UK researchers reach out to techno-phobes

UK researchers reach out to techno-phobes

London project aims to make IT more accessible

A project carried out on a South London housing estate has demonstrated ways of teaching essential IT skills.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the research was conducted by a group at the London School of Economics and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

The team worked with residents and community organisations at the St Martin's Estate in Lambeth.

The researchers found that people who have trouble with IT tend to be poorer, older and less well-educated than the average. But their fears about IT are reasonable.

They did not know how to get help with computers, nor how to protect them from viruses. They were also found to be alarmed by media stories about the hazards of computer use.

Additionally, according to researcher Mike Cushman, they were often prevented from using IT effectively by poor spelling.

"Many of the things people want to do with computers involve using search engines, which are very intolerant of words that are misspelt. Even with spellcheckers, that can mean people having a disappointing experience when they search online," he said.

The researchers involved in the project found that most of the courses available to potential computer users fail to help students do the things they most want.

Top of the list are communicating by email, finding information online and shopping via the web. They therefore developed a course to help them do this and to overcome their fears about using computers.

The researchers also developed more advanced material on topics such as contributing to blogs and online forums, as well as thinking about online privacy and the accuracy of information found online.

"Most of the ICT training material we saw is designed to help people at work, not at home, and concentrates on word processing or spreadsheets," said Cushman.

"Too little is directed towards home use which can worsen social exclusion. Governments want to deliver more services electronically, but few of the people we encountered had any awareness of this change.

"Our research has shown that it is possible for IT skills to be taught and for people's confidence as IT users to be enhanced.