More Reaching Out with Mycenae Digital

Forming useful dialogues

This post outlines the 2019 September to December series of Techy times – more of the same, but definitely different and lessons have definitely been learned.

These sessions followed and affirmed the idea of support, uncovering goals and facilitating confidence in participants; the helping hands, eyes and ears of volunteers have really given the sessions a boost with levels of ‘social and sociability’ hastened.

More volunteers, more problems?

Not about having problems with the volunteers, but the ratio of participants to helpers. Sessions began in September, we had the pleasure of receiving a small gang of volunteers from Nike 02- this started out somewhat awkwardly as the gang of 5 added to our cohort of seemingly dedicated volunteers who wished to join in again – maybe to hear YT’s northern tones and laugh at role playing moments?  Techy time attendance had started reasonably and plateaued at six attendees on average, thus leaving people with not much to do, making me most uncomfortable. This situation worked itself out as the ‘Nike gang’ shrunk to three regular buddies, and then the numbers of participants went up!

Inspecting gadgets

At the beginning of sessions,  the ‘Inspect your gadget’ (one to one surgeries, IYG ) and upcoming talks are pitched while participants are fresh and intent. Deborah was pivotal in these situations, also having a chance to talk to the group about other  social options without feeling there was an obligation to turn up.

On the other side of the coin, people missing the surgeries was something we had to deal with; taking phone numbers as part of the booking process to remind people that we are waiting to help them, but numbers of people also cancelled and called MH in advance, which was always appreciated.  Community based services are busy in so many ways, because the people that turned up to help can be given information and guidance sessions too.

Spending times with volunteers

The gaps in time for working with IYG volunteers was useful, one regular –  Jon, was willing to build the Mycenae Reach Out Website and  chat about layout, copy writing, also how document structures work, and especially with HTML. Jon as an unassuming yet talented character took on the lessons with good grace; being a webmaster is not a straightforward job.

Having a space for guest talks

Deborah and YT have been incredibly lucky to have some interesting and ‘useful to know’ people come and deliver some great talks for Wednesday Techy Times, really adding value:

Based in Barking, and working alongside the NHS and local authority Care City are currently undertaking work to enable digital support both formal and informal carers in London. Their focus is the understanding that carers often do not get the support  and accurate information that they need and deserve. Care City have co-created with local district nurses iCare, an educational tool with 2-3 minute videos, audio clips and info sheets, designed to educate carers about pressure ulcers.

Accessibility for devices and to talk about their programme.  Their Digital Inclusion programmes can support you to access the digital world, providing training and support together with the latest in accessible tech.

  • Barclays (ICE number on screen, Scam talk)

We had our first guest speaker from Barclays taking my place in a session, and in an inspiring fashion, inserting participants’ ICE number  on to the home / lock screen of their phone. She later returned with a colleague to host a 4 hour talk for anyone interested in learning about scams online and in general. It could be just a phone call.

Meeting and greeting – people were interested!

Besides the new influx of interested parties to the Techy times and the continuity of one to one sessions, there was interest  from other organisations in SE London with digital inclusion agendas:

  • We (Deborah F and YT ) met up with Vince Lydon from Community Connections to find out more about their inclusion network in Lewisham https://lewishamconnections.org/
  •  We also met Thomas Crook, corporate development officer from the Royal Borough of Greenwich who manages the council’s work on digital inclusion in the Borough. As part of its social mobility agenda, RBG is looking to develop a model that includes ‘Community Digital Champions’ to assist residents in their communities with getting online. A key element to the work RBG are trying to do is to establish relationships with organisations running digital inclusion projects,  in an attempt to comprehend the nature of digital exclusion in the borough, trying to match the provision of suitable services to the actual needs of residents. YT is well aware of RBG’s previous efforts, being a UK Online centre coordinator across the borough for nearly seven years – it is interesting to note what progress has been made and what legacies there are if any.

Out and About

Deborah and YT went walkabout to find other venues and opportunities as part of our marketing and outreach:

  • Greenwich Carers Centre hosted six Techy Time outreach sessions at the Stables to provide carers with extra digital support.
  • Volunteer Centre Greenwich had a bus for volunteers week in October, opening their offer of a wide range of volunteering opportunities to Greenwich locals across the borough; we caught up with them in Eltham and joined in to highlight the digital inclusion offer at Mycenae house. VCG have also rewarded our committed volunteer Jon with a well deserved award for his volunteer work at Mycenae House.

“What We’ve learned”

As the sessions came to an end for the season, it was useful to try and capture people’s understanding and potential level of confidence with the learning that had been going on over the last few months. Every week, the last activity was an online feedback form to capture discreetly any compliments, comments and complaints (Paul’s 3 C’s of having a dialogue with a service). All the feedback was very positive, especially for the great level of volunteering. With this great yet overly positive dialogue, trying to find out what point people were at on their ‘digital journey’ is difficult. YT repeated an activity, this time asking for one thing that people have learned from the sessions (also a finishing activity at the last series of TT sessions)  placing sticky notes on the board, this time with a legend to indicate one useful piece of knowledge gained – doubly useful for garnering commentary from volunteers too:

 

Digital adventures with Mycenae Reach Out

A refreshed relationship.

YT has had an occasional relationship with Mycenae House for some time, attempting a Breezie talk in 2014 and some drop in sessions. Alas that was short lived, hamstrung with the amount of marketing possible to one set of hands. Mark Johnson Brown, the centre manager approached me in early 2018 to start discussing and negotiating some ideas he’d been brewing. Mark wanted to include Digital inclusion/isolation as part of the centre’s activities, this is when YT got to meet the amazing Deborah Fitzpatrick, coordinator of the aptly name Reach Out project and worthy colleague in the coming mmonths. The project was a community service addressing social isolation in the area, and as such there was much scope for soulchip involvement.

REach Out logoThere was quite a gap from our initial meetings in April and roll out of the service (funded by Greenwich Neighbourhood growth) we called ‘Mycenae Digital’. The funding covered my time ( August 2018 to the end of June 2019) and also useful equipment such as tablets (2 Android and an iPad), a power pack for on the go charging and a mobile hotspot. After much bemused searching, a rather nice pico projector which became really useful, especially hooked up to a chromecast.

August surprises as we start …

Thinking we wouldn’t get many people, attempted to do an August taster as a preemptive approach to the September rollout.This is the month often at the low point of the centre’s footfall in the working year.  People just kept on coming, to the point we had to decamp to the (thankfully unused) cafe and attend to the participants digital bugbears individually. With such an enthused response to the service, Mycenae Digital offered two types of engagement:

  • ‘Techy Time’ social sessions – weekly group sessions with presentations/talks/workshops
  • ‘Inspect your Gadget’- fortnightly one to one tech troubleshooting, sessions are booked.

To give context of these sessions, the Mycenae Digital/Soulchip role was to break out of the usual digital inclusion delivery by providing sessions appropriate to getting people ‘social and sociable’, very much like how literacy and ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are largely devoted to creating a social setting by which all participants are together in their learning. It soon transpired that most people wanted us ‘technical folk’ to resolve their issues for them, which ultimately resolves nothing. Participants were encouraged to bring real problems to the one to one inspect your gadget sessions for real support rather than take up time where other people also needed attention. The amount of volunteers throughout the year was pivotal in resolving issues and as a marker for the type of session to be delivered. More about this later.

‘its for the youngsters’

Younger participants under 50 attended as well as participants in their 80’s and points in between. This was heartening and encouraged dialogue about what strengths older people can bring (understanding consequences) as much as young people’s willingness to engage with digital activities (no fear of breaking things and a willingness to try new things). YT made every attempt to disabuse attendees of the ‘better than’ notions, as explained in my analysis:

Ask a young person or a supposedly ‘tech savvy person’ to explain how to write a letter on a computer; what is the format and structure of a letter? You’ll then find out how much they really know.

This took a while to come across for many as myself and my stalwart volunteers had to work with built in bias, half baked opinions and a complete bemusement as to what is the block of plastic and glass in their hands. Everyone had a tactile introduction to their device (no matter what the device was), whereby they were given a starting point sensibility about what they owned. Owning the device was paramount and a constant reminder. 

Learning their Way? I did it My Way in the end.

Throughout years of supporting many people at different levels of skills and abilities, a persistent couple of themes have emerged:

  • People learn to use the tools they need to use, for work or personal use.
  • Friends and family are great to have, but their digital cast offs, software installation and advice are hugely variable in quality.

The sessions didn’t develop or expand these themes, but entrenched them further as touchstones of understanding; with this in mind there were only a few rules and one requirement (fill out a feedback form) to Techy Time social settings.

  • Everyone brings a notebook
    • Notes can be made by volunteers too (start with the goal, then number each step)
    • Drawings are recommended as well, anything to make things easier
  • Everyone should leave with a reminder
    • Recordings of presentations encouraged, but ask!
    • Photographs of the whiteboard after a presentation encouraged also.

Learn My Way was also touted as a means to expand on knowledge and skills outside of sessions, but there were ongoing issues; it took a number of sessions just to get people able to log in was a definite sign  of participants in the group wanting social interaction as much (maybe more in some cases) than the technical know how and support. That was fine; every TT session had a good average of six attendees and over time the regular participation formed a ‘club’. Sessions were ultimately were about quality interactions and having a good time, showing people the potential and possibilities of the digital tools available to them and assisting on particular goals. Overall the engagement with the learning platform diminished as the weeks went by and people found that active learning and being challenged to think about their own goals was a real alternative to learning on their own with only the contents of the website as a guide.

So what happened in sessions, YT?

Volunteer ratio to participants was a crucial factor in how sessions developed, and such my ‘Game show persona’ was employed to engage, entertain and provoke some thinking about the main aspects of digital use. With a mixed bag of devices this was no small feat, and prompted creative strategies:

  1. A short talk about a topic, with an option to repeat Paul’s analogy of the internet, with thanks to Futurama.
  2. An open request for personal goals to accomplish – workshopping small groups with common themes.
  3. An offer to have some fun and talk with volunteers about topics of interest gave good value. This option was added as the ‘club’ gained cohesion and comfortable communications.

 

As the ‘game show host’ is not necessarily a teacher providing learning opportunities, now and again structure needed to be maintained as volunteers needed to be directed/assisted and there were always other questions to be answered.

There were attempts at gaining a formative assessment from participants, to assess what had been achieved over the run of sessions – everybody asks to do a course, but when given an online course to accomplish, few would actually practice. Nonetheless, the last session was open feedback for volunteers and learners – post it notes on the board for two questions.

What have you learned and want to improve? (Yellow)

What do you plan to do in the weeks until the next set of sessions in September? (Red)

The best outcomes are not achieved alone …

There were interesting scenarios with informal recruitment for volunteers. This ended up with people wanting to get involved for many reasons stepping up. Volunteers became quite a reliable ‘squad’, albeit much quieter than myself – their voices were encouraged to participate in the group talks and presentations, adding to the ‘mix’ as it were. Their knowledge and consistency  more than complemented and supplemented my efforts, it was joyous and most warming to have good quality help.

 

soulchip symbol of consciousness