This week I have been reminded that I cannot assume that everyone working in education will have online access as and when they want it.
I live in a beautiful part of the UK – Southern Cumbria – a county filled with mountains and lakes and lushly green because of all the rain we get. I have never had any significant problems with getting an internet connection. Sometimes it has been slow and sometimes I have dropped out when making synchronous connections such as in a Google Hangout, but this has been minimal and has not interfered with my ability to work. This week even these minor difficulties have been removed as I now have a high speed fibre broadband connection for the first time and I can already see the difference.
British Telecom claimed a year ago that half of Cumbria was covered by faster, fibre broadband – but we have only just got it in our area in the South Lakes and many still don’t have it.
I only have to travel 20 minutes from my home, on the motorway going North, to get into a valley (this must be one of the most beautiful stretches of motorway in the country) where I lose signal. I know from my hill walking experience that it can be easier to get a signal on the top of a mountain than in the valleys.
But few people in Cumbria will be living on mountain tops. The majority are living in the valleys, and many are living in remote rural areas.
Eventually everyone will have high speed broadband, but in the meantime this has implications for anyone working online, for rural businesses and particularly for schools and for students in further and higher education and their teachers.
This came home forcefully to me this week when testing Google Hangout and appear.in with a couple of colleagues. This worked fine for me, but was virtually impossible for one of my colleagues whose online connection depends on tethering her phone to her computer. My other colleague pointed out that she could only join the Hangout from her work base, as at home in rural Cumbria, she doesn’t have a mobile signal and even her telephone line isn’t working. She is investigating satellite broadband, but it is expensive and for students probably wouldn’t be an option.
This is the reality for many students and educators in the area I live in, which adds another perspective to the meaning of open online learning and how it can be promoted.
The good news is that the county council claims that 93% of homes and businesses will have access to superfast broadband by the end of the year so hopefully this will increase the potential for open online learning.