We've just completed a pilot with a group of Keele University students to develop their awareness and understanding of digital inclusion in relation to health and well-being. It contributes to one of the core pillars of professional practice for allied health professionals - Leadership: equality, diversity and inclusion. Here’s how it happened...

students on stairs

DI and EDI

The School of Allied Health Professions at Keele University asked us to help with a digital inclusion project for physiotherapy students. As a condition of their programme, all students must complete a number of placements. And in line with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy guidelines need experience of EDI - equality, diversity and inclusion - as part of the leadership pillar of good practice.  

Digital inclusion programmes are an excellent way to unpack the issues in a way that's practical, important and relevant for these students as healthcare becomes increasingly digitised and they need to help patients have the confidence to manage their health online. 

workshop at keel uni

The plan…

We took the pilot group of 37 physiotherapy students through our digital inclusion awareness course, Inspire. They were encouraged to go on to make a pledge to help someone they knew with digital skills.

A smaller group of 10 students then went on to train on the Digital Champions Network and volunteer in community settings.

The benefit for students

In an increasingly digitalised world, access to information and services in healthcare is often online. Lots of patients need help with digital skills - with everything from watching online treatments to booking appointments.  And this is a discipline that works a lot with older people, the group most likely to struggle with digital skills. 

But students are often "digital natives" who grew up in a digital world. The realities of digital exclusion can be hard for them to full appreciate: 68% started the course saying they knew "nothing or very little" about it.

As well as increasing their understanding of digital inclusion and positioning EDI as a central focus for a community placement, Keele wanted to help students with softer skills too - like improving listening skills and growing confidence dealing with a range of people.

The Action

We ran a facilitated session for around 30 students, going through the Inspire course and discussing ideas and issues along the way. At the end, students were invited to pledge to help someone with a specific skill and 80% went on to make pledges there and then.

It was great to see that they’d taken on board not just that people might need help, but they need help delivered sensitively and in the right way.  Pledges included phrases like “be more patient” and one said “maybe start by showing my grandad how to watch rugby as he loves rugby and then introduce him to new skills.”

Around 10 students couldn’t attend and completed the course online (Inspire is designed to be delivered online or facilitated or a mix of both). Course completion was still high at 80%, but pledge figures were slightly lower (60%) suggesting the interactive, in-person session works better with this audience.

 

Pledges included...

skeleton

I pledge to... teach my grandma how to use Facebook Messenger so they can answer my video calls and call me when they want to.

I pledge to... help with improving my mum's confidence with digital skills and stop worrying about tasks over the internet.

Next Steps

10 students went on to volunteer in their communities, after completing more in-depth training on the Digital Champions Network. The Network has 25+ courses backed up by a wealth of resources and advice on helping others with digital skills,  grounding volunteers with all the information they need. 

The University organised some excellent volunteering opportunities, ranging from temples to supermarkets, community centres to libraries.

All 10 students completed more than 10 courses each on the DCN and each went on to support an average of 12 people. These stories give an idea of the varied nature of support and the impact of the help they gave...

 

A lady who is an asylum seeker from Afghanistan who has been in the UK for two years. She was looking to improve her knowledge of the keyboard and learn how to type quicker with touch typing technique. She did not have very good English so it was difficult to communicate effectively, I suggested we use Google translate to help us communicate with certain words, and this was effective in helping to understand the learner's needs. I helped the learner access some free online courses on touch typing.

Digital Champion
Keele University

I helped an elderly man visit Gov.UK website so he could create an account for his benefits. We also discussed Healthcare online and how he could manage GP appointments and prescriptions using the NHS app on his smartphone. We will continue our session next week and look to downloading the NHS app and creating an account

Digital Champion
Keele University

Conclusion

It’s been a lovely project to be involved in! Inspire is often used by our private and public clients and their employees and Keele is the first university to adopt it.

  • It’s great to see students join “Team Digital Inclusion” as a new and powerful force to tackle the digital divide.
  • It’s been inspiring to see how much they've have taken from it: gaining a deeper understanding of digital inclusion, and being empowered to make meaningful change within their communities.

We've sent the data and impact reports back to Keele and we look forward to rolling this project on and out to other organisations and sectors. 

Our students will encounter significant digital changes in healthcare delivery over their professional lives. It is crucial that they not only develop their own digital competencies but also acknowledge those who might face digital exclusion and understand its potential impact on an individual’s health and well-being. We are thrilled to have partnered with Digital Unite and local digital support groups, providing students with the opportunity to apply their skills while supporting communities with limited digital literacy.

Dr Claire Stapleton
Programme Director, MSc Physiotherapy (pre-registration)
Digital inclusion awareness training
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