Blog Training

Chapter member Ben shares his perspective on the benefits of the ISOC Fundamentals training program to his local community

A member of the UK Chapter attended the ISOC Fundamentals training program on encryption. Here, he shares his experience and perspective on benefits of the ISOC fundamentals training program to the local community:

During April, I attended the Internet Society’s programme of ISOC Fundamentals webinars. Each touched on a different ongoing ISOC project, from establishing international traffic routing norms to educating users on the value of strong encryption. Inspired by this latter project, I set about organising a series of events for my local community.

By the end of 2020, my city was home to over 100 people awaiting the outcomes of their claims for asylum here in the UK. Hailing from all over the globe—from Iran and Iraq to Eritrea and El Salvador—they await news of whether they shall be granted leave to remain here, or whether they shall have to return home. For their first six months in the UK they receive less than £6 per day to live on, are not eligible to work and have no access to formal English tuition. As a result, a patchwork of charitable and voluntary organisations up and down the country endeavour to provide this vital support where the government does not The City of Sanctuary (CoS) movement began in Sheffield in 2005, with the city declaring itself the first official City of Sanctuary in 2007. Our own CoS organisation was formed in 2015 and provides a range of educational and pastoral services to both asylum seekers and settled refugees, from English lessons to football coaching. One such service offered is the provision of laptops and tablets—often donations from local community groups or individuals—which proved to be crucial during the pandemic lockdowns, as all activities moved online to Zoom.

However, given their diverse backgrounds, our students’ level of familiarity with ICT can vary widely; some have plenty of experience and know exactly what they’re doing, whilst others come from more rural areas and may have limited (or no!) prior exposure. Even those who are more comfortable with their devices struggle with some of the terminology in English. Though I had recently joined the group to teach English, we soon decided that it would be well worth me putting together some ICT lessons for the students.

The first of these pilot sessions primarily covered identification and navigation. With six students from the beginner English class, we covered vital vocabulary—‘mouse’, ‘laptop’, the names of various keys on the keyboard, etc.—and how to orient oneself on the home screen and start menu, as well as briefly touching on how to create strong passwords. Used to teaching more advanced English speakers I found it a little difficult to adapt my delivery, but luckily one of their usual teachers was present to help, such as by pausing me to ensure that the students understood the word ‘device’, which I had been using freely without considering that it may be unfamiliar jargon.

For the second session, I was keen to introduce the students to the Web and to a handful of services in particular that I thought would be particularly valuable for them (i.e., the Simple English Wikipedia, and Duolingo). To do so, however, it would be necessary to also cover the topic of staying safe online; with great power comes great responsibility, after all. Given the aforementioned language difficulties, though, this would be tricky—it’s not so easy to talk about multi-factor authentication, for example, without the words ‘multi’, ‘factor’ or ‘authentication’.

To work around this, I focussed on hands-on demos wherever possible, such as getting the students to look up directions on their own devices for various modes of transport, or directing them to a non-HTTPS site to demonstrate how they can recognise the difference. I was aided in this by some really useful tools, such as How Secure is My Password?, which helped me to demonstrate visually, in real-time, the way in which certain tweaks can affect the strength of a password. Similarly, getting the students to enter their passwords into Have I Been Pwned helped to demonstrate the risks of password re-use better than me describing them could have (though I had to wave away the peculiar spelling in the title).

Given our time constraints, I also relied on the NCSC Web site to provide more in-depth explanations for the students to read through in their own time; the information provided is uniformly simply-written and clearly-presented, even when dealing with complex topics. Though it was presumably intended to assist non-technical readers, this proved equally useful for those for whom English is a second (or third, or fourth) language; as with all accessibility efforts, something intended to benefit one group usually ends up unexpectedly benefiting others, too.

In spite of the expected teething problems—missing projector cables, Wi-Fi troubles, etc.—I think the sessions went well, and the students commented afterwards that they felt more comfortable with their devices now, which was our key goal. Alongside that, my attempts to teach technical online safety topics—HTTPS, password entropy, etc.—with as minimal a reliance on language as possible were mostly successful, and something that I will certainly be bearing in mind for future iterations of the lessons, or when attempting to convey complex information to non-technical users of all stripes.