Tag Archives: coronavirus

…and the Russians used a pencil

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There is an apocryphal story that has no basis in fact, about how the US space agency, NASA spent millions of dollars developing an ‘astronaut pen’ that would work in outer space, while the Russians fixed the problem much more cheaply and quickly by using pencils.

What the story reminds us that sometimes the low tech solution can be a better choice than trying to utilise a high tech solution.

With the current situation impacting on learning and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, many of these talk of the use of tools such as Zoom, video and Teams.

Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and now we schools are closed, it won’t be just me wanting to use the internet. Now the rest of the family will be wanting to use my bandwidth….

This scenario also won’t be isolated to you and your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity.

There will be numerous companies and organisations running online meetings and calls. Schools are expecting their students to access online resources through tools such as Google Classroom, but also other online services such as Doddle and Hegarty.

You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix and iPlayer as well for people who are self-isolating.

learning
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

There will be an impact on these services as multiple people start to use them more than would normally be expected.

There is only so much bandwidth and as demand rises for bandwidth it will cause dropouts and buffering.

It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks. 

Vodafone has said it is experiencing a 30% rise in internet traffic across its UK fixed-line and mobile networks.

The FT reports on the EU asking streaming services to limit their services (behind a paywall).

The EU has called on streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube to limit their services in order to prevent the continent’s broadband networks from crashing as tens of millions of people start working from home.  

This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.

The same can be said for teaching online, we might want to deliver lectures live using a tool such as Zoom, even delivering lectures asynchronously using lecture capture may not be easy. Before it might have been possible to have a Teams video meeting instead of a tutorial, today it might be more challenging.

Some are saying, well my broadband seems to be working okay, but we also need to consider the student as well.

Some universities have already advice in place for this kind of challenge.

LSE now advising staff to think about asynchronous and low bandwidth online learning activities.

The LSE tweeted out their advice where staff may be teaching students with restricted internet access. 

They have a web page offering advice and guidance – Teaching and learning provision for students in areas where internet access is restricted.

Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

So how can we create low tech and low bandwidth learning activities?

Generally when asked to move to online delivery, people often think that the easiest thing to do is to translate what they do in the physical academic environment and move it online.

This means conversions such as I normally deliver a lecture, so I will use a live video stream to deliver that lecture to my remote learners.

Likewise, I usually run a seminar to discuss a topic, so I will use a Teams video conference to for the discussion.

These are in the main high tech and high bandwidth activities which may work from a delivery perspective on your broadband connection, but not necessarily work at the other end on your students’ devices and connections.

Well there are some simple technical things you can do that could make the life of your learners easier.

Move from video to an audio stream

Video requires a lot of bandwidth, moving to an audio only stream requires a lot less bandwidth. However you should think about how you might need to adjust the way in which the content is delivered if you are only using audio. Radio is different to television and those differences should influence th design of how you deliver the content or teaching.

Go with asynchronous delivery rather than a live stream

Minimise file sizes

Because internet connectivity can be slow and inconsistent in some regions (or for the reasons about contention outlines above), it is advisable to keep file sizes to a minimum.

The University of Reading has an useful site on compressing files.

The key thing to think about is, that proprietary files are usually quite large, so converting to another format such as PDF may help to reduce file sizes.

Similarly, providing an audio only version of a video file can help those who have slow internet connections

Avoid proprietary file formats

So you have Office 365 and a licence for Powerpoint, do your learners have the same software if you share a Powerpoint file? Yes you can use some online services to convert the file, but do your students know how to do that?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Think mobile

Will your students, who no longer have access to the IT labs on campus, have a device that can access the teaching you are delivering? They may only have a mobile device, so does your content work on mobile.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Designing learning 

Having said all that, another option is to think about the design of the learning to work in a low tech low bandwith environment..

It might also be useful to design activities that work asynchronously, so aren’t dependent on a continuous live internet connection to work.

Lectures can be recorded and downloaded, but what about using other forms of content, such as books, journals or other work as a stimulus for learning? Content can be more than just lectures.

So for example instead of running a seminar to discuss a topic, using Teams video conference, move to an asynchronous format using a discussion forum.

100 ways to use a VLE – #3 Having an online discussion

Debates can be asynchronous as well, through a discussion forum. In many ways this can be a different debating experience with the opportunity for all students to make their point.

100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

You can use high tech tools that require decent technology and bandwidth, but sometimes you can make do with a pencil.

Looking back at online conferences for now

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With the current situation impacting on conferences, events and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, as well as moving conference to online events.

Ten years ago or so, Jisc ran for a few years an online e-learning conference. I participated in these as a delegate, a keynote speaker and for some of these I was the conference blogger and wrote a blog called “Letters from the Edge”.

Letters from the Edge

It can be useful to have an online space (a blog) where someone addresses what is happening in the conference (and elsewhere).

I also published some ramblings about the advantages of an online conference on my blog about advantages of online conferences, many of which still stand up today and are also useful potentially for those who are planning some online delivery.

In this post I discuss some of the challenges, but also many of the advantages of an online conferences.

Why an online conference?

A video about the advantages of an online conference, however it doesn’t take self-isolating into account.

Advantages of an online conference

This post based on the experiences of supporting and delivering webinars over the years and some tips.

Webinaring it

 

This post talks about the discussions that are possible in an online conference. You will find much more discussion and debate takes place than at a traditional conference. Not only that, the conversations happen over time, allowing for reflection and checking sources. It’s also all written down. This makes it very easy to check back and see what someone said before making a different point. Sharing links and ideas is also so much easier too.

Virtually

Wherever you are… is a short humorous video, that looks at how you can participate in conferences from any location, which for most people will be home these days.

Wherever you are…

Online conferences can facilitate more in-depth discussions than at traditional conferences.

Due to the textual and asynchronous nature of an online conference discussion it is possible to engage in the conversation either immediately or after a period of reflection over the two days of discussion for each of the themes. it’s a real opportunity to take the time to debate the issues that arise out of the presentation with fellow practitioners and experts.

Challenging Discussions

I am sure if you ask a lot of people why they attend conferences, in addition to the keynotes and sessions, one aspect that will come out is the networking and social aspects of the conference. So isn’t all this social and networking all lost with an online conference, I hear you cry! Well in a way, yes! And in a way, no!

Social awkwardness

Some may find it useful in these difficult and challenging times.

Digifesting – Weeknote #54 – 13th March 2020

Monday I was making some final preparations for the Jisc Digifest conference this week, where I am charing a panel on Smart Cities.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was off to Birmingham for Jisc’s annual Digifest event.

There were some worries about if it would go ahead because of the coronavirus, but in the end it did go ahead

We had a good session “How can smart city technologies impact education of the future?”

This panel will explore how smart education can be a key ingredient to smart city development, uncovering what roles universities and community colleges, e-learning infrastructure and innovation in education technologies could play in defining a smart city.

It will look at what the university and college role may look like to improve cities for the people who live, work and visit there and as the need for lifelong learning increases, how can smart learning environments be equipped to meet people’s demands?

Alas one of the panellists had dropped out, but even so we had a good discussion and lots of questions from the floor.

Thursday I was in London for a meeting with London Higher about a mental health and wellbeing project. This was going to be the last face to face meeting I think I will be having in a while and even at the meeting a key individual was taken outside to attend a coronavirus meeting.

I wasn’t sure if London was quieter than normal, as my earlier meeting had been cancelled so I had arrived later in the day.

I published a post over on my productivity and technology blog about some thoughts on working from home.

I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often  or rarely, they may find it challenging.

It was some thoughts I had been thinking about in response to lots of tweets and e-mails about working from home.

Friday I was at home, and working from home, and the coronavirus situation was worsening. We started to see a lot more universities start to close for teaching.

We also made the decision to cancel Data Matters.

After careful consideration and because of the ongoing and unpredictable developments around coronavirus (COVID-19), this year’s Data Matters will not go ahead.  It was a difficult decision to cancel but the health and wellbeing of our members, staff, exhibitors and suppliers is our top priority. We also want to ensure we play our part in containing and delaying the spread of the virus. For delegates who have already paid for their ticket, we will fully refund all conference fees.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Making preparations – Weeknote #53 – 6th March 2020

Most students get a big pay-off from going to university – but some would be better off financially if they hadn’t done a degree according to this article.

While about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.

Wednesday I was in London for a drop in session on our Technical Career Pathways. The session demonstrated the challenges we face as an organisation due to the wide range of positions and jobs people hold in Jisc. I also had a meeting about international issues and the challenges our universities face in TNE.

I had a discussion call about the panel session I am chairing at Digifest next week. The session is entitled “How can smart city technologies impact education of the future?”

This panel will explore how smart education can be a key ingredient to smart city development, uncovering what roles universities and community colleges, e-learning infrastructure and innovation in education technologies could play in defining a smart city.

It will look at what the university and college role may look like to improve cities for the people who live, work and visit there and as the need for lifelong learning increases, how can smart learning environments be equipped to meet people’s demands?

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I did some thinking about preparations that universities may be considering if the coronavirus situation worsens.

Technical solutions are only one aspect that universities and colleges need to consider when moving to virtual platforms and solutions.

Many people will know running an online meeting is very different to running a face to face meeting. There are tactics and nuances that need to be considered when

It’s a similar story with differences in how one delivers a lecture and how one delivers an online presentation.

There are affordances and advantages (as well as challenges) in moving from a physical model to a virtual model.

Once more on Friday I was off to the big smoke, as I had a couple of meetings in London.

I found this article on the BBC News interesting.

University applications ‘dictated by train fares’

This is peak season for university open days, when tens of thousands of teenagers and their families are criss-crossing the country viewing places where they might study.

A return trip by train from north to south can cost £200 or even £300. And even with railcard discounts, when there might be four or five universities to visit, the open-day season can soon become an unaffordable closed door.

For those driving, there are still fuel costs. And longer journeys by coach can mean having to pay for an overnight stay.

But these costs seem to have slipped below the radar – even though they might be directly limiting the choices of disadvantaged students.

I wrote a blog post on building communities.

Building a community

My top tweet this week was this one.

Million to one chances – Weeknote #49 – 7th February 2020

St James's Park
St James’s Park

Monday I was off to London once more for various meetings including my mid-year review. These weeknotes were an useful tool to recall what I have been doing and what I had done, especially for those things outside my core objectives.

Photo by Nabeel Syed on Unsplash
Photo by Nabeel Syed on Unsplash

This was an intriguing story about how you could “fake” traffic jams merely by walking down a street (with a hundred mobile phones in a cart).

Artist Simon Weckert walked the streets of Berlin tugging a red wagon behind him. Wherever he went, Google Maps showed a congested traffic jam. People using Google Maps would see a thick red line indicating congestion on the road, even when there was no traffic at all. Each and every one of those 99 phones had Google Maps open, giving the virtual illusion that the roads were jam packed.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

An article by me was published online, having been in print first – New vision in a time of great promise: James Clay explores the impact of Education 4.0 and Industry 4.0 on the copyright and licensing sector on cla.co.uk

As we approach 2020, there is little doubt that digital technology is core to the UK’s Higher Education (HE) sector. It enhances teaching and learning and has the potential to create efficiencies across all aspects of the student experience, supporting staff in delivering excellence. As the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) continues to influence education and research, there will be implications for copyright and licensing too. Continue reading Million to one chances – Weeknote #49 – 7th February 2020