Digital Inclusion & Policy
Overview; I previously promised to write a blog post on the practicalities and way forward relating to Digital Inclusion based on upcoming events. The Curated Conversation on Digital Inclusion and, subsequently a workshop on Social Digital Research organised by UK Online Centres and held as part of Dr. Ellen Helsper’s work relating to Media Policy at the LSE. This post will pick up on some of the issues raised partly to promote awareness on Digital Day in Adult Learners Week, partly to highlight issues that a networked digital society might have to address.
At TEL (the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme) we have been experimenting with fresh ways of developing research-driven policy recommendations. We had tried out a series of “curated conversations” on innovation during Autumn 2011 held at the BIS Innovation Space hosted by Annabelle Simmons. They had been on Education Innovation, on Technology Innovation and on Social Innovation for a Network Society. So when Professor Jane Seale organised a research workshop for TEL on Digital Inclusion it seemed logical to hold a curated conversation, which lasts just one hour, at the end of that day.
Curated conversations had three initials inspirations. Firstly they were inspired by the collegiality of the interdisciplinary conversations that characterised the RSA Tavern Room in the eighteenth century and which pre-figured and, in part, shaped the industrial revolution. Secondly Professor Theodore Zeldin has been using a curated conversation over dinner as part of a project to stimulate engagement in deprived communities during the recession. Thirdly, and most importantly, they were inspired by Ewan MacIntosh’s development of TeachMeets five years ago as a form of condensed self-organised professional development for teachers lasting just one hour. Professor Richard Noss of the London Knowledge Lab and I had wanted to create a form of “ResearchMeet” where we could cover a wide range of concepts and discuss them in a very condensed form and produce policy recommendations as a result.
Jane Seale had just published a new pamphlet asking “What next for Digital Inclusion?”, reflecting what we had learnt about Digital Inclusion on TEL. This formed the basis for the Research Workshop, and she had highlighted three themes that needed to which set up our policy challenges; transforming technology, transforming learning and transforming teaching. These transformational challenges framed our curated conversation.
50 words from each participant are all you need for a curated conversation to work. So we asked each of our participants to summarise the one thing they thought we needed to do in order to achieve digital inclusion; more specific policy recommendations would emerge through the conversation, that is how it works. The twelve contributions revealed three shared themes to discuss;
- Ease of Technology Use
- Access and definitions
- Not just Digital Inclusion
Which then lead into us into a discussion on the social transformations that policy would have to address given Jane Seale’s three transformation challenges.
Ease of technology use was clarified by Simon Jones from CISCO who pointed out that tech companies work to Moore’s Law of a doubling of capability every eighteen months so, as technology transformation is an ongoing driver the issues were more to do with “re-designing information pathways” and enabling open innovation. The BBC suggested that the interactivity that modern learning now requires is best accessed online, perhaps suggesting that the digital realm itself is inherently inclusive. John Popham meanwhile demonstrated his argument about making technology use fun practically by showing a short BBC film about Twicket using rural broadband.
Access and definitions quickly coalesced around Barry Philips notion that we should talk about digital “technologies for life” and Jane Seale’s argument that digital technologies represent ubiquitous “technologies for humanity”. These definitions re-characterised digital inclusion positively in light of the *emerging characteristics of networked society* and this phase of discussion resonated strongly throughout the group, but James Wallbank of Access Space cautioned that context and support are critical enabling factors that need be considered and planned for.
Not just digital inclusion expanded the point about needing information pathways by highlighting that we have “multi-faceted information needs” that need to be relevant and engaged with in a supportive context, and this process generates entitlements and responsibilities. Ronan O’Beirne sees distinguishing between agency & structures enabling policy recommendations to be developed, whereas David Dickinson of Unlike Minds sees “well-being” as a more useful criterion for broadening out digital inclusion issues in society.
The debate on social transformations suggested that we’ve moved beyond information being something you looked up in a library to a focus on *multi-faceted information needs* in a *digitally driven society*. There are kaleidoscopic variations in need which are determined by individual relevance. Cristina Costa argued that inclusion needs to embrace diversity and enable individual passions to determine what talents we express and which skills we need to learn. However diversity requires *trust* in “structures” and trust, in policy terms, cannot be achieved easily within a target-driven policy culture. If Digital Inclusion requires social transformations in order to enable access to technologies for life, then we also need to rethink how we develop policy around these formulations.
Our policy discussions concluded that “making personal sense of information is the real inclusion issue”. We identified three ways of achieving this through the policy challenges that we were addressing and which reflect three evolving patterns of transformation;
1 Technology evolves anyway so we need to create new relationships with users (citizens) based on “participatory design on open platforms”
2 Learning evolves anayway so in an era of “flipped curriculums” like the Khan Academy we should enable “passion driven inclusive pedagogies” to characterise technology use. This might be, for example like Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organised Learning Environments, almost the polar opposite of a top-down National Curriculum.
3 Fun; technology should be chosen for the quality of fun that it enables and teachers should be allowed to express their curiosity and discover how to co-create new personal learning pathways with the learners that they are working with.
Agile policy development, as suggested by Catherine Howe (LSE) in an earlier curated conversation, may be one way of achieving these kind of policy transformations that reflect the ever-increasing diversity of a networked society. We now live in a more agile world in which we need to learn how to grow an Internet of People, as Ben Hammersley names it, that can “access the necessary tools they need to express their humanity“. As Ben Hammersley puts it we need to grow away from hierarchies and grow into networks and governments and policy need to make that transition urgently. This curated conversation suggests that addressing digital inclusion through fun, entitlement and diversity may help build an inclusive Internet of People.
Thanks to all those people who took part; Richard Noss, Jane Seale, Simon Jones, James Wallbank, Jenny Chapman (BBC), John Popham, Cristina Costa (Salford), David Dickinson, Ronan O’Beirne, Barry Philips, Seb Schmoller.