Friday, 25 January 2013

Bright brand new week for City of Culture 2013 Derry~Londonderry

After the brilliant ‘Sons and Daughters’ Concert in Ebrington at the weekend, marking the beginning of this year's UK City of Culture 2013, where stars of stage and screen with links to Derry city, who have gone on to achieve international acclaim, came together to perform, we’re planning to get our Mums & Dads, Uncles and Aunts, Grandparents etc to come together to share their learning about the benefits of using computers and internet.  We hope that if they are asked at the end of next year if they feel digitally included, they will all be able to ‘Just Say Yes’ as well.  It’s more than a ‘Bright Brand New Day’ for the city, it’s a Bright Brand New Year for the whole of Northern Ireland, to show of the richness and diversity of talents and culture, making all visitors feel very welcome and wanting to come back to explore more.

This week I’ve been following up meetings and arranging new ones to help raise awareness of the Programme and forwarding contact information about the community groups we are working with, promoting new courses and opportunties. 

I’ve also been contacting all of our groups to confirm dates and times of courses for the New Year so that BT Digital Champions know when they're needed to volunteer their skills and expertise.

I’ve also held a train the trainer session in Enniskillen on Wednesday evening, where 5 very enthusiastic community volunteers in Cavanaleck have been trained to deliver our introductory IT sessions. They’ve even identified their first two classes, working with a women’s group and a group of young people. It’s looking like we’re going to have loads more people feeling digitally included over the next few months, if everything goes according to plan. 

Another two community connections award applications for free broadband has been submitted and I’m just about to go to another group in Upperlands, Maghera, who’ve been successful in their award to see if there is any other support that I can offer them in helping set up their internet cafe eg providing teaching resources for new learners etc.  I’ll let you know how I get on later!

High points from last week in N. Ireland

Last week ended on a high point, quite literally, with a meeting in the Rowan Tree Centre in Pomeroy – the highest village in Northern Ireland. I was there for it’s first drop of the white stuff for 2013 and luckily I was still able to get back home safe and sound. It summarised how the rest of the week had been – with useful meetings with CENI, Volunteer Now, Mid Ulster Seniors Network and Libraries NI, Ignite IT and Make IT Green to discuss possible opportunities for working collaboratively. Chris also came over on Wednesday and we had a very positive meeting with Livenet, sharing their experiences of their ICT programmes for people with learning difficulties and their carers and how the BT Connected Communities could help support them. We also took advantage of Chris being here and arranged a meeting with BT to discuss progress of the project to date and opportunities for the way forward eg the success of the celebration event in December and Portrait of a city project. More updates to follow.



Wednesday, 9 January 2013

If the mountain won't come to Mohammed......

 I live in a fairly remote Highland glen and, in my role as Get IT Together Project Coordinator, I cover a large part of the West Highlands of Scotland – specifically Skye, Wester Ross and Lochaber – which is stunningly beautiful.  If you enjoy the outdoors and all things wild and wonderful, then there is no better place to be in my opinion (see my colleague Irene's Blog for her regular pitch for North West Sutherland being the best!)

Whilst the views are spectacular, there are a few logistical issues – the mountains tend to get in the way of mobile phone signals, and they are also pretty expensive to run fibre optic cable over or around – hence the fact that much of my area has patchy 2G signal at best (all of those TV reports showing how much faster you can download a movie on 4G than 3G were slightly irritating to watch – do they even remember 2G?) and many communities have current download speeds of around 0.2Mbps – that’s essentially “dial up” speed for those of you who have moved on to bigger and better things.

However, we love where we live, and many people are prepared to get stuck in and build the infrastructure required to be part of the digital world.  Some of the communities I work with have accepted that it will never be commercially viable for one of the big internet service providers to connect them to broadband of any speed, so they are doing it themselves. The communities of Knoydart, the Small Isles, and Applecross are now all receiving broadband as a result of their community drive, determination and hard graft.  Take a look at the HUBS and Tegola project website to get an in depth view of what has been involved in them setting up and maintaining their own broadband service – or if you are short of time, just watch the video below for a taste of what is possible - be inspired!

Monday, 7 January 2013

What's your New Year's resolution?

It’s an exciting time of year for digital inclusion projects, as lots of people will have received their first laptop, smart phone, iPad or similar for Christmas and will now be looking for advice and inspiration to get online and make the most of their new gadget.  Judging by the increased activity flowing into my Twitter account, people, who have been online for a bit longer, have made New Year’s resolutions to Tweet more, or start blogging, or join an online weight loss/fitness community.

I was especially excited to hear that one of my learners, who came along to several drop-in sessions on the Isle of Skye last year, has now got a brand new desktop PC in her sitting room.   Just a few months ago, she was what I refer to as a “never ever” – she had never touched a computer, and didn’t think she ever would.  What makes it even more special is that she has macular degeneration which affects her central vision, and is registered blind.  It was a challenge for both of us to get her started as her vision is quite limited.  Usually it is the person teaching that needs to have patience, but in this case I have to give the credit to her for being patient with me while I constantly messed around with the “accessibility” settings to find the best option for her visual impairment.   (How anyone who actually needs to use the accessibility settings on a device manages to navigate through the options is a mystery to me as they are a minefield of technical choices which are even trickier to reverse!)

Once we had the big screen at the correct resolution and contrast, we were off and running and she had a whole list of things she wanted to search for.  She was quick to develop her mouse skills, and we used a keyboard with high contrast stickers on the keys that made a huge difference – she now has them on her home computer (available from the RNIB if you know someone who might find them useful).  She has great support from her family who are delighted that she is developing new interests.  They are helping her to use Skype to speak to family further away, and she is building a digital library of audio books.

It has been a real motivation to start off the New Year with news of the positive impact that introducing someone to technology can have – I’m not an expert in assisting blind people to get online, but I had a go, and we worked together to find the right solutions.  If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, then make your resolution to help someone get online – it’s a lot more fun, and far more rewarding, than giving up chocolate!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Offline parents disadvantaged by online school application process

As Christmas approached, I should have be wrapping my lastfew presents, sitting by the fire eating mince pies or singing Christmascarols. Instead, I was working on my daughter’s primary school applicationform. It’s been playing on my mind and we had a reminder through the post, so Idecided to it in before Christmas.
However, and this is why I’m blogging now... the further Iget through the process, the more difficult it seems to be for off-lineparents. Here’s my experience and thoughts on the process, please let us knowyour experiences in other local authority areas.

The letter telling me to choose schools for my daughter camethrough at the end of October. I opened it and the letter stated that thepreferred option was to submit online. “Great”, I thought, as an online parent thisshould be easy.... I logged on straight away to the website but couldn’t findthe link to the application form anywhere. Undeterred, I sent an email to thecontact address asking for the link. The response? - The online form wasn’tgoing to be available until 1st November. Rubbish.

I decided to visit some local schools then try again withthe online system. How do I find my local schools? Those with access to theinternet can type their postcode into the Ofsted website, as I did, and immediately find links to their nearest schools, theOfsted reports, school websites and often the school’s online prospectus. Thosewithout the internet have nothing – not even a list of their nearest schools inthe letter from the local authority.

When I visited the schools the differences were amazing.Only 2 of the 4 schools were able to provide me with paper copies of theprospectus. The others directed me – yes, you’ve guessed it! Back online. Yetagain, offline parents are being denied access to information that would helpthem decide on the best school for their child.

Back online, I decided to try to submit the application. Havingstruggled through the form and clicked through the pages to select the school Iwanted, I found that I could write up to 3000 words to support my choice ofschool for each school. I managed to type up a few notes for my first choice ofschool and then had to log out to go and collect my daughter from nursery. WhenI returned, it had lost all my notes and choice of school and I had to startagain.

Safe to say, I was truly fed up by now and that’s probablywhy I’ve left it until now to try again to resubmit. This time, I’ve typed mysupporting statements in Word and copied and pasted them in. However, while Iwas doing this, I noticed another difference. The paper form has only 1 smallbox to justify choosing a particular school (see photo). No chance of getting3000 words in there!

There’s no referenceanywhere in the letter to being able to attach a supporting letter for eachschool or a mention of the 3000 word submission online parents get to make.

There are also guidance notes on school admissions that theletter says must be read beforesubmitting a form - obviously only available online. If you want a paper copysent to you then you have to submit an A4 envelope with £2.50 postage on thefront – sounds a bit ‘Blue Peter’ like to me.

Overall I’ve found that the process disadvantages off-line parentsat every turn: Finding your local schools, evaluating their merits, statingyour preferences and supporting your child’s application to get into a good schoolall favour those online.

However, to finish on a positive, I’ve found there is asupport service in Gloucestershire that offers help to parents when choosingschools. I only found the details on the internet but will be contacting thelocal authority to suggest they include the charity details in the letters infuture. That way at least offline parents will get a bit of help.

I can only comment about the process in my local authorityarea, but perhaps you could let me know if other areas are better.