Some are born connected, some become connected and others have connectivity thrust upon them. This week I have been working with all these types of online learners, but it would be indiscreet to comment on who might fit each category. In Sutherland, a new project called TeleLink 96 is using FirstClass and the Internet to deliver training and support to 10 trainees. These folk, five men and five women, are being set up with home-based computers, printers and modems to connect with each other, their trainers at Sutherland TeleTraining and the world.
Previous projects have focused on teaching teleworking skills, and tended to ignore the issues of developing skills to use for teleworking. This has led to many teleworking courses being discredited because the trainees tend not to find work when the course ends. It has come about because of a short-sighted demand for unspecified skills. A local development officer receives lots of telephone calls about teleworking opportunities, and when he asks what skills are on offer, callers tend not to be able to give an answer. An analogy with office work shows what a nonsense this is: "I'd like a job please." "OK, what can you do?" "I don't know, but I want to travel to and from work each day and carry out my tasks in an office with other people around."
It's clear this is not enough. What we need, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, are skilled people who can work at a distance from their contractor. The TeleLink trainees will address this by working towards recognised Scotvec vocational qualifications as well as towards their teleworking award and do their bit to refocus telework and its opportunities.
And is there work out there? I think there is. So did Jack, who met me on a teleworking training course last year. After getting himself hooked up to the Internet recently he immediately let a Usenet group know of his skills and need for work. Within two days he had received an e-mail message, the next day a telephone call came, and by the end of the week he had been for an interview in Newcastle and been offered a job in Hong Kong. He's there now, working away and keeping us up to date by e-mail with his network exploits and those of the cockroaches he's learning to deal with.
Perhaps the most interesting new entrant to the online world for me at present is The TES Scotland. When I first started filing this column the editor took my copy by fax because we had the first fax machine on Papa Westray and I was keen to use the thing. As a telecolumnist, I've always wanted to communicate with the office using e-mail and file transfer, but the paper was busy doing other things.
It's not just a method for me, it's also a topic. Because of my interest in distance-learning using computers, I may, from time to time, have used online terms in the column. Once I was devilish enough to try out a new word, "telematics", and received queries asking if typos were creeping in.
So we have always had this Ludditeevangelist relationship. While thrilled to see the Times Web site emerge, I was so disappointed when I saw that the Scottish edition wasn't included that I teased the editor a fair bit. Imagine my excitement when I returned to my office the other day and noted my answerphone was waiting to pass on some news. It was the editor, asking me to ring. He'd got an e-mail address, and when I returned his call he shared it with me. Immediately, I organised the traditional rites of passage to celebrate the onlineness of our friends and colleagues.I e-mailed the George Street offices in Edinburgh and passed on the e-mail address to another online afficianado who did the same. I bet the editor will reply to us real soon.
It looks like the first step has been taken to see this paper integrated into the online world. If any help is required, the TeleLink course could probably squeeze in another one or two. So, give it a try: firstname.lastname@example.org. uk email@example.com