The beginning of How Do I? emerged mid-way through a lifeskills lesson.
Tom Casson, Lead on Lifelong Learning at Swiss Cottage School Development and Research Centre, was teaching a group of young people how to make a cup of tea. Making a cup of tea is an activity that many complete on a daily basis, but one that most don’t remember being taught. Simply put, it’s one that many take for granted. Learning difficulties don’t stop with numeracy and literacy. For people with additional learning needs, the tasks that keep us healthy and happy (and that most of us want to be able to complete independently) can take as much time to learn as reading or writing.
Money management: Taking cash out at the cash point. Counting money. Buying something at the shop.
Habits for good health and wellbeing: Brushing your teeth. Making a healthy snack. Trimming your nails. Choosing appropriate and clean clothing. Weighing yourself.
Keeping up around the house: Doing the washing up. Unloading the dishwasher. Sorting and washing the laundry. Using the hoover. Making the bed.
Social skills: Hosting a friend at your home, or visiting theirs. Making a hot drink for a friend. Using communication systems, like a buzzer in a flat.
Teachers and teaching assistants spent lesson time demonstrating tasks. Tom felt they could be missing out on opportunities to assess progress, identify gaps in learning and most importantly, allow young people to have a sense of independence as they learned. Staff wanted to be more responsive to the varying levels of support required by each of their learners.
Taking it outside of the classroom, parents are consistently asking school staff and therapists how to help their young person develop daily living skills at home and in the community. Youtube tutorials are teaching millions of people how to do everything from creative application of nail varnish, to furniture assembly, to on-trend food preparation. Changes to funding means organizations are thinking differently about their resource allocation, and are exploring assistive technology solutions more intently than ever. Use of mobile technology continues to grow and becomes evermore tightly bound in the fabric of our everyday lives.
The concept of How Do I? came naturally, and started with QR codes. Step by step lifeskills videos, presented in a user-friendly way, gave people the opportunity to learn skills in their own time, at their own pace, in their own way, without any pesky teaching assistants or teachers or carers stepping in- unless they were actually needed.
Fast forward to June 2014: Alexandra Eavis, co-founder of Alcove and Swiss Cottage School governor, introduces the idea of incorporating NFC into the project. NFC (Near Field Communication) has recently become more mainstream, and developers are using it to simplify actions like paying for journeys on public transport, or buying milk and bread from the shops.
Tom loved the idea, especially because it removes the barriers associated with QR scanning apps, or navigating videos on YouTube that aren’t designed with people with additional needs in mind. Incorporating NFC meant that accessing a thoughtfully designed, user-friendly lifeskills learning video was as easy as touching an NFC-enabled device to a bright, easily identifiable NFC tag.
Simple, intuitive, accessible. Nesta's Inclusive Technology Prize came soon after.