Access to open teaching and learning

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.


Source of image

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.


Source of image

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 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.

5 thoughts on “Access to open teaching and learning

  1. crumphelen July 30, 2015 / 3:49 pm

    Hi Jenny
    I enjoyed reading this post because until recently I too lived in a rural location (NW Ireland) that did not have high speed broadband connectivity. At the start of the year, I relocated to England and immediately realised the advantage that high speed connection can bring – just for regular web activities such as engaging in synchronous communication and streaming videos. However, I also learnt previously, much to my consternation, that for many people to realise the learning opportunities that the web can bring it’s not just access to technology that’s required, it’s also access to opportunities brought about by the selfless and equitable actions of people like Lisa Lane that you mention in your earlier post. There’s inequality of opportunity for sure as many organisations, despite the technology being available, either don’t have the necessary resources to avail of it or don’t have the necessary people in key positions who are willing to adopt it and embrace change; they’re just happy with the status quo and with their comfortable existence.
    I’ve been enormously fortunate in my own personal learning to have benefited from the openness of others but in my professional life within adult learning, I know full well that not everyone has access to the same opportunities.
    Once again, thank you for the post.

  2. Laura Gibbs (@OnlineCrsLady) July 31, 2015 / 1:16 am

    I live in a very rural area of North Carolina, and I teach full-time online. When we moved here 8 years ago, the (very limited) availability of DSL limited where we looked for a house. Access is much better now, but it was a big problem when we first moved here. Luckily, though, we found just the right house at just the outer limit of DSL reach, so I get to live amidst the trees… but with good Internet access!

  3. jennymackness July 31, 2015 / 9:18 am

    Hi Helen and Laura – thanks for your comments and sharing your experiences. I have been struck by how easy it is to forget that many people still do not have the access to engage in online education. Of course there still remains the face-to-face option, but I know from my experience that for many f2f is not possible. The campus is either too far away and too expensive to reach, or personal circumstances mean that adhering to the strict timetables imposed by f2f courses is not a possibility. For some (if not many), online distance education is the only way forward. So there remain lots of inequalities and divides despite how open and inclusive we would hope to be.

    Helen – I’m wondering if you are missing Ireland. Such a change for you.

  4. crumphelen July 31, 2015 / 3:04 pm

    Hi Jenny, certainly there are things I miss about Ireland, but on the other hand there were things I missed about England too. Although I have Irish ancestry, my mother is Irish, I am after all English. Also, I think I am both hard-wired for change and that I was socialized for change as a child – we moved about a bit. Besides, you have to go where the opportunities are, and right now they are in England. In fact, I have just been offered a PhD studentship with CREET (Centre for Research in Ed &Ed Tech) at the Open University, so I am looking forward to embracing both the challenge and the change.

    Yes, it is very easy to forget that many people do not have the access or the opportunity for online education.

  5. jennymackness August 1, 2015 / 6:58 am

    Congratulations Helen on your PhD studentship. It looks an interesting opportunity. I look forward to following your progress 🙂

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