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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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!

Here be dragons

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I just wrote on my personal blog about a fantastic children’s book I just read: ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. I was really struck by a part where the Princesses Rhyme and Reason impart their wisdom to the boy Milo, and in particular, I felt that this quote here illustrates a little what it’s like to be exploring learning in a digital world:

“And remember, also,” added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, “that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But one day you’ll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”

I just thought I would share this here too. Sometimes I wonder if we’re ever going to work out how to learn and how to teach in the 21st century – but it can’t be that different from when the printing press was invented and shortly after the Reformation when suddenly people had books and books in their own language.

To make it more exciting, let’s imagine ourselves as intrepid explorers (I’m thinking like a child now, after reading that book, which is no bad thing I think) – going to the very edge of the map!

Here be dragons map