The challenges of digital poverty are making the news, with demands to ensure students have access to devices and connections. What isn’t making the news so much is demands to rethink the curriculum design and delivery so that it is less reliant on high end devices and good broadband!
Could we deliver content and learning via an USB stick or even on DVD?
This tweet by Donald Clark of a suggestion by Leon Cych to use USB flashdrives, reminded me of a presentation I delivered fifteen years ago.
As suggested by @eyebeams why not load a ton of stuff up on flash drives and send them to people with low or no bandwidth… this has been done for years in some countries
— Donald Clark (@DonaldClark) January 11, 2021
Back in 2006 I was looking at how learners could access learning content despite not having a fancy laptop (or desktop) or even internet connectivity.
I was intrigued about how consumer devices used for entertainment, information and gaming could be used to access learning.
I also did a fair amount of work reflecting on how to convert learning content (from the VLE) to work on a range of devices from the PlayStation Portable (PSP), iPods, mp3 players, as well as devices that usually sat under the television, such as DVD players and media streaming devices.
So for an online conference I prepared a presentation on this subject.
Mobile Learning on a VLE?
Wouldn’t it be nice if all learners in an educational environment had access to a wireless laptop and free wireless access to their digital resources at a time and place to suit their needs.
The reality is that learners don’t always have access to what we as practitioners would like them to have.
However, they do have access to some mobile digital devices which could be used, these include mobile phones, iPods, mp3 players, portable video players, PSPs… These devices are used extensively for entertainment, but rarely used for learning.
However, though many of these have limited web access, most are unsuitable for viewing traditional webpages, can not access a VLE or e-learning content, and often can’t read PDFs, Word Documents, PowerPoint presentations, or other complex documents.
Virtually all however can read images, short video clips and some have the potential for interactive content.
Most will work fine on buses, trains, planes, cars and even on foot, using a laptop or desktop in this way can be problematic…
The question is how does a practitioner convert and distribute content to their learners in the preferred format easily and quickly?
How can a learner access this content easily and quickly?
How can you ensure that mobile content will enhance the learning experience for learners?
Some devices have communication facilities, e-mail, SMS, MMS, Video, how does the practitioner interact with the potential learning activities which can utilise this functionality?
The WCC core team working with our partner colleges have been investigating the means and mechanisms to ensure that practitioners can both easily work with content for these mobile and portable devices, but also that the learners can access this content.
We shall demonstrate the processes been developed and implemented to allow learners to access their learning content and activities at a time and place to suit their needs.
We shall show how the WCC shared VLE is being used to host this converted content and distributing it to the learners.
There will also be some discussion on the use of similar processes being used for home based digital devices such as DVD players and media streamers.
The submission will be a short paper (webpage format) with examples of content for various mobile devices being made available for download and use.
Here is a video of the presentation.
As well as delivering an online version of the presentation, I also did mobile versions of the presentation for a range of devices.
Back then you needed to create bespoke proprietary versions of videos for each device, you couldn’t create a single video that would then work on multiple devices.
I remember doing versions for the following devices:
- Apple iPod
- Compaq/HP iPAQ
- Archos AV
- Various phone video formats
I also did a DVD version.
When I moved jobs in 2006 and joined Gloucestershire College we took these ideas and (with help from MoLeNET project funding) set about allowing students to access content on a device of their choosing.
The process we setup with software and appropriate hardware was that a student would come into college. Access the VLE, download the relevant content for their studies.
They would then (if required) be able to convert into the right format and transfer it over to their device.
No need for home internet access or providing students with devices.
Of course there is more to teaching and learning than content, but the content would sit alongside activities and other aspects of learning.
It did work in some respects, but one of the main challenges was the lack of appropriate and relevant content. Too often teachers would resort to Word and Powerpoint files rather than create videos or record live Powerpoint presentations.
We also found with many students that in the time it would take to download, convert and upload to their devices, it was often quicker to just watch the video…
However that was then…
Today many of those devices are obsolete, and many now have fast broadband connections. Even when writing this post, I realised that back in the day, most of the devices I had, had a DVD burner, but today, not so much. I am lucky I have an external drive to burn DVDs, but even the software is hard to get hold of to do this, as a Mac user we lost iDVD years ago!
Do learners even have DVD players these days? The new XBox series S is disc-less now…
Though it has to be said the capability of modern phones and other devices is that they are much more forgiving when it comes to playing video and audio content and are capable of playing a much greater and diverse range of formats.
So do we need to think about delivering learning content on a range of devices?
A year ago, probably not, but the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that there isn’t equitable access to remote teaching and learning. The issue of digital poverty has raised the issue of access to devices and connectivity.
If it was done for the students now, then reliance on devices and connectivity would be reduced and the gap between those who have digital privilege and those in digital poverty would be reduced.
Though we must remember that digital poverty isn’t really a thing, it’s a cover for poverty in general. I think that my colleague Lawrie sums it up best with this tweet.
Lots of stories on my local news about “digital poverty”. Let’s be clear, it’s not digital poverty, it’s poverty, and the differences between those with digital access, and those without are growing because of poverty.
— Lawrie (@Lawrie) January 7, 2021
I think the key issue is rethinking the curriculum and the pedagogy. We have designed courses for in-person face to face teaching. Most of the time this has been converted (or translated) into a remote delivery format. It has not been converted to reflect the opportunities that online pedagogy can bring to the table. Even if it has then often the mobile pedagogy isn’t thought about. Teaching and learning remotely is one thing, online teaching and learning is another, and mobile teaching and learning is different again.
The solution appears to be a combination of redesigning the curriculum, to be a combination of low bandwidth, asynchronous type activities, alongside traditional live streaming, with option to deliver content to learners to access on their devices at a time and place to suit them. Understanding where your learners are and how they will access teaching and on what device and connection is critical when it comes to successful curriculum design.
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