Benefits of Super-fast broadband

Ofcom have published research into the benefits that next generation broadband could bring to older and disabled people to help promote independent living.

Examples include:

  • remote health monitoring and consultations
  • mentoring and befriending schemes
  • teleworking
  • life-long learning initiatives

Technology such as this should help promote independent living; health, learning, work and other social issues are mentioned frequently within the report: Next Generation Services for Older and Disabled People (pdf).

This technology will open the door to numerous beneficial applications and when realised fully in the years to come will change many people’s lives. However, it’s imperative that media and digital literacy awareness among the target group is maintained so they can benefit when it arrives.

Great resources can be found on the web such as this A- Z of computing by AgeUK; which is a good starter at any age. Hopefully, such resources will continue to evolve as technology advances and new devices and applications emerge.

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Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2010

In August, Ofcom released their annual Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland and followed it with a discussion panel event last week. As you would expect the report is detailed with an abundant supply of statistics relating to NI’s progress in communications services.

Here are a few key points:

  • A third of people in Northern Ireland use social networking sites (similar to UK average)
  • One in six people in Northern Ireland access health information online (lower than UK average)
  • Broadband take-up in Northern Ireland has reached 70% (similar to UK average)
  • 3G take-up is below the UK average and lowest among the nations

The latter point is rather disappointing, given the increase in internet enabled devices such as smart phones, and would suggest a reliance on the home and work for internet access. Could this be explained by limited and/or lower quality coverage? This point and a few similar issues were raised at the discussion panel, especially the impact it was having on rural areas and the great potential for a digital divide.  The Alan in Belfast blog has a good account of this discussion. However, the report does recognise this as a wider problem, so we in NI are not alone:

…people who live in rural locations throughout the UK … are less likely to have access to super-fast broadband, a 3G phone signal, and to have a choice of suppliers through their local fixed telephony exchange. Our research shows that the average broadband speed delivered to premises in rural locations are typically lower than in urban areas; that fixed-line take-up is often higher; and that households are less likely in rural areas to take communications services in bundles.
The Communications Market Report 2010 (pdf)

Elsewhere in the report the MyGroupNI web portal is recognised in its capacity as a digital inclusion initiative bringing together the public, voluntary and private sectors and supporting 3500 community groups across NI. In 2009/2010 it received 25 million hits and 10 million page impressions from 1.8 million visitors (this initiative is supported by Department of Finance and Personnel for NI).

What does this report mean for Media Literacy and Digital Inclusion?

Well, we are moving in the right direction and in most areas maintaining pace with the other nations. However, you are left with the impression that more could be done, both in terms of media literacy/digital inclusion awareness and infrastructure in rural areas, if everyone is to benefit from being online and we as a nation make our contribution to Martha Lane Fox’s RaceOnline 2012 goal. What are your thoughts?

Digital Participation programme is rescoped!

The Digital Participation programme led by Ofcom has been rescoped by the government as part of the public expenditure review. The limited funding that was available will be focused on supporting the activities of the http://raceonline2012.org campaign led by the UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox.

Sadly this will have an impact on many funding applications to help people get online, but the hope is that everyone will continue their support through the Race Online 2012 campaign.

Ofcom have stated:

Ofcom hopes Digital Participation Consortium members will continue to build on the achievements of the Consortium by continuing to work together to help people get online and would encourage members to sign up as a Race Online 2012 partner or advocate. All future communications and partner work in this area will be taken forward by the Champion and her team with the support of Cabinet Office.
Source: Ofcom Media Literacy Bulletin Issue 34

Relevant links:

Finding out about Social Media (Workshop)

A Social Media workshop is being held as part of the Talks and Tours programme at the University of Ulster in Coleraine on Saturday 17th July.  It is being delivered by Anne Peoples, a guest blogger on this site and author of the popular “Crossing the Digital Divide – a basic kit for the adult learner” blog post.

The event is open to anyone and will focus on personal use of Social Media, including for independent learning.  Here are the full details:

Title: Finding out about Social Media

Date: Saturday 17th July

Time: 10.30am to 1.30pm

Location: Learning Resource Centre, University of Ulster Coleraine Campus

Description: This participatory presentation will help anyone who feels that they are getting left behind in today’s digital world to enhance their knowledge about the most popular social media tools and technologies and their use. There will be an opportunity to sample some of them online. Participants will learn about reading and writing blogs, using Facebook, Skype and Twitter, photosharing on Flickr and picasa, learning online with podcasts and YouTube, getting organized with iGoogle, bookmarks and rSS feeds, and also about managing privacy and security online.

Enrolment Fee: adults £10, students, jobseekers and under 18s £7

About Anne Peoples: Anne is a tutor in Library and Information Management at the University of Ulster. She delivers workshops on Social Media for personal learning and professional development.

Find out more: further information is available from Janet Mackle 028 7032 4683 (Talks and Tours)

If Social Media is something that interests you then this is a great opportunity to learn more.

Bridge the digital divide for free

The Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey, has announced the introduction of free ICT classes for anyone wishing to improve their computer skills.

The classes are at an entry level and will be free of charge to anyone in Northern Ireland from 1 August 2010.  They will be provided by the Further Education sector and will allow learners over the age of 16 to access a suite of accredited ICT courses.

The Minister said:

The introduction of free Entry Level ICT classes means that anyone can improve their computer literacy. Those who have previously felt isolated by a lack of computer skills will now be given the opportunity to join classes at their local college which will open up a new world of learning.

This is a welcome move forward and one that will help many people get online and start their digital learning journey.  So please, pass the word along.

Adult Learners’ Week 2010 and Silver Surfers’ Day begins

The Adult Learners’ Week 2010 campaign begins tomorrow.  It’s aim is to encourage adults, of any age and background, to give learning a go. EGSA has supported this campaign for many years and we are continuing to do so by compiling a guide to local NI events on our website.

An important part of ALW 2010 is Silver Surfers’ Day (SSD) on the 21st May.  It’s a national day that focuses on helping those over 50 get online.  SSD receives national publicity with just yesterday Terry Wogan speaking on the benefits of surfing the net on BBC breakfast news. Digital Unite coordinates the event and has set-up two websites to support it:

Locally, SSD is supported by Department of Finance and Personnel and Business in the Community – learn more here. It’s primarily driven by volunteers in libraries across Northern Ireland, and consists of fun taster sessions on the internet, e-mail, online banking, shopping and much more.  See EGSA’s SSD page for a list of events.

CROSSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: a basic kit for the adult learner

EGSA would like to introduce the Media Literacy blog’s first guest blogger: Anne Peoples, University of Ulster:


Now seems a good moment to reconsider the Digital Divide and how to equip adult learners to get across it.  We’re led to believe that the Divide is geographical and/ or generational but is this really the case?

Helene Blowers has identified the new Digital Divide (Reality Check 2.010), as one between those with the skills to find and use information and those without.  Among some of the skills she highlights are:

  • Knowing how to “think” about search
  • Knowing how to validate soft information
  • Knowing how to get information to travel to you instead of chasing it
  • Knowing where to find information in new “hot” channels

These skills are neither intuitive nor acquired by osmosis.  Their acquisition is critical to successful learning but they are undervalued and frequently ignored by teachers and students. Mark Moran in a recent posting highlighted growing concerns about children’s information illiteracy, indicating that so-called digital natives have in fact very limited information skills at their disposal.  What hope then for the adult learner’s information literacy skills in the digital age?

Social media can provide a solution and it is worth investing time to put together a learning toolkit, to support a personal learning environment that is fit for purpose.

So how to go about this?  These are my top 10 recommendations to include in a study skills programme for adult learners.  All are free.

  1. Learn about different tools.  Follow one of the many 23 Things courses independently.
  2. Use the online reference resources provided by Libraries NI, or any public library. Library members can access these from home.
  3. Improve search skills and don’t stick to Google. YouTube is the second biggest search engine, offering a vast array of tutorials and lectures on video.  Slideshare is also a useful source for unique content, as are Facebook’s Groups and Pages.
  4. Storing and keeping track of useful web pages is made much easier with Delicious, the social bookmarking site.  Delicious is also a useful search tool in itself.
  5. Personal start pages are a great way for individuals to access their most used social media tools and sites in one place. Try iGoogle  or Netvibes
  6. Get a Google account.  Access books and articles online on Google Books and Google Scholar.  Travel the world on Google Earth and Google Images
  7. Access educational content from universities, broadcasters, museums and individuals on iTunesU, by downloading podcasts from iTunes and check out free course material from Open Courseware and the OU’s OpenLearn .
  8. Read and follow relevant blogs. Subscribe by e-mail or via an RSS feed like Google Reader.
  9. Blogging reinforces learning and focuses thinking.  A private learning blog can record individual learning progress and form the basis of an e-portfolio.  Blogger is easy to set up and use.
  10. Filter information and cut out the timewasting sites. Use De Montfort University’s Information Source Evaluation Matrix, developed as a self-help evaluation tool for students to assess the quality of websites.

Learn how to use these tools and resources and the adult learner will be across the Digital Divide in no time

Anne Peoples


Profile: Anne Peoples has many years experience as a senior manager in public libraries in Northern Ireland, and is a Fellow of CILIP. Anne is currently a tutor in Library and Information Management at the University of Ulster, and jointly co-ordinates the modules on Improving Library Practice and Leadership in Libraries. She develops and delivers introductory courses on Web 2.0 to adult groups and at present is working with her local University of the Third Age. In 2008 she was appointed as a Trustee of the National Museums of Northern Ireland. She uses social media on a daily basis for her personal learning and professional development.