I, Daniel Blake – and the problem of digital exclusion

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I wrote an article over a year ago about my frustrations in trying to help a young mother, whose child was just starting school and who was keen to start work, to get online for Universal Jobmatch. If you are in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance you must demonstrate that you are actively looking for work. The preferred method is for individuals to use the Universal Jobmatch website which can track your activity.

The system and the website for this are almost impenetrable – even to a regular user of the internet. The Universal Jobmatch website and system appear not to have changed for some years now where the internet has moved on. Many jobseekers will have a smartphone but not a PC and yet the website is not available as an app nor is it mobile friendly.

There is nothing about the current system that makes it simple for people to look for work. The cynic in me feels that this is almost deliberate.

This weekend Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake was released. I went to see it yesterday. It made me extremely angry. At our community project Space4, where I regularly offer IT support, I meet people all the time that are struggling to create a CV or register with universal jobmatch. Most of the time these people have never used the internet, few have an email address and many can’t use Google or Microsoft Word.

This issue is highlighted very well in the film as Daniel is shown how to use a mouse for the first time:

He then later on visits a library where there is free access to the internet but he has to rely on the people around him for help before his session time runs out. He is unable to complete the form he needs to complete to make an appeal against his benefits decision.

put-the-mouse-on-the-screen

Daniel is asked to put the mouse on the screen – and so he does.

The thing that is making me so angry about this is that this is not something it would be costly to change or do something about. Some government websites are very well designed, such as NHS Choices and the Vehicle Taxing Service, why is the Universal Jobmatch site still stuck in the internet of 10 years ago? Given the early deaths caused by benefits sanctions one would think that making the job search easier to do online might be a health issue as well. After all, we know how frustrating trying to get something done online can be – when it’s a matter of literally whether you’re going to get food this week it is even worse.

I would suggest that the following needs to happen:

  • make the Universal Jobmatch website mobile friendly
  • make the registration process simpler. Forget ‘government gateway’ etc. Make it that you can register with details provided by the Job Centre in a letter. Just in the same way as I can renew my road tax on my vehicle easily online, look how clear this webform is:road-tax
  • Make a free app available for tablets and smartphones
  • Change the language to make it understandable. Here is an extract from the current ‘help’ page on Universal Jobmatch: “The Universal Jobmatch website is run by Monster Worldwide LTD (*monster*) on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).This page explains the Password and User ID Reset Process, for when you have lost both your User ID and Password.Password and User ID Reset Process

    By carrying out this process correctly, you will be able to log back into your Universal Jobmatch account without changing your email address.” – does that make sense? No, especially not to someone who has never used the internet before.

Is there any good reason why this can’t be done, and immediately?

Other press articles

This week, I Daniel Blake has very much been in the news and the subject of much commentary. Here are some related articles that are worth reading:

Of course Toby Young understands what life is like on benefits – he knows what ‘rings true’ – Mark Steel in the Independent

I am Daniel Blake – and there are millions more like me – Jack Monroe in the Guardian

Benefit sanctions forcing people to use food banks, study confirms – The Guardian

We, Daniel Blake: readers on the UK benefits system – stories from Guardian readers on their experience of the benefits system

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Going back to teaching facts is like getting us all to memorise phone numbers again!

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I was rather disturbed by the announcements from Michael Gove last week about changes to the school curriculum:

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants more “facts” in England’s national curriculum, as he launches a review of what children are taught.

Mr Gove told the BBC there was currently too much focus on teaching methods and not enough on content. – BBC news

The first thing it made me think of was Sugata Mitra‘s experiments at a school in Gateshead, where he left a group of 11 year olds with 6 GCSE questions to answer armed only with an internet connection. The group that were the slowest to get all 6 answers right took only 45 minutes! Professor Mitra’s point is, if a group of four 11 year olds can get the answers to GCSE questions right in 45 minutes – what should we be teaching our children?

Any of us can find out facts at the click of a button. If I can’t remember when Anne Boleyn was beheaded, a quick Google search will tell me in seconds. So why is Michael Gove saying that teachers should focus more on imparting facts?

When I was younger, I used to know everyone’s phone numbers by heart. This was in the days before caller ID and mobile phones. Funnily enough, I can still remember a lot of the numbers of my school friends. Nowadays, of course, I don’t need to know anyone’s number by heart as they are all stored in my mobile phone. It could be a slight inconvenience if my phone battery ran out and I couldn’t ring someone but this very rarely happens.

What Michael Gove is proposing is like saying we should all go back to memorising everyone’s phone numbers! There’s no point! What a waste of a teacher’s energy and a child’s for that matter.

One of the last things I did in my role at Lifelong Learning UK was commission a literature review into the pedagogic uses of technology in lifelong learning. The authors of this review stated:

learning content is not as important as knowing where or who to connect to to find it

With a world of information at our fingertips, what we need to be teaching children are the skills of enquiry, research and the ability to distinguish a good source of information from a poor one: what Howard Rheingold calls ‘crap detection‘!

I think Michael Gove should watch this video and think again:

And if he’s thinking about what kind of curriculum we might need in the 21st century, he’d do well to watch this talk from a primary school teacher based in Birmingham about the creative ways he lets children own their learning:

Or this excellent talk from the RSA on changing educational paradigms:

Learning 3.0 – join the collaboration experiment!

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As you may be aware, I am the Senior Policy Advisor for Technology Enhanced Learning at Lifelong Learning UK. Lifelong Learning UK is the sector skills council for learning professionals across the whole lifelong learning sector. We develop professional standards and qualification frameworks and advise on career pathways and workforce development for all people working in this sector.

In my role I’m becoming increasingly interested in the impact of new technologies on the nature of learning and on our learning institutions. We very rarely have an opportunity to take a step back and consider what is happening: how are new technologies changing our behaviour? What can we do to make us more effective as learners and teachers? What will our learning institutions and teaching workforce look like in the future?

I was really inspired by a Twitter project which created a book with tips for teachers – the book downloaded here.

This book was created by asking Twitter users the world over to use the ‘hashtag’ #movemeon to share hints and tips through Twitter.

I would like to try a similar experiment. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, many people are blogging about technology for learning, people are sharing ideas on Twitter and on social networking sites. I would like to invite you to help us gather some ideas on the changing nature of learning. There are three broad areas we are interested in:

  • the changing nature of pedagogy
  • the changing nature of work place learning
  • the changing nature of institutional learning (that is, learning that traditionally takes place in classrooms and lecture theatres)

How are the information age and the proliferation of new technologies changing the way we teach and learn?

What can be done or what is already working with regard to helping the lifelong learning workforce adapt to these changes?

You may submit thoughts, ideas, blogs and essays via Twitter using this hashtag:

#learning3

or by emailing learning3@lluk.org or by commenting on this blog in the comments section below.

I will collate all responses (all contributors will be acknowledged) and we will see if together we can create a publication which explores these themes and makes suggestions for the future. This project will help us to find out how truly collaborative the web can be!

Follow us on Twitter here: @ll_uk

Find out more about this experiment on the Lifelong Learning UK website: http://www.lluk.org/learning3.htm

And of course, I’ll be blogging the results of this experiment here!

Why archives can teach people useful digital skills

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I had a great chat with an archivist who works with English Heritage at the BETT show. I was asking her about the skills archivists need in making collections available to view online. We came to the conclusion that it does require a different skill-set from the traditional archive skills. For example, where an archivist might write a catalogue label for an archive they would probably use quite bald, technical language. This worked fine when it was always the archivist retrieving the information. Now, with the move to digitise archive collections and make them available to the public for free, a lot more thought needs to go into the catalogue label. How do the general public search for an image in an archive? Not necessarily like an archivist would!

Another point made was that the team that had put a photographic collection on the English Heritage website had to fight to change the historical classification of the images from very technical historical period names ‘early medieval’, ‘late medieval’, to simpler ‘Medieval’, ‘Tudor’, ‘Victorian’ ie. the historical periods people are familiar with. You can see in this extract from the excellent Heritage Explorer site how the archivists have presented their images to make it easy for teachers to use them:

Click on the image to visit the website

Note that the text shown in this image is very different from what an archivist would normally write in a catalogue.

Learning Point 1: archivists are having to think more carefully about their audience now that material is being shared more widely online. This means that they need to add to their traditional archivist skills the skills of communicating effectively online with different audiences.

We also discussed how helpful it is in teaching to have original primary sources which are easily accessible online to teachers and individuals. Indeed we realised that the skill of interpreting a primary source is such a useful skill and has a very obvious application to information retrieval and interpretation online.

Learning Point 2: teaching people through archives has the further benefit of teaching source retrieval and interpretation skills which are needed more than ever in the age of Google and Wikipedia.

What I’m not sure is if the archives sector have realised this link yet?