Edinburgh Libraries’ Kenny Sharkey is spearheading a new council initiative to widen digital participation in Edinburgh. Get Online, as the name suggests, aims to demystify the world of the internet for people with little or no experience and help give them the skills and confidence to get online and take part in the digital world. We dropped in to a session at Craigmillar Library to get a feel for the project.
Kenny explains that widening participation is key to the project. “It’s remarkable that studies show that 15% of people have never used the internet. To me digital inclusion is all about helping people access the world of technology that many of us take for granted but get enormous benefit from. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible that can benefit from taking part in this.”
As a tutor of the popular LearnIT courses which were run across Edinburgh Libraries, Kenny had recognised the need to keep up with technology so as well as using laptops, help is also offered in the use of Ipads, tablets and smart phones.
Sessions are delivered across a 5 week plan and each lasts for 2 hours. Participants are divided up according to device and asked to choose options from a ‘learning menu’ in order to get the learning experience best suited to their needs.
The success of the sessions also relies upon a band of loyal volunteer tutors which has enabled 1-1 tuition in most cases. During our visit, Jennifer was helping Mina get to grips with her new tablet.
Jennifer: “It’s really beneficial to people who are scared of learning in a more formal environment. It’s more personable here and people seem to respond better with 1-1 tuition. You can take it for granted if you have grown up around this stuff. If you are new to it there’s a lot of buzz words to get your head around. ”
Mina: “I’m starting over again. I’m 90 so I think I can be excused for forgetting things. I’m completely new to this and want to get more out of it. I’ve been using it to do a bit of historical research and to send emails to my family in Australia and Canada.”
Kenny tells us that relying on volunteers is what gives Get Online a strong sense of community. The project has also worked in partnership Castlebrae High School creating a great inter-generational feel. Barry Ferguson, Head of IT, says: “We tried to get involved with something like this before but it hadn’t worked out. Since Kenny started this though, things have really taken off. It’s definitely been a confidence booster for the kids involved and helps show the positive role the school can play in the community.”
Castlebrae pupil Jordan was helping Jill learn what her new IPad had to offer.
Jill: My daughter lives in Australia so I wanted to be able to use Face Time and things like that just to keep in touch. I want to be able to use it to book tickets and the I-pad doesn’t come with instructions on how to do things like that. I have had about 5 lessons and I’m definitely improving. I’ve face-timed my daughter now and we’ve emailed. It’s great.”
Jordan: It’s great to help people in this way and as I’m close to leaving school this is great work experience for me.
Kenny is pleased with the reaction to the service and the way it is helping people feel more connected in their communities and often with family in other parts of the world.
Kenny: “In a lot of situations people are leaving after 5 sessions and confidently ordering things online and Skype-ing relatives abroad and that’s what it’s all about: ensuring people are confident enough to participate in the digital world”
Initially established in Craigmillar, sessions are now being delivered across the city in locations like Leith, Blackhall, Morningside and Central Library. Check the Get Online blog for future dates around the city or email Kenny for more details.