Cross Party Group on Digital Participation
Committee Room 1 – Wednesday 9 June 1800-2000
Convener Willie Coffey MSP opened the meeting and introduced the evenings’ speakers. He also thanked Learning and Teaching Scotland for their support for the evening’s meeting by way of providing the catering. He highlighted for interest a recent speech made by UK Minister Jeremy Hunt which members can find here:
Vicki Nash spoke about the announcements within the speech around Superfast Broadband and the identification of a role for both Government and communications providers in terms of rollout. Hunt is seeking to hold an industry group meeting on 15 July to look into matters surrounding Next Generation Networks. He was aiming to attract partners and organisations with the skills capabilities and assets to help deliver SFBB.(Please see below for further details)
Willie then welcomed Marie Dougan from Learning and Teaching Scotland.
Marie Dougan – Learning and Teaching Scotland
LTS is the non-departmental public body responsible for the Scottish curriculum and has the duty to review the curriculum. They provide advice, guidance and support for staff, assessment strategies and partner with the SQA and HMiE on assessment resources.
LTS takes a leading role with technology and technology use in the teaching sphere, providing learning resources some of which are not just available to schools, such as Scotland’s History and Scots in Canada.
Scotland’s GLOW network
The project is nearly 10 years old and began with a vision to link up all schools in Scotland. Now there are 3000 schools on board utilising GLOW for CPD, learning resources and support for the learning and teaching process. GLOW is a pioneering product which reaches 53 000 teachers and 750 000 students. It is intended that parents will also be able to log into GLOW at a future point, broadening the reach to 1.5 million people. GLOW essentially is a network; a series of tools for collaboration. It provides email, secure groups, a chat facility (moderated) and desktop videoconferencing. A recent re-procurement has seen improved bandwidth to schools to enable them to use GLOW more effectively. GLOW is about making technologies available appropriately. Users benefit from access to high quality resources the costs of which can be shared. Developments are planned for GLOW – simpler interfaces and introduction of new technologies and tools.
Another area of interest to LTS are Games and their potential for learning. This is done through LTS’s Consolarium – see http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/ictineducation/gamesbasedlearning/index.asp
This is based in Dundee, linking with the industry and University of Abertay. There are a number of key project s running at the moment including a version of Second Life within GLOW, CANVAS – a user led art showcase, historical recreations in partnership with Historic Scotland and TAP, a games design element.
Students access to devices is a crucial consideration going forward, the network needs to accept students own devices such as consoles, handhelds, phones etc. Changes are anticipated and LTS and GLOW needs to respond to new and emerging content and technologies.
In response to a question MD confirmed that LTS had been looking into firewalls and permissions at local authority levels to ensure equity of access. MD was asked if LTS were looking at set top boxes which could help alleviate issues with the costs of bandwidth especially in the instance that GLOW was opened to parents. MD said that LTS are looking at the next steps for GLOW and that they are about to embark on a national consultation and want to hear these sorts of ideas as part of that process. MD was asked about areas where broadband is not good or has limited bandwidth. She said that LTS has issued guidance for this situation and that LTS monitored availability which is always improving. All schools can access the main tools and services.
A comment came suggesting that the experience of GLOW can only ever be as good as the hardware at the user end. Another member questioned GLOW’s interface with other systems, outside schools. MD confirmed that one of her team seconded in from Local Authority IT in order to help with such issues. LTS are aware of interest from the private and FE sector to access the network and content. The decision on whether this should happenresides with Government. In terms of access for the voluntary sector, guest accounts could be set up and allocated. These scenarios are all part of the next stage for which planning is in train.. Library staff can probably already access GLOW as they are local authority employees, students and teachers can access anywhere with their individual log-ins. Training to support broader access has been undertaken in some areas with parents invited to evenings at their child’s school, video demos, Q & As, DVDs and staff mentors.
Willie Coffey thanked Marie for her session and introduced Anna Bradley from the Communications Consumer Panel.
Anna Bradley – Communications Consumer Panel
Anna introduced the panel and its work with specific interest groups, namely, older people, people living in rural areas, people on low incomes, disabled people and small businesses. She focused on some new research – Delivering Digital Participation – The Consumer Perspective. The reasons why people don’t get online etc are complex and some results from the research were surprising. Issues had arisen with people trying to buy the right equipment for their needs, and then set-up was tricky. The Panel wanted to try to map services provided against people’s needs and try to identify gaps and overlaps. Older people for example found most things hard work whereas with young people the issues surrounded the risks involved in going online. Some key messages emerged:
– People need a compelling reason to bring them online
– People need continued support
– Help with purchase and set up would be welcomed
– There are huge research gaps with regards to disabled people and their needs
– Some people will never go online
The Panel has produced a Framework designed for people to use in their communities and projects to help target their resources and impact. Two things stood out as part of the Panel’s research:
1. Buddy Networks – people want buddies who are not experts but someone who is one or two steps ahead of themselves, a peer
2. Signposting of quality and reliable products
Government’s role is ensure that e-services are truly accessible and to embed this into their procurement of services. We know that people on low incomes and rural dwellers have problems with access and it would be useful to better understand some of the less obvious obstacles, for example when access is there but people aren’t using it such as in Glasgow. Are social and cultural issues getting in the way?
Anna invited questions.
One member asked more about the small business remit and research,. Anna responded saying that small businesses were not included in this research but the Panel had done some specific work with them last year into mobile coverage. Absence of service was a clear frustration for small businesses but in research you were often asking them to comment on products or services they were not already subscribed to so it was difficult to get a strong measure. Trying to get anyone to look into their future needs requires more complex research.
In terms of ‘refuseniks’ one member suggested using more familiar kit such as TV’s utilising IP datastreams for people who don’t ‘do’ PC’s. Anna pointed to the BBC’s Project Canvas and its aspirations to use familiar content and equipment within a selective ‘walled garden’. One issue with this is that for older people especially it may overcomplicate a simple technology – TV.
Another member asked about measurement of impact and how this was achieved. Anna replied that measurement was done mostly qualitatively via observation. A strict quantitative measure of how many people are going online is not particularly revealing. A better measure comes from understanding how many people feel they are getting a benefit from being online and that will be different for different people. The member agreed and wondered though how you can convince businesses of the benefits/economic impacts. Anna suggested the group look at the economic benefits of digital inclusion report commissioned by Martha Lane Fox – http://raceonline2012.org/sites/default/files/resources/pwc_report.pdf
Willie thanked Anna for her presentation and introduced Susan Paton of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative.
Susan Paton – West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative
Susan outlined the fibre to the home (FTTH) technology offered to tenants in the new build phase of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op. The project was described as a small community taking their own digital inclusion in hand. 64% of residents self-identified as digitally excluded. 72% said that they thought digital inclusion was a priority for them. Whitcomm Co-op is a communications provider limited by guarantee. They have 100 members and the housing association owns the ducting and switches while Whitcomm Co-op owns the active network and provides services. In set up, Whitcomm Co-op had looked at a project in Neunen in Holland called Onsnet which serves around 9000 houses. Another good example of a community led programme are Carpenters Connect in Newham, London where services are provided to high rise buildings using set top boxes.
The Co-op model is widely used in the US where there are a number of large broadband co-ops. The federal broadband stimulus package in existence there provides $7.2bn to address market failure. In South Korea $24bn is being spent to provide 1GB speeds by 2012. They also have a requirement to provide connectivity to all new build properties. This policy would be useful within Scotland.
Whitcomm Co-op offers an IPTV set top box (STB) with a wireless keyboard that can provide basic Word, internet, Freeview and FTA satellite services. The decision to use STB’s rather than PC’s was because of the low level of PC take up and because a STB was already a familiar piece of technology. VOIP services are offered at £5.99 per month. This service overcomes the issues surrounding low income households and their decision to not have fixed line access and rely heavily on mobile phones. Whitcomm Co-op charge line rental to assist with the maintenance of their network. The service offered has great social delivery potential for health, education and many other things Whitcomm Co-op is seeking to provide training but probably not at ECDL level. There is a local college who can easily offer that type of learning. The area also offers great potential as a service and technology ‘test-bed’ given the first rate infrastructure. There are plans for a community portal with locally made content which could lead to an accredited media training facility.
The next steps for Whitcomm Co-op is to source funding for further rollout of fibre to the home (FTTH) technology for the older high rise stock, encourage the stakeholders to use the facilities on offer and to offer digital technology training to residents. The key issue is finding funding for capital works and to encourage other new builders to consider the FTTH option at the build stage as the costs of digging post build are a barrier to further rollout.
Susan took questions and comments on what residents are using the technology for. The idea of a virtual community centre was a possibility. The project was never about just providing cheap broadband, it was about skills, education and training and community cohesion. This was to be achieved using TV, a medium which most people are comfortable with. As yet there is not much feedback on what people have found most useful. The management committee are coming up with ideas but funding is always an issue. The committee are open to other stakeholders using the network.
Only some of the residents have access but there does not seem to be a tension at this point, just evidence of demand from those in the multi-storey dwellings to get access. In terms of further use for the network there is a huge opportunity for lifelong learning and the sort of content detailed earlier in the meeting via GLOW.
The meeting agreed that regulation on housebuilders to consider the FTTH technology would be a useful measure for Scotland.
Willie thanked Susan for her presentation and agreed to send out a response received from Minister Jim Mather to a set of questions posed at the March meeting. The next meeting date was yet to be agreed but would happen in the Autumn. It was agreed that a website should be set up for the group to allow further discussions and to post notes and information papers.