Last week I attended the Scottish Government’s Digital Participation Advisory Group at Holyrood. The Group advises the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop who chairs the group. I was there as part of a mini delegation (well there were 3 of us, Bill Johnston, John Crawford and me) from the Information Skills for a 21st Century Scotland Community of Practice.
We were fortunate to have been allocated quite a bit of the meeting to discuss information and digital literacy and the potential for closer links between this Advisory Group and the CoP. You can read our briefing paper Scotland’s Information Culture briefing paper (feel free to add any comments too).
There were a number of updates from other projects including the Let’s Get On campaign which has been traveling the length and breadth of the country and encouraging people to get online. Whilst listening to the update from the Wheatley Group on their pilot project offering low cost broad band access to their tenants in a Kirkton project in Glasgow.
The findings of the evaluation are showing that if you provide low cost access and in some cases devices, people will go online and start reaping benefits. These include saving money in taxi bills by doing online grocery shopping and using comparison websites. The requirement for online searching as part of job seekers allowance is also more easily fulfilled.
I was humbled whilst listening to the difference having access to a reliable and low cost wireless connection can make to peoples lives. I was reminded just how privileged a life I lead. Wifi is ubiquitous in my life, both at home and work. I don’t have to make a choice about eating or getting online. Comparison websites are more a game than a necessity for me.
It seems though, that there is still a disconnect between interactions with other key public services. The next steps are to explore that more fully. It might be due to the fact that many government services aren’t fully useable with mobile devices.
So whilst it is great to see these initiatives and the confidence and opportunities they are bringing people (particularly children who in the project come out as very much being digital champions) there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of sustaining greater digital participation and the developing of peoples confidence and ergo their digital capabilities.
Digital participation is where Universities can play a pivotal role in the digital agenda. Particularly a university like my own, GCU, whose mission is “for the common good” or as it was originally stated ‘the common weal”. We should be a key part or digital hub if you like, looking for more ways to link initiatives like the ones mentioned above with our own work in widening participation for example the Caledonian Club and GCU College Connect far deeper into our formal and informal curriculum.
Last year I proposed this model of engagement for us, pitching us as a digital agora, or hub
In the week when UNESCO released its Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Good? report, embracing digital participation could be a crucial way forward for all of us.
I’ll be exploring the understandings of the digital university later this week at the EDEN conference where I look forward to extending this discussion more.