When everything goes dark

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

So how do students do online and digital learning without electricity or even connectivity?

The news is full of stories on the possibility of winter blackouts as the energy crisis continues to hit home. With the continuing prospect of restrictions in gas supplies across Europe, there is a strong chance with a extreme cold spell in the UK that there will be power rationing. This means that some parts of the UK will be dark. Students will face learning without light, power, heat or connectivity.

What can universities do to prepare for this potential likelihood?

How can you deliver high quality online learning without power or connectivity?

When the power goes out, this means no lights, no power, potentially no heating and no broadband. Of course a blackout also means as well no mobile signal, so no 4G. So though you may have a mobile device with enough battery power to use it, it you won’t be able to use the internet.

This means that if learning is to take place during a power cut, then it needs to be offline (downloaded), so it can be accessed without the internet.

It is important that any such learning activities are able to take place on (probably) a mobile device, with no connectivity. Mobile devices will have limited battery life, so though the idea of downloadable video content (recorded lectures) may be attractive, watching these can dramatically reduce the battery life of a device, so curtailing the amount of time it can be used for learning.

So how can universities prepare for low power asynchronous learning activities?

The obvious solution is to revert back to paper and candlelight as many students did in the 1970s. 

However fully charged devices with their own power source (batteries) provide the potential for digital learning despite there been no electricity.

It is likely that areas of the UK at risk of blackout will have some advance warning (as they did in the 1970s) of the risk of blackout, so allowing students a chance to download activities before the power cuts out.

If you’re not using video, you don’t have to be constrained by text, downloaded audio recordings and podcasts are possible options. Audio also means that the screen can be turned off (or turn the brightness down) again increasing battery life.

For example the high end iPhone 14 Pro on a full charge can deliver 29 hours of video playback. On a full charge it could also deliver 95 hours of audio playback. Of course those figures aren’t real-life experiences, and assumes the phone was fully charged when the power was cut.

Audio also doesn’t require light, so less need for lots of candles or torches.

Delivering audio as a subscribed podcast, means that the device will probably have downloaded the content already in the background, so will be available for listening when the power cuts out.

There will probably still need to be a reliance on contingency planning to ensure that students are aware of what they can do, and are able to do when everything goes dark.

They may not want to actually learn whilst it is dark.

There is the further challenge of what to do when the campus goes dark.

Learning during a blackout is always going to be a challenge, and for many students it will be something that they don’t do until the power comes back on. However universities can do some things that make at least some learning possible, so diminishing the impact of the blackout.

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