Wednesday, 21 September 2016

MmIT 2016 Conference Review - Digital Citizenship : What is the library's role?

Photo of Sheldon Korpet
Sheldon Korpet
Our latest recruit to ScHARR's Information Resources Sheldon Korpet attended the MmIT Conference last week and writes about her experiences over the two days. Sheldon is an Information Officer at ScHARR and a current MSc Digital Library Management student at the University of Sheffield.

This year's Multimedia and Information Technology Conference (MmIT) focused on “Digital Citizenship: What is the library's role?” and included a fabulous range of talks from librarians, head of services, computer specialists and suppliers which really reflects the scope and depth of the topic. As a relatively new professional, one who had never attended a conference before, I decided to join in mainly because I’d heard good things about the food. However I am always keen to broaden my horizons and I’m pleased to say not only did the food exceed my expectations, so did the conference itself. MmIT are a special interest group within Cilip.
MmIT Journal
MmIT Journal

Dr Chris Stokes (Joint Director of Digital Learning, University of Sheffield) spoke about his team’s process to make the University of Sheffield’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This was inspired by an outreach scheme designed to give 16 to 18 year olds the knowledge, information and guidance to make a competitive application to the University of Sheffield’s Dental School. This digital course aimed to use technology to increase access to a course that promoted inclusion within higher education and unexpectedly inspired an online community that facilitated communication between a range of user groups. This group ranged from aspirational A Level students to individuals with fear of dentists and even dental nurses refreshing their knowledge before returning to work after maternity leave.

What I learnt from Chris: MOOCs aren’t just for graduates, or a specific age range - they can be all inclusive and empowering if you design interesting, interactive content which simplifies the subject.

This issue of safe and knowledgeable digital access for the masses was something which inspired Lee Fallin and Mike Ewan to create a website called “The Digital Student”. This project aimed to educate students at the University of Hull by creating a mobile optimised website applicable to all students which could also be embedded within the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). This idea not only gives students convenient access to information from a point on the university system which they already utilise but also standardised, quality information which can be updated centrally and easily replicated over a large number of users quickly. Further to this, the site is also mobile enabled and also designed to appeal to a range of different abilities using a content layout inspired by the popular website, Buzzfeed. After creating this content to improve the digital literacy of their students, the project will next release guides which aim to help students sell the digital skills when applying for jobs.

What I learnt from Lee and Mike: Take content to channels students are already using and display it in a way they are familiar with, in a format they like.

The socio-economic benefits of digital literacy was the focus of Helen Milner CEO of the Tinder Foundation. Her keynote speech, based on digital social inclusion, explained work of the Tinder Foundation which aims to connect and empower individuals. This is as a result of an aim to raise not only digital literacy locally, but also for the awareness of the need and benefits of digital literacy and digital access on a national scale.

What I learn from Helen: In 2015, a shockingly large amount (12.6 million) of the population were still offline. What was even more shocking was finding out was that if you were uneducated, retirement age, disabled or had a low income you were less likely to have access to the internet despite the potential benefits including being able to apply for jobs (25% of which are online-only applications), making online savings as well as maintaining social connections.

Check out this brilliant infographic that captures the data around digital literacy and accessibility

Ian Clark
Ian Clark
Communication and digital access was a key part of Ian Clark's talk focusing on the digital privacy divide. He highlighted the clash between the government’s desire to protect society by observing their browsing and borrowing history versus the negative effects of surveillance on information exchange. Although there are benefits of surveying information exchange between individuals and groups undertaking illegal activities however GCHQ have undertaken projects (such as “Karma Police”) which aim to create unique profiles for each individual of the population, regardless of whether they are law-abiding citizens or not.

Although there are methods to avoiding online observation, such as encryption technologies and browsers such as Tor, these have received a negative spin as a result of illegal activities linked to the Dark Web and the popular attitude, “you have nothing to worry about, if you have nothing to hide”. These tools, while increasing security for individuals who want to protect their communications, are also complex to execute.

What I learnt from Ian: Individuals who thought they were under surveillance changed their information searching behaviours and automatically censored themselves. This arguably reduces freedom of thought which is indusive to critical thinking, idea generation and the democratic process.

Check out Infoism for more information

Dr Kevin Curran
Dr Kevin Curran
Another highly informative talk was hosted by Kevin Curran, who is a Reader in Computer Science at Ulster University. His overview, “Hacking: Child’s Play” highlighted just how hackers can locate unsecured databases and webcams by using Google dorks, hold a company to ransom with a simple denial of service attack program and receive money from illegal activity anonymously using a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.

What I learnt from Kevin: Great tips to improve your security online.

  • Check if your details have been breached. You can also sign up to the “Notify me” service which will tell you when you need to change your password so no unauthorised snoopers can access your accounts
  • Don’t invest in expensive anti-virus. Windows Defence is freely available available from Microsoft and will do just as good a job as Norton and other popular paid-for antivirus softwares.
  • Don’t use the same password for every website. You can use a password manager like LastPass (link to simply this for you

All of the presentations I attended were thoughtful and particularly made me reflect on the idea of using the benefits of technology to empower - Chris and his team's outreach MOOC gave disadvantaged students the chance to participate in a highly competitive career path. Additionally, Helen and the Tinder Foundation, as well as Lee and Mike from University of Hull, had recognised the need for further digital literacy training and the benefits of enabling individuals to use technology, in terms of both increasing employability and confidence.

Digital Privacy & Digital Citizenship
Digital Privacy & Digital Citizenship
The knowledge brought to the conference by Ian of Infoism and Kevin of Ulster University did however highlight some of the areas in which there is much at stake if individuals and organisations use the technology in an irresponsible way. The main thing I’ve taken away from the conference is the idea that using digital technology is like driving a car - it doesn’t matter how bright, young or reactive you are - if you aren’t taught how how to operate the machine and navigate the system there’s the potential for a crash.

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