Monday, November 8, 2010

Narrow views of broadband possibilities

Why would you need high-speed broadband in education? That's the question I've been asked a few times over the last couple of months.

At first I had no ready response - I thought it was obvious - clearly it isn't.

The context is the NBN rollout in Australia by 2015 to provide infrastructure that will deliver the bandwidths needed by 2030 and beyond. Tasmania is one of the early 'regions' where work has already begun and the first few towns are now connected. But many are still questioning the expense to the Nation and the need for 100Mbps - particularly for education.

Why do we need high-speed broadband in education?

Current bandwidth (and cost) is so inadequate that schools:
  • restrict bandwidth (shaping) and volume (quotas) for users
  • block rich media sites (for part or all of the day)
  • can't effectively use video (a 2 minute video can take 5 minutes to play)
  • can't use participative media due to tiny upload limits (asymmetric service)
  • have established practices to keep file sizes and internet traffic as small as possible - creating a culture of limitation
  • are limited in the online services they can provide to students off campus
Further discussion with some of those who question the need for high-speed internet connections to schools and homes for learning begins to reveal some deeper implicit assumptions:
  • ICT is an add-on and not required for effective learning
  • the Internet for learning is about email and occasional searching for information
  • most 'content' on the Internet is irrelevant and even harmful for students
  • most students won't use much ICT for further learning or in the workplace - and if they do they will be trained when required

There are many effective ways to use high-speed broadband for learning.

One way to illustrate how current bandwidths stifle learning is to consider video. Video is useful for demonstrations, tutorials, evidence for assessment, communication and story telling. At the moment however any online use of video has to be:

  • short
  • small window size
  • low frame rate
  • low resolution

The use of video becomes counter-productive when you can't clearly see what has been filmed - assuming the video plays without so many pauses that users give up in frustration.

When students produce videos that can be viewed online their work reaches an audience outside classroom walls. This makes the work authentic and meaningful. It raises the students' own expectations for quality and effectiveness. It provides avenues for feedback from and participation with local and global communities.

Video production provides engaging opportunities for learning a wide range of digital media skills. Video production for an external audience makes real for students many other complex issues such as copyright, ethical practice and terms of service. Video production that addresses community challenges such as cyber-bullying or de-forestation help to empower students to be active local and global citizens.

And that's just video. And just the video we know now. 3D video has already arrived in some homes. What bandwidths will we need by 2015 nevermind 2030?

How can we not have high-speed broadband?

What do we do in education until 2015?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Portfolio of Questions

Reflecting on day 1 of the thought provoking #AEC2010 - Australian ePortfolio Conference...

Several speakers noted that ePortfolios are another 'disruptive technology' challenging and sometimes transforming existing learning, teaching and assessment.

I also wonder how they are challenging ICT service provision and support.
Learners and teachers can now find ICT services beyond institution walls and with the increasing availability of 3G wireless access and broadband at home they are choosing from a wide range of ePortfolio options.

In addition ePortfolio systems themselves are evolving as learners and educators look for new features that support user control and customisation. Some learners are also opting for solutions used by professionals in their chosen career area - particularly when seeking feedback from external audiences or establishing a professional online identity.

These rapidly changing technology and educational landscapes (including ePortfolios) are leading some institutions to a 'perpetual beta' culture - particularly in ICT service provision. This can be very positive if it promotes agility leading to increased responsiveness to educational needs. But it is also very challenging and sometimes disruptive to established ways of delivering ICT services within educational institutions.

A few speakers noted the successful use of - or need for - ICT sandpits for innovation. We need to think about sustainable frameworks and processes to deal with the emergent perpetual beta culture.

Because I'm preparing for a presentation ('Wicked' NBN Services for Education) for a Broadband in Society Summit I'm also wondering what the ePortfolio space might look like after the NBN & VEN has rolled out in Tasmania, and then nationally. Perhaps ePortfolio provision is another wicked problem?

What will be the impact on ePortfolios of ubiquitous high-speed connectivity? Will it mean

  • less concern about storage?
  • higher resolutions for photos, audio, video?
  • easier upload of any video format?
  • much greater use of video streaming from on and off campus?
  • video journals and comments - speech converted to text and searchable?
  • integration with immersive environments - 3D virtual worlds?
  • learners set up virtual world galleries, workplaces, offices, simulations?
  • intelligent agents take visitors on tours of ePortfolios 24/7?

I think perpetual beta is here to stay - no use putting our heads in the sandpit :-)