Today I am feeling guilty, or at least regretful. I should have written an article that I started planing over a year ago. Articles take a long time to craft and may be in gestation for some years, only because work gets in the way. This is what happened when I intended to write about my small piece of research with Mark Hepworth. Mark Hepworth was an academic specialising in Information Literacy and I first encountered him when I was a PhD student moonlighting as a University Teacher at Loughborough University. He died last year and to honour his work in the field Aslib Journal of Information Management have published a special issue Mark Hepworth: In Memoriam. I really should have written and submitted that article.
There is an obituary about Mark in the Times Higher Education which gives a little insight into his life and work. My first work with him was helping to teach a module on Information Literacy at the Department of Information Science at Loughborough. It was a very practical module because it taught the students about Information Literacy by actually developing their own information seeking skills. Then I graduated, went off the the exotic climes of Nottingham, and returned to work (not study, this time) at Loughborough. On my very first day of paid research work at LISU I was handed a sheaf of questionnaires and asked “Can you finish this project for Mark, please? He is going to do some work in Africa”.
The project was about one of the things that meant a lot to Mark. It was a development of a previous project that was looking at the possibility of developing a messenger system that appeared on television screens, while you are watching the television. It was in collaboration with Nottingham Community Housing Association who were putting the concept into reality with the help of a software company. The research was to find out whether it helped communication between the housing association’s team of social carers and made the elderly and vulnerable residents of homes feel included and safe.
This theme of vulnerability, communication and information and the digital world ran through many of Mark’s projects. It is somehow ironic that at the time I took over the project, unknown to many of his colleagues, Mark was falling ill, with Motor Neuron Disease, rapidly becoming vulnerable himself. It did not prevent him from going to Africa, however.
The messenger system comprised a box, like a Digital Television box, through which the television signal was fed. I was not told the full technical details of this box, but this was the link that would send and receive messages from a website. Messages would check on the well being of the user, “how do you feel today?”; or be reminders “Don’t forget your doctors appointment at 10.30”; or give information “armchair exercise in community tomorrow”. The messages could only be answered by the recipient using their remote control to check one of a series of multiple selection answers, so it was no replacement for email, twitter or snapchat. But then, not all for the people we researched were interested with that sort of digital technology. Pictures could be sent and friends and relatives could be registered as users on the website.
The research looked a number of things:
- The users satisfaction with the system
- The well being of the users
- The ease of use of the system
- The information that users wanted to have
It found that participants that were digitally competent found the system frustration because it was a one way messaging system, they could not use it to send alerts. However, other participants felt safer, more included in society and reassured that someone was looking out for them.
Nottingham Community Housing Association have continued developing the system as a commercial enterprise and won an award for technology at the 3rd Sector Care Awards 2016. This, then, is my tribute to Mark and hopefully I will manage to write up the article, before it gets too late.
A full report on the research is available from the Loughborough University institutional repository