Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Risk management and risk aversion: widening or reducing the digital divide?

I attended the ALT-C 2008 conference at Leeds. See: The theme is re-thinking the digital divide; and whilst this is not a disability specific theme, I am naturally interested in attending those sessions that specifically talk about disabled learners and disadvantaged groups. Here I will reflect on the presentation I attended during day one of the conference (Tuesday).

Roy Smith: How is technology connecting with disadvantaged groups?

Roys' talk was focusing on individuals with little or no I.T skills and microbusinesses with less than 5 staff. Focusing on microbusinesses first he described an EQUAL Project called E-Learn2work, which was looking at reducing barriers in 5 business sectors. I was struck by the finding that "natural networks" played an important role, in that the project learnt to use the natural social networks that individuals within businesses to provide evidence and support for undertaking e-learning in the workplace. This resonates with the LEXDIS project that I am involved with, where disabled learners express a strong preference for getting help and support from friends and family; and also the Concepts of Access Project where access for people with learning disabilities can be facilitated by natural supports (e.g work colleagues). But my ears also pricked up when Roy talked about health and safety issues being a real barrier in terms of where a PC can be located in a small business. Top down risk management or risk aversion policies, which are very often wrapped up in health and safety policy frequently present access barriers that might (and I stress might, because I don't really believe the hype) protect certain people from insurance claims; but it's a kind of protection that acts as a straight-jacket rather than a safety blanket.

David Kay; Seb Schmoller and Kevin Donovan: Is connectivity connecting?

David talked about four e-inclusion projects that he, Seb and Kevin had been evaluators for. He talked about the dilemma for those who work with specialist groups e..g Autism; looked after children. These are specialised fields, required personalised learning. But it means that practitioners working in these fields are isolated. e.g Those working in the field of autishm, don't learn with and from those working with looked after children. They are therefore isolated, and lack the critical mass to get anything done ; solve systemic problems and access value-added funding. David described how the "camel" methodology has been used to therefore bring these specialist groups together. Again; the importance of social networking is reflected in these experiences. Again, my ears pricks up when David described one project working with deeprived teenagers where they were issued with laptops. He talked about how with entitlement, you need to take risks and have trust i.e not assume that the young people would automatically sell their laptop on the bus, if you give them one. In one sense, the demonstration of trust could be as empowering as having access to a laptop.

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