Sunday, March 22, 2009

On walkabout

Miles, Queensland

I have been on walkabout for a few days this week, visiting Miles, Dalby and Chinchilla at the request of Megan McNichol who is project officer for the Western Downs Skills Project. Megan and I saw an opportunity for me to advertise my eMentoring project and do some more generic work on building online networks and using social media for building communities.

With Nan and Megan (left to right) at Chinchilla Learning Network Centre

It was wonderful opportunity to get out of Brisbane and see some of the countryside, and get a sense of the challenges facing rural communities in Queensland. It was also useful to think about the application of web 2.0 and social media in a wider sense than just health. Mark and I had great fun learning more about that part of the world. For example, did you know there was a famous watermelon festival every two years in Chinchilla?

What do people want to achieve?
At each of the networking workshops there were about six people from all walks of life. Their computer skills and knowledge of the Internet ranged from not knowing how a mouse worked, to organizing an online election campaign.

I asked what people wanted to achieve, so that I could get a sense of how social media could be used to achieve their aims. There were a number of themes at all three workshops:
  • The need to get information out to people eg local community news, information about facilities, resources and events, advertise services.
  • Media for presenting information must attract everyone's notice - be geared up for younger people as well older adults.
  • Two-way participation eg seeking feedback from the wider community about local services.
  • Online tools must be easy to use and not be too time-consuming.
  • Want to know about tools that save time at work, and work more effectively.
  • Supporting each other, especially new practitioners.
  • Making sense of the various tools and how to manage all the information that people have access to.
Cotton fields outside Dalby

Barriers to using social media

There were a number of concerns about using social media especially at work, and barriers that prevent people using it:
  • Lack of skills, knowledge and confidence - some people have minimal knowledge of using computer and Internet.
  • Attitudes and fears. Concerned about loss of identity and personal details, junk mail/spam and viruses, and safety from 'undesirable' people.
  • Beliefs that web sites such as Facebook and YouTube are purely for teenagers and full of 'rubbish', and offensive material.
  • Security of information.
  • Employers restrict use of Internet - concerns about appropriate use of the Internet by employees and 'wasting time' when they should be working.
Took us five days to eat the watermelon Mark bought for only $6

Where to from here
I had a chat with people at the workshop about how we can re-frame some of the concerns that they had about the Internet, for example, I showed them how Facebook is being used by professional organisations such as the Australian College of Midwives to advertise activities and events, and bring interested people together.

Here are some of the ideas that we came up with that will be followed up on a regional level and also by individual participants:
  • Information sessions on basic computer and Internet skills, going right back to the basics including Internet safety and how to manage one's online identity.
  • Investigate how commonly used websites such as YouTube and Facebook can be used to disseminate information, utilising its tremendous capacity for attracting a national/international audience - for example, the video that I have embedded above about the watermelon festival has attracted over 54,000 views which is invaluable free publicity for the region. Use these tools to engage with young people because they are already familar with them.
  • Investigate how blogs can be used to disseminate information in a way that encourages interaction and engagement - I am hoping to return to Miles/Chinchilla in late April to run a blogging workshop. This was an especial recommendation to the mayor of Miles because we felt it would encourage two-way feedback with the community.
  • Make the most of resources that are free and commonly used by people - don't go to a lot of expense of re-inventing the wheel.
  • Use multiple avenues to disseminate information - don't just stick to one avenue.
  • Move away from thinking about restricting information - put it out in the open as a way of connecting with people, even beyond the local region.
  • Be mindful of issues of copyright.
  • Investigate how online tools can be used for more effective use of time eg using Google Docs for collaboration as opposed to sending emails back and forth, and Google Reader to monitor websites and the information they put out.
  • Take the time to experiment and 'play'.
I was guaranteed that I would see kangaroos, but I was very disappointed that the only ones I saw were dead ones on the side of the road. So, to fulfill my need to re-connect with a great love of my childhood, here is a reminder of my most favorite TV program when I was about four years old.


Megan said...

Sarah has opended up a new world for many of us and is retunring to Chinchilla to run a 'blogging' workshop on the 16th May - so watch this space for stories of encounters with the 'elusive' Skippy!

Sarah Stewart said...

I'm a bit more nervous about encounters with 'Skippy' on my journey in May because I won't have Mark with me to keep me safe! But am really looking forward to seeing you all and learning more about your part of the world, Megan.