Digital Inclusion; Concepts & Issues January 2012
Introduction; In January 2012 I am taking part in two events relating to Digital Inclusion. A TEL Conference at Sheffield Hallam University run by Professor Jane Seale, building on her recent research review, and a Curated Conversation where we try and tease out possible policy outcomes. Consequently I am writing two blog posts on digital inclusion, firstly looking at concepts and ideas, secondly looking at practicalities and ways forward.
Background; Much of the writing on this blog, and the ideas that they try to express, derive from work concerning Digital Inclusion that I have carried out in various ways during the past ten years. As I mentioned in an earlier post I taught a Unit called Information, Technology & Society in the 80s/90s in which I developed an approach to technology and social change between 1770 & 2020 called NSU; networks, services and users. For the past twenty years I have been thinking about what the lineaments of a networked digital society might look like. In 1989 I recorded my thoughts on how 2021 might be outlined using NSU thinking, and I haven’t really changed my mind since. As a consequence I have engaged directly with various forms of technologically-driven social change since around 1995; usually to do with education but often to do with citizenship. In both of these scenarios, and especially in the social contexts we operate in as citizens, Digital Inclusion has been a key issue for me.
TEL 2012; With the TEL conference on Digital Inclusion being held in Sheffield Hallam University, followed by a Curated Conversation on Digital Inclusion to look at related policy issues, I thought I would write two posts. This first one on concepts and issues identifying my underlying thinking, and a second one next week on practicalities and policies reporting back on this weeks events. Having thought about and worked on Digital Inclusion for some years I have come to some pretty radical conclusions. This is in part because I keep thinking “how will this play out in 2021” – that is how can we create a digitally inclusive future – whereas most research and policy work is about “how can we compensate for the inequalities of the past”. Well you can’t compensate for the inequalities of the past, you have to design a different future! So I will first try and answer the question “well, how did I get here?” whilst also doing some future-gazing.
Social Inclusion; Inclusion can be defined in various ways but essentially it is about setting up processes that are designed to include people back into something from which they have previously been excluded. In a sense all types of inclusion concern social inclusion because, for various reasons and in various ways, people have been excluded from something and when that exclusion impacts on their status, privileges or rights, then, in a democracy, that needs to be addressed socially. So for me discussing digital inclusion is always about discussing social inclusion. And in discussing it I mean actively addressing it not just passively measuring it. In 2001 Tim Rudd, Alan Clarke (NIACE) and myself wrote a paper for a Becta Conference on the Digital Divide, sponsored by Toshiba, which we called “Toward a Digital Divide Metric”. We all felt that the Digital Divide was a term whose use had grown up quickly post-Web (and which to some extent Web2 in part might have been a solution) but hadn’t been usefully defined, let alone seen as a dynamic and ever-changing issue. To their credit ORACLE wanted to sponsor work on this, through their CSR, but by time they were ready to talk in 2003 (which I should have built upon) I had a better idea; let’s define solutions not problems! Ever since I have wanted to be in the solution-space not the problem-space where social inclusion is concerned.
Getting ahead of Technology-Push; Having started back in 1989 with a conceptual view of what a society shaped by new digital networks might look like in the future, my interpretive framework ever since has been forward-facing and culturally-grounded, whereas many commentators have been trapped in an analytical approach based on a technology-push model. “Oh wow, here is this completely unpredictable technology and it will change everything we do”; well perhaps, maybe, yeah. One way of moving beyond a deterministic technology-push views of social change, which can only ever be reactive, is to use a longer run conceptual model, like NSU, to create interpretive, or even development, frameworks through which the impact of new technology can be viewed. Of course not all new technologies fit into pre-existing interpretive frameworks. As I said in Untangling the Web “technologies don’t change society, they create first-order effects”. It is what users do with technologies, particularly cumulatively as well as the cumulative effects of multiple technology change, like Web 2.0, which changes society, and we need to respond to these changes and how we view them if we want to be socially inclusive in our actions and behaviours.
Frameworks anticipating technology-push; So how might we create future-facing and interpretive frameworks which helps us get ahead of technology-push? Well, in part, that is what this blog is about and will continue to address. Since 2002, when I was asked to develop a Digital Divide Content strategy for the DfES and I realised, thanks to the research work of LTRI and my fellow community learning collaborators, that the Digital Divide isn’t solved by simply accessing the right content, I have been looking at broader issues relating to context. One of our first findings was that we need to develop content-creation tools (such as Bernie Dodge’s WebQuests) so that trusted intermediaries can create resources that are fit for context. Digital inclusion can be addressed by creating the right context-responsive tools; we need tools that are enabling not distancing. However addressing this is more complex than we first thought and we have developed that initial research and it finding in five differing ways;
i) Community Development Model of Learning; where we took the lessons of the LTRI research and tried to develop a tool kit, or sorts. The socially-excluded weren’t evil-shirkers who avoided learning they just didn’t understand how curriculum-driven achievement-oriented learning worked. They wanted interest-driven learning that served a purpose in the context in which they lived; we called it a community-responsive curriculum. We think that you can design for that using both new technology and new conceptual models which we have tried to provide.
ii) Open Context Model of Learning; A key way that our thinking became post “technology-push” was the work we did on the Open Context Model of Learning. As a group of people who had developed a social network for learning and had it rejected in 2003 we realised we need to re-conceptualise how learning in a socially-networked “open” world might exist. We needed a model of learning that could work in multiple contexts not just in existing institutions, and also we needed to make sure that it wasn’t defined by technology use. To that end we developed the PAH Continuum in which we redefined a teacher as a professional who enabled learning in others. Thomas Cochrane aligned this with the concept of teaching as being organised around an intentional Community of Practice who purposefully worked together to transform teaching.
iii) Architecture of Participation; participatory and inclusive processes just don’t develop in hierarchical institutions, organisations need to develop adaptive qualities so that they can respond to and enable new forms of engagement. Universities are spectacularly bad at this and education systems are designed to recreate hierarchies. We need to learn how to design “Adaptive Institutions working across Collaborative Networks” at the organisation level if we want inclusion to be built into our institutions.
iv) Emergent Learning Model; We also found that once our thinking about learning embraces a post-curriculum model and engages with post-institutional context then it allows emergence to appear as we can focus on the social processes of learning. This then allows us to design education systems in completely differently and to design in digital, and social, inclusion from the very outset. The projects Ambient Learning City and WikiQuals are testing out the new possibilities offered by emergent thinkin; see the #mosialong Aggregate then Curate model for example.
v) Digital Practitioner; Recent work (2011) on the digital practice of teachers in FE Colleges, captured in this presentation, has revealed both teachers’ practical curiosity at how digital technologies might be used to support their practice and the learning it engenders, and the link between personal use of new technology and their own professional development. It seems that in 2012 social changes in the use of technology for personal use are now as likely to drive changes in teaching practice as formal staff development, or Initial Teacher Training.
Inclusion, social inclusion, digital inclusion, digital identity; I have further points to make on differing between modes of inclusion today as we are moving into a phase when our Digital Identities become increasingly a key part of our public persona in society but I will pick up issues to do with Digital Identity in another post. Suffice to say that digital identity is the next critical domain in which issues of digital inclusion will play out, as our effectiveness in society will depend on having effective digital identities which we can make secure from identity theft.
What is Digital Inclusion; So to define digital inclusion then, for me, requires us from the very outset to look at the nature of the emerging networked digital society around us and to decide on how we can design the social processes, institutions and technology uses that enable us to define our future through the emergent use of enabling technologies. In this way we will be designing digital inclusion into the society we are building, rather than examining why digital exclusion is rampant and why every new bit of kit creates a new problem to be addressed as a part of an ever-changing, and increasing digital divide.
Digital Inclusion Practicalities and Policy; I will examine more practical issues of how we might achieve this, rather than these more conceptual ones, in more detail next week, also in the context of the issues that concern this blog (open, context, participation). However I would commend Jane Seale’s recent TEL research publication on “What next for Digital Inclusion” as a starting point for framing how we might addressing digital inclusion practically. In this she helpfully clarifies three key challenges, which we need to address as we move forward in 2012.;
Digital Inclusion Challenge 1: The Transformation of technologies How can we design and develop new technologies to help excluded learners?
In this context I think the NSU model is really helpful ; I also think we need to write a constitution for the society we want to build as I describe in Homi & the NEXT One.
Digital Inclusion Challenge 2 : The Transformation of learning how can technologies be used to transform the learning experiences and outcomes of excluded learners?
I think the Emergent Learning Model provides a way of transforming learning, and helps us identify the new problems we need to solve.
Digital Inclusion Challenge 3: Transformation of teaching how can technologies be used to transform inclusive teaching practices?
I think the PAH Continuum (and the Craft of Teaching) have ideas on this, Thomas Cochrane’s Intentional CPD and the related issues of professional development we have been discussing in the Digital Practitioner.
I look forward to how this debate can be developed and expanded this week and will report back on our discussion next week.