensive look at participatory media. For existing adults i do believe the learndirect type centers offer good potential to develop digital and community participation. Having worked in a similar drop-in style computer center for Stafford College many years ago - it was very effective in teaching the basic skills of computing and having a focal point in the community.

Development of other online social enterprises such as those run by Stuart Parker at We Share Stuff and Comunity focused Social Media Surgeries whose aim it is to take make it easier to find and run social media surgeries to support community groups, local charities and local active citizens are welcome initiatives..

Another useful website to help in upgrading basic computer skills is Online basics
That's about it from me - i think you can see that my view is that an aim to improve learning for all and develop better educated citizens is the best way to approach the aim of making digital participation inclusive for all.

I leave you finally with some interesting websites from outside of the UK that may help inform thinking on this subject - One from America The Institute of Digital Inclusion and one from Australia whose aim is to build bridges between educators and technology to help make technology accessible, easy to understand and simple to use.


MarĂ­a Fernanda Arenas said...

Steve, thank you very much for your post. I am glad to read it. You have developed important ideas and add interesting ( video )resources: digital participation,life skills,Social Inclusion, media literacy. Regarding this I think about the importance of the learning design for engagement & participation.

Here is a Manifiesto Edupunk that I find creative on engaging participation on learning:

Good to listening to your posts.

Steve Mackenzie said...

Thanks Maria,

I like the Edupunk Manifesto - Some good points to consider

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