I was in a workshop in the Upper West Region of Ghana this past week. The goal was two-fold. 1) to train a small group of staff, ICT teachers and local partners on social media and new technologies for communications; and 2) to help them prepare for a project that will support 60 students to use arts and citizen media in youth-led advocacy around issues that youth identify.
I was planning to talk about how social media is different from traditional media, focusing on how it offers an opportunity to democratize information, and how we can support youth to use social media to reduce stereotypes about them and to bring their voices and priorities into global discussions. But all those theories about social media being the great equalizer, the Internet allowing everyone’s voices to flourish and yadaya, don’t mean a lot unless barriers like language, electricity, gender, and financial resources are lowered and people can actually access the Internet regularly.
Mobile internet access is extremely good in this part of Ghana, but when we did a quick exercise to see what the experience levels of the group were, only half had used email or the Internet before. So I started there, rather than with my fluffy theories about democratization, voice, networks and many-to-many communications.
We got really good feedback from the participants on the workshop. Here’s how we did it:
What is Internet?
I asked the ICT teachers to explain what the Internet is, and to then try to put it into words that the youth or someone in a community who hadn’t used a computer before would be able to understand. We discussed ways in which radios, mobile phones, televisions are the same or different from the Internet.
How can you access Internet here?
We listed common ways to access Internet in the area: through a computer at an internet café or at home or work, through a mobile phone (“smart phone”), or via a mobile phone or flash-type modem connected to a computer (such as the ones that we were using at the workshop). We went through how to connect a modem to a computer to access internet via the mobile network.
Riffing off Google search
We jumped into Internet training by Googling the community’s name to see what popped up, then we followed the paths to where they led us. We found an article where the secondary school headmaster (who was participating in the workshop) had been interviewed about the needs of the school.
Everyone found it hilarious, as they didn’t know the headmaster was featured in an online article. This lead to a good discussion on consent, permission and the fact that information does go global, but it doesn’t stay global, because more and more people are able to access that same information locally too through the Internet, so you need to think carefully about what you say.
The article about the school had a comments stream. The first comment was directly related to the article, and said that the school deserved to get some help. But the comments quickly turned to politics, including accusations that a local politician was stealing tractors. Again this generated a big discussion, and again the local-global point hit home. The internet is not ‘over there’ but potentially ‘right here’. People really need to be aware of this when publishing something online or when being interviewed, photographed or filmed by someone who will publish something.
Other times when we’ve done this exercise, we haven’t found any information online about the community. In those cases, the lack of an online presence was a good catalyst to discuss why, and to motivate the community to get the skills and training to put up their own information. That is actually one of the goals of the project we are working on.
We used a projector, but small groups would have also been fine if there was no projector and a few computers were available. We generally use what we can pull together through our local offices, the small amount of equipment purchased with the project funds, and what the local school and partners have, and organize it however makes the most sense so that people can practice. 4-5 people per computer is fine for the workshop because people tend to teach each other and take turns. There will be some people who have more experience and who can show others how to do things, so that the facilitator can step out of the picture as soon as possible, just being available for any questions or trouble shooting.
Social networks and privacy
When we Googled the name of the community, we also found a Facebook page for alums from the secondary school. That was a nice segue into social networks. I showed my Facebook page and a few others were familiar with Facebook. One colleague talked about how she had just signed up and was finding old school friends there who she hadn’t seen in years. People had a few questions such as ‘Is it free? How do you do it? Can you make it yourself? Who exactly can see it?’ So we had to enter the thorny world of privacy, hoping no one would be scared off from using Internet because of privacy issues.
One of the ICT teachers, for example, was concerned that someone could find his personal emails by Googling. I used to feel confident when I said ‘no they can’t’ but now it seems you can never be certain who can see what (thank you Facebook). I tried to explain privacy settings and that it’s important to understand how they work, suggesting they could try different things with low sensitivity information until they felt comfortable, and test by Googling their own name to see if anything came up.
Online truth and safety
Another question that surfaced was ‘Is the internet true?’ This provoked a great discussion about how information comes from all sides, and that anyone can put information online. And anyone else can discuss it. It’s truth and opinions and you can’t believe everything you read, it’s not regulated, you need to find a few sources and make some judgment calls.
A participant brought up that children and youth could use Internet to find ‘bad’ things, that adults can prey on children and youth using the Internet. We discussed that teachers and parents really need to have some understanding of how Internet works. Children and youth need to know how to protect themselves on the Internet; for example, not posting personal information or information that can identify their exact location. We discussed online predators and how children and youth can stay secure, and how teachers and communities should learn more about Internet to support children and youth to stay safe.
We discussed the Internet as a place of both opportunities and risks, going back to our earlier discussions on Child Protection in this project and expanding on them. I also shared an idea I’d seen on ICT Works about how to set up the computers in a way that the teachers/instructor can see all the screens and know what kids are doing on them – this is more effective than putting filters and controls on the machines.
Speaking of controls: virus protection and flash drives
The negative impact of viruses on productivity in African countries has been covered by the media, and I enthusiastically concur. I’ve wasted many hours because someone has come in with a flash drive that infected all the computers we are using at a workshop. Our general rule is no flash drives allowed during the workshop period. I have no illusions, however, that the computers will remain flash drive free forever. One good thing to do to reduce the risk of these autorun viruses is to disable autorun on the computers. This takes about 2 minutes. After you do that, you just have to manually access flash drives by opening My Computer from the start menu. A second trick is to create an autorun.inf file that redirects the virus and stops it from propagating on your machine. Avast is a free software that seems to catch most autorun viruses. Trend Micro doesn’t seem to do very well in West Africa.
Hands on, hands on, hands on
I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on. We try to make sure that there is a lot of free time at this kind of workshop for people to play around online. This usually means keeping the workshop space open for a couple hours after the official workshop day has ended and opening up early in the morning. People will skip lunch, come early, and stay late for an opportunity to get on-line. Those with more experience can use that time to help others. People often use this time to help each other open personal email accounts and share their favorite sites.
No getting too technical
People don’t want to listen to a bunch of theory or mechanical explanations on how things work. They don’t need to see the inside of a CPU, for example. They need to know how to make things work for them. And the only way they will figure it out is practice, trial and error, playing around. If a few people in the workshop are really curious to know the mechanics of something, they will start asking (if the facilitator is approachable and non-threatening), but most people for starters just want to know how to use the tools.
No showing off
I’ll always remember my Kenyan colleague Mativo saying that in this kind of work, a facilitator’s main role is demystifying ICTs. So that means being patient and never making anyone feel stupid for asking a question, or showing any frustration with them. If someone makes a mistake or goes down a path and doesn’t know how to get back and the facilitator has to step in to do some ‘magic’ fixing, it’s good to talk people through some of the ‘fix’ steps in a clear way as they are being done.
My friend DK over at Media Snackers said that he noticed something when working with youth vs adults on Internet training: youth will click on everything to see what happens. Adults will ask what happens and ask for permission to click. [update: Media Snackers calls this the 'button theory']. Paying close attention to learning styles and tendencies of each individual when facilitating, including those related to experience, rural or urban backgrounds, age, gender, literacy, other abilities, personality, and adjusting methodologies helps everyone learn better.
Lightening up the environment and making it hands on lowers people’s inhibitions and helps them have the confidence to learn by doing.
**Check back soon for a second post about photography, filming, uploading and setting up a YouTube account….
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