Archive for 30 July 2004

Seize control of own affairs

As a former Torbay resident and pro-devolutionist I was interested to read about the campaign to have a referendum for the creation of a new council in Brixham (‘Devolve Power to Town Body’, July 13). In many parts of Wales we already have community and town councils, and they are far more than just another layer of government. Councillors on community councils are not paid any expenses and often are able to make a worthwhile contribution to the community they live in.

The community council I served on in Llantwit Fardre has made a big difference to the local community. The council has been responsible for the creation of many safe play areas for children, runs summer play schemes, effectively maintains footpaths for walkers and is starting to offer more schemes for young people.

With Torbay Borough Council performing so badly, I urge residents in Brixham to take this opportunity to take control of their affairs and make the community one to be proud of.

Let community councils do more

We should welcome the Labour borough council’s commitment to reviewing play provision and tackling the problems of litter in our communities.

Perhaps one of the solutions would be to give responsibility for these areas to community councils.

In areas like Llantwit Fardre, where the community council is responsible for play provision, there are many safe play areas and well-run play schemes.

This could be replicated in others areas, such as Talbot Green, where more safe play areas are needed.

Community councils could also be given powers over maintaining parks and footpaths, the cutting of grass and the cleaning of our streets.
Maybe then we would see areas like Efail Isaf have the clean parks and passable footpaths they deserve.

The Labour Party nationally has demonstrated its commitment to devolving powers to the lowest level possible. The newly-elected Labour council could continue this progressive trend by implementing the National Assembly report into the role and functions of community councils.

How to ask for a cup of tea

Communication is innate for most of us. For some, however, help is required to convey messages that others express with ease. Educators and innovators are finding ways to provide this help using the latest information and communications technology.

At a school in Gloucestershire, special needs teachers are employing software to aid their students, many of whom have dyslexia, dyspraxia and Asperger’s syndrome.

The teachers use multisensory products such as Texthelp and Wordshark to reinforce letters, sounds and spelling. One student writes best by typing out all her ideas first, without punctuation or capitalisation. Texthelp then reads back what she has written, allowing her to add the punctuation separately. She is thus able to compose an essay in a way that works best for her. Working with pen and paper would be more time consuming.

At TreeHouse School in London, which specialises in teaching children with autism, Dr Neil Martin and members of the behavioural analysis team use simple computer graphs to track progress. Throughout the day, teachers record each child’s response to a different activity or lesson. At the end of the day, information is inputted and the data graphed to show how the child is doing. Currently the programme is used in two of the school’s classes, but Martin plans to expand the programme by using pocket PCs to collect data.

Communication needs are also being served by new technology outside the classroom. Councillor Jonathan Bishop is developing a programme to help people with communication problems to understand others. People with, for example, Asperger’s often interpret what others say literally. Telling someone with Asperger’s, “I’d die for a cup of tea”, is understood as “I would die for a cup of tea”, not “I would like a cup of tea”, Bishop explains.

Called the Portable Affect Recognition Learning Environment (Parle), Bishop’s programme uses a mobile phone to interpret the facial expression and tone of whomever a person with a communication need is speaking to. By holding it up to someone’s face, the mobile phone can scan the facial expression and take into account what is being said, then interpret this for the user. So “I would die for a cup of tea” comes out as “I would like a cup of tea”. Bishop has tested a prototype and discovered that the users with Asperger’s found this early version useful.

All of these uses of technology could lead to a more inclusive society. They also show that there are many people answering the call to improve communications for us all.

A Good Week for Democracy

This week I attended the New Statesman New Media Awards, where I had been shortlisted in the Elected Representative category for using my Website to communicate with the electorate whilst I was a councillor and I was also shortlised in the innovation category for using mobile technology to help people with autism and social phobia.

Tom Watson MP won the Elected Representative award for his use of Weblogs for encouraging debate and widening the democratic process.

The thing that makes Tom’s Weblog better than most, including mine, at the time of writing, is that he allows visitors to freely post comments on his posts. Perhaps this is something all political bloggers should do – I’ll be updating my site soon to demonstrate my commitment to freedom of expression and allow people to comment on my posts.

Another winner at the New Media Awards was the Public Whip, which won the Civic Renewal Award. The Public Whip brings together data from Hansard to allow people to know how their MPs voted on the issues put before Parliament.

One of the features of The Public Whip that I think has a lot of potential is the Dream MP feature. As someone who regularly plays Celebdaq (a celebrity version of Fantasy Football) I think allowing this sort of interactivity with Parliament is a great idea.

Perhaps the Public Whip could consider setting up leagues, so Dream MPs can see how much in agreement they are with other Dream MPs or how much of a rebel they are within their preferred party!

One more serious use of the Dream MP feature could be to allow other elected representatives, such as councillors let the electorate know how they would have voted on key issues if they’d been their MP. I have already set up a Dream MP account showing how I would have voted on issues such as devolution, the European Constitution, the banning of Fox Hunting, tackling the humanitarian abuses in Iraq, and the reform of the House of Lords, along with the Private Members Bills that I would have supported.

At present my voting record is 100% in agreement with my local MP Dr. Kim Howells, 100% in agreement with Tom Watson, 33% in agreement with Michael Howard and 25% in agreement with Iain Duncan Smith.

Whilst I did not win anything at the New Media Awards, I have come back with some great ideas on how I can be more open and democratic for the time when I am next in a position to stand for election.

The role of persuasive technology in educating heterogeneous user groups

Bishop, J. (2004). The role of persuasive technology in educating heterogeneous user groups. MSc Thesis, University of Glamorgan.

Executive Summary

The purpose of undertaking this project was so that the author could develop further the ideas that came out of doing his degree dissertation and joint project about developing virtual environments for enhancing real-world communities. The author’s degree dissertation and joint project led him to become interested in the role of technology in improving people lives through providing opportunities for them to change and adapt their behaviour to meet individual and collective goals and it is this desire to discover new ways of using technology to allow people to reach their potential that has directed his current research.
This Masters dissertation addresses two key issues; firstly, how technology can be used to encourage individuals to develop specific attitudes and behaviour, and secondly, how technology can be used to allow an increasingly heterogeneous population access education without their individual differences being prejudiced. To address the first issue the author decided to focus on the use of persuasive technologies, which rely on the cooperation of the user to achieve a particular goal or outcome. This builds on his degree work on recommendation systems and reputation systems and his published research into using suggestion technology, which all require the user to make individual choices, with the goal of the system being to provide users with choices and not make decisions on their behalf.

To address the second issue, the author decided to focus on two types of user groups, those that form part of the ‘Net Generation’ and those that come from bilingual communities. The Net Generation is the group of individuals born between 1977 and 1997 who are enthusiastic towards the principle of persuasion, as they have come to value technology that provides them with choices, meaning they are more likely to accept the technology. Whilst the majority of Internet users do not speak English as their first language, the majority of Websites are designed around the culture of the English language, limiting the persuasiveness of them to bilingual groups, which means that there is scope for improvement in the development of persuasive hypermedia systems that are used by bilingual users.

Supervisory Team

Dr Mike Reddy, Dr Ray Kingdon.

View Online

MSc Dissertation (Distinction) on persuasive e-learning for minority culture learners


Download it here.

Scientific, Economic and Legal Issues for Virtual Communities and Electronic Learning

The SELIVCEL Project was started by Jonathan Bishop after completing his MSc in E-Learning in 2004 and commencing on a Masters of Laws in European Union Law degree, where he presented a dissertation investigation the effect of EU law on the e-learning industry.

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