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Computer and Information Technology

Index to topics

  • IT resources for community organising (managing the office, communicating with members, research, advocacy, fund raising, etc) go
  • Accessing the research literature (accessing bibliographic data bases); and resference management software; go.
  • Data, information, knowledge and wisdom; go
  • Ideology, discourse, communications and capillary power; go
  • The political economy of ICT, open source software and the digital divide; go
  • Principles of computing and internet communications; go

IT to support community organising General

Basic office skills including spreadsheets (finance), word processing and document editing, database software, presentation software

  • Ubuntu linux: "Ubuntu is a community developed, linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need - a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more."
  • provides a powerful suite of free open source office packages.

The OpenOffice applications (like most commercial office packages) have well designed tutorials and help menus. Rather than focus on how to use the packages themselves our focus in this discussion will be more on the principles of how to get started and continue to extend one's competence in any application.

"NGO-in-a-box offers a set of peer reviewed and selected Free and Open Source software (F/OSS), tailored to the needs of NGO's. It provides them not only with software, but also with implementation scenarios and relevant materials to support this."

Using web based applications Web based applications have most of the software (and the documents you are working with) stored on the 'server' (the big computer out there) rather than the 'client' (which is the personal computer you are using). Web-based ('thin-client') applications, cost very little, do not need huge processing power and RAM inside your own computer and make sharing across distance much easier.

Web browsing, searching, bookmarking and feeds 'Accessing' means sending a message to a server (a big computer on the other side of the internet and asking it to send to your computer a series of files which reproduce their 'webpage' on your personal computer. Recently acccessed webpages are stored on your computer until you delete them. This means that when you ask to see that webpage again all your computer has to do is to check that it has not been upgraded and if not reproduce the webpage from the stored files. We commonly talk about 'visiting' webpages as if we are travelling to the remote computer and reading the webpage there. It is fine to use the word 'visit' but sometimes it is important to appreciate that actually the remote computer has sent a series of files to your computer which have been used locally to reproduce the webpage. 'Browsing' means following links (URLs) which appear in the webpages you access. These links (uniform resource locators) provide your computer with the internet address of the files that you will then retrieve and which will be used by your computer to reproduce the required webpage. 'Searching' means accessing huge indexes which are held on the search sites such as Google. Google has an automated method of accessing millions of different computers which offer to send webpages (web servers) and indexing all of the key words from that site (this is a 'search engine'). So actually the searching has already been done. When you 'search' you are using the index of key words and internet sites that the 'search engine' has put together to find the URLs which might contain the information you are looking for. 'Bookmarking' means filing the webpages that you have 'visited' that you might plan to visit again. It is worth developing a proper filing system to record all of the sites that you want to visit again under meaningful headings (countries, health systems, news, etc). 'Feeds' are a kind of subscription through which you advise the remote computer that you would like to be advised of any updates on a particular site. When such updates are posted the remote computer will advise your computer of the update and your computer will take note of the new item of information and the address (URL). This way you don't have to search all of your favourite sites; you just have to check the feeds folder on your own 'reader' which is the application that you use, based on your own computer, to subscribe, file updates and access the updates.

Web authoring, editing and publishing; creating useful websites Anyone can create a website. You just need access to a personal computer and access to the internet. You generate the information to be posted on the website on your own computer and then send it to the remote computer (across the internet) which is the web 'server' from which other internet users can retrieve your webpage. You have authored and edited and then published your webpage. There are two broad approaches to web authoring and publishinig. The older method involves having a program on your own computer which assists you to create the full webpage as a single package (text, graphics, design, etc) which you then 'upload' by sending it to the webserver. This approach uses programs like Dreamweaver or Frontpage which are located on your own computer. The more modern approach to creating websites involves accessing a program on the webserver itself. The page you are now reading was created using a program called Drupal which is based on the webserver. Another popular program which works in the same way is Wiki which is how the Wikipedia is created. (The PHM_Oz website is also authored using Wiki.) The webpage is prepared in two stages. First the authoring program assists the administrator of the website to design a series of different pages using different design tools. At the same time a database is being prepared in which the actual information will be stored (on the remote computer). This makes it much easier for authors who are not highly trained technically to assemble the data which will constitute the webpage and then upload it to be stored in the webserver's database. The webpage that the user retrieves is constituted by the webserver by accessing items of data from the database and arranging them in accordance with the administrator's design for the webpage.

Using mobile phones 

Create content on phone; share content via phone; deliver content via phone; engage audience; secure your mobile media



Using and developing PHM websites Watch this space

Instant messaging, VOIP communications and conferencing (eg Skype) Watch this space

Bulk SMS applications Watch this space

Blogging, social networking, internet storage

Podcasting and pod-subscribing Watch this space

Accessing the research literature (accessing bibliographic data bases) and reference management software Terminology Different forms of resource that we might find: book, report, webpage, indexed journal, non indexed journal Different levels of access (from publisher): reference, abstract, full text, scan Different pathways: indexes (journal specific: from key words to reference); databases (many journals: from key words to reference to link to publisher); catalogues (library systems: from key words to book location) Different tools: search engines (different methods for finding), platforms (includes publisher interface, to upload journal indexes and user interface, to search database and take user to publisher for access)

The organisations which support this accessing system range from government supported (such as the National Library of Medicine) to local libraries to professional organisations producing their own journal to fully commercial corporations. These different organisations operate under different business rules. Some publisher provide free access to full text. Others provide free access to the abstract but require a subscription for full text. Others sell full text access on a article by article basis. Open Access (Full text journals)

The Open Access Movement

Arose from a meeting convened in Budapest by the Open Society Institute (OSI) on December 1-2, 2001. “The purpose of the meeting was to accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet. [...] Finally, they explored how OSI and other foundations could use their resources most productively to aid the transition to open access and to make open-access publishing economically self-sustaining. The result is the Budapest Open Access Initiative”

Accessing Books Watch this space

Reference Management Software Watch this space Skills Development Planning a search strategy. One of the key issues is not just about access but about skills development in using these tools. Skills in constructing a search and in managing the products of such a search. Most of the search engines are constructed differently so the rules for searching and the syntax of the search is different. To get a sense of these different rules you could go to PubMed and explore the Tutorials. However, the trend is towards 'meta-search engines' which understand the different search syntax of the different search engines and can run the same search simultaneously via a number of different search engines and databases. Harvesting the results of a search.

Data, information, knowledge, wisdom Information scientists find it useful to use these terms to describe different kinds of information. Data are the symbols on the page. The data become information when we know how they were collected and what they relate to. Information becomes knowledge as it is integrated within broader theoretical frameworks. Wisdom brings together explicit knowledge and intuitive understanding based on experience as well as learning. See Chaim Zins' knowledge mapping page. (Also published as Zins (2007). 'Conceptual approaches for defining data, information, and knowledge', Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Vol. 58, pp. 479-493).

Ideology, discourse, communications and capillary power Social scientists see data, information and knowledge as embedded in social relations and cultural context. 'Ideology' is commonly used to refer to the way of seeing the world (worldview) which is associated with a particular political or religious movement. Neoliberalism, for example, offers a particular way of seeing the world; it emphasises the role of human selfishness in driving social processes and is sceptical about rule based social decision making as opposed to the invisible (blind) hand of the marketplace. The term ideology also highlights the role of political and economic power in persuading people that this particular world view is merely an objective account of reality. Thatcher's claim that "There is no alternative" to the neoliberal paradigm illustrates. The term ideology carries the further implication that the worldview promoted by whatever political movement plays an important role in promoting the interests of that movement; it is a tool or a strategy of power. The unstated assumption is that while the view promoted by them is ideological (distorted, self-serving), my understanding of the world really is objective. Many social scientists are sceptical about claims that any account of the world can be simply true and objective, in particular, the lived world of people. The term 'discourse' helps us to speak about the social relations of any statement. A statement like 'the role of the IMF is to force the continued flow of resources from the South to the North' emerges from a particular way of making sense of the global economy and a concern about the human cost of IMF policies. Behind such a statement is a particular set of political affiliations and social traditions. The term discourse provides us with a way of speaking about the context of the statement. If all statements emerge from particular social (and political) locations then all forms of human communication involve a political engagement as well as the exchange of information, knowledge or wisdom. This political dimension of such communication has been referred to as 'capillary power' to distinguish it from the 'top down' or sovereign power of armies and banks and governments. For further reading (and listening), see 'Lines of Communication', co-produced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Open Learning Australia, 1999. See especially Program 6 on Power.

The political economy of ICT, open source software and the digital divide Watch this space. In the meantime go to:

Principles of computing and internet communications Watch this space. In the meantime, GrassRootsDesign has a useful if somewhat dated introductory webpage.

Exercises Small groups undertake small ICT projects during the course. These small subgroups will include experienced and not-so-experienced users of ICT. The following list of tasks is indicative. Not all tasks need to be carried out but every member should be involved in at least one task.

  • Write to the existing IPHU alumni blogspot (introducing our group, what our project is, seeking advice perhaps)
  • Take photographs of the group at work, procure a shared space for the group in a photo sharing place and upload the photos and email all members of group to visit
  • Create a separate group blog spot and maintain it during the course
  • Down load typing tutors for all members who do not touch type
  • Create an online survey questionnaire
  • Subscribe all members to PHA-exchange
  • Create an annotated bibliography of publications on their topic and country/ region
  • Find, install and evaluate Open Office on one of the lap tops
  • More?