NetHui Conference 2011 – My Thoughts and Views

Posted: July 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Education, Web/Tech | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

NetHui was held in Auckland last week over three days, and I attended representing They Don’t Teach You This In School. I thought it would be a good conference, but like a lot of other people, I was surprised by just how good it was. NetHui managed to get a good cross-section of New Zealand society to attend – people from all ages and all backgrounds came.

It was a full-on three days, and here I’d like to briefly touch on three of the most interesting and important parts as I see them.

1. The Internet is a human right.

NetHui was divided into different “streams” for the first two days, meaning you had to decide which topics you wanted to discuss and see people talk on. Streams included topics like “Digital Citizenship”, and “Access and Diversity” (which I spoke on a panel for on the Friday).

I attended a mix of the different streams, seeing all of the five or so streams at least one. And what really struck me was how interconnected a lot of the topics in each of the different streams were. The issue that came up in every stream? Whether the Internet can be considered a human right.

There was the strong and obvious view that the Internet is most definitely a human right. Most people felt this way, and reasons for it were numerous. People generally felt that access to information and freedom of expression and human rights, and so access to the Internet should be one too as it facilitates both of these. This led to a discussion over whether it should be incorporated into an international bill of human rights.

As Judge David Harvey pointed out, it isn’t actually necessary that we legislate to create the Internet as a formal human right. The human right of freedom of expression actually states that it holds into the future across different platforms. This clearly includes the Internet.

2. Digital literacy is important, and there are different views on a solution.

One of the topics in the Access and Diversity stream was digital literacy. In general it’s talking about making sure people understand how to use computers and the Internet.

A lot of people felt that the best way to give everyone in society a good level of digital literacy is to provide workshops to up-skill them. I personally strongly disagree with this, and I talked about it in the panel discussion I was a part of on the Friday.

Why do I disagree with it? I see workshops as a very short-term solution. A workshop will teach people how to use current technologies. But we all know how fast technology moves – the workshop will only be useful for maybe a maximum of two years into the future before a new technology replaces the old, and people are not digitally literate once again.

So, how do we have a long-term solution to giving people digital literacy?

My view is that we should focus on design. Digital literacy, in my opinion, is a producer problem, not a consumer problem. If you look at why more and more people have adopted computers and the Internet over the past ten years, it’s for a few reasons. Firstly, the cost of computers and their power has decreased. But secondly, the design of computers and websites has become much better, and therefore they are much more simple to use. This has allowed more people in society to start to use these technologies without workshops.

Let’s focus on design to ensure that computers and websites/apps are as simple as they possibly can be, so that everyone in society can intuitively use them. I feel this is easily possible, and producers just need to pay more attention to design.

3. “Blended Learning” needs to be considered more by schools.

One of the streams I found most interesting was the one on education. The discussion centered around “blended learning”, which refers to education done both in a physical school environment and online.

I’m going to do another post just on “blended learning” because it’s a big topic that I’d like to discuss further. But for those of you reading this interested in my stance, I generally feel that no school in New Zealand is doing enough with blended learning. It’s obvious that it’s the future of education, yet all schools are waiting for another school to take the first step. The schools who are using elements of blended learning simply aren’t doing enough with it – and I think that’s very sad.

Look out here in the next few days for another post on blended learning.

Overall NetHui was a really interesting conference. Great people, great discussion, and some excellent points to think about. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, whether you attended or not.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Michael,
    Great to meet you at net hui! I think you are right design is important, there’s plenty of footage on youtube of toddlers/preschoolers using ipads and ipodtouches but then Sean Plunket admitted he didn’t know how to use his iphone! Interface is so important, but I think digital literacy is also about what we do with the technology when we work out how to use it!
    I am really looking forward to reading your posts on blended learning.

  • Darren Sudlow

    Do you know anything about the Virtual Learning Network Michael?

    • Michael Moore-Jones

      I have heard of it, but don’t know much about it! Want to tell me more?

  • floydwilde

    I attended the Friday panel sessions as well.  It occurs to me now, that there really is no “silver bullet” in providing digital literacy to everyone.  Your comments on design make me think of something I heard a developer say once, “the only intuitive interface is a nipple”.  While their is certainly a science and art to good UX, it’s not the only part of this equation.  There are many conventions that computer users over time grow to understand, for the uninitiated will always seem quite abstract.  Depending on who we are talking about getting access, the path to digital enlightenment will be different.

  • Quentin Todd

    human right. Lower case intended. This is a unique position and one that  Madam Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton used for her delivery of a strategy called ‘Internet Freedom’

    The last link ( has the download files which I found in a hurry for you. Blended learning and Internet Freedom are now credible strategies for the future. They go together, otherwise one cannot learn online if there is no Internet freedom. The dark side of the Internet, still needs to be removed as should and always  - child porn etc. That’s called being responsible with what we have.

    By using the lower case version of Human Rights, should emphasis moving way beyond “Human Rights” as political agenda by those seeking market favours or political favours. basic right is not the same as Rights with its emphasis on plural (note the ‘s’ on the end). I find it hard to express what I see in my head but sooner rather than later, we are all going to need to downsize Rights for right. It is my right to have access to the Internet etc. This to me is not quite the same as common right. It’s quite sad that in the 20th century Human Rights had become a huge political tool and much, in my opinion, of its intention has been lost.

    You are on to something here: Internet freedom = digital literacy + expression. Educational institutions at High School or Primary level haven’t quite come round to that notion of blended learning yet but I do believe they will. There will be arguments about the cost- always ” How much is this going to cost?” 

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  • Sonja

    Hi Michael, 
    I really like what you have written about design and digital literacy – it expressed beautifully a thought I’ve been mulling over for a report I’m writing. I’m just about to share your post with our online team!

    • Michael Moore-Jones

      Thanks Sonja!

      May I ask what organisation you work with?