To some extent technology has been used differently by the pre-16 (compulsory) education sectors and the post-16 (FE & skills). Compulsory education is still largely classroom based so, as long as a high speed connection is available to each school premises, technology-based-learning can take place. However, FE & Skills and HE is based in a variety of settings and, increasingly, teaching & learning is being delivered via the internet. However, increasingly pre-16 education relies upon technology in terms of homework assignments and remote access to and submission of, course work.
For the past decade education establishments have been building “virtual learning environments” (VLEs) and e-portfolio systems where classes and resources can be downloaded and assessments can be uploaded. Pretty much every secondary school and Further Education (FE) College in the country has a VLE and, as exam boards start to recognise e-portfolio systems, FE colleges, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), Work Based Learning Providers (WBL) and Independent Specialist Colleges (who provide education for those with profound learning needs) are putting a great deal of their assessment online. Adult & Community Education (ACL), widely thought to enhance and regenerate communities, is also moving online, with 80% of Yorkshire & Humber providers using a VLE and 13% developing one at present. VLEs don’t just contain text based resources, but also video and audio files, or links to those on external hosting sites (e.g. YouTube).
In recent months, many post-16 providers have been moving from resourced based online sessions to “webinars” (i.e. lessons with everyone connected, using streamed video). At least 2 ACL providers and half a dozen FE Colleges in the region are examining moving a portion of their classes online.
There are some exceptions in terms of ACL and WBL providers however, in the main, FE&S providers and HEIs are connected via the very high speed JaNet connection, providing them with broadband links in excess of 50Mbps. This is normally extended to all college campuses, though often at a reduced speed. The problem comes with the large number of students now working off–site. Several colleges in the region now run online courses that require no or minimal attendance on campus. HEIs have been doing this for decades and, even when campus based, routinely offer their lectures to students as recorded audio or video files.
While the offsite issue applies, in the main, to post-16 sectors, it is becoming an emerging issue in the compulsory sector. The various agendas around personalising learning are examining whether choice of venue could be an option for some students, as a method of engagement. Additionally, during the recent snowfalls, many classes were quickly switched to VLEs. VLEs in the complusary sector are also used to report data back to parents – school information, classes, homework, letters and in some cases grades, may be shared via a VLE facility or similar. In the Worth Valley, all the primary schools use a “Moodle” VLE to share newsletters, policies or similar.
To access a VLE effectively, it is essential to have a speed of only around 0.5 Mbps, however, if the VLE has high quality picture files and, more crucially, audio and video files, a speed in excess of 1 Mbps would be needed. A webinar system would need a dedicated 1.5 Mbps connection (dedicated meaning that, if a home had a 1.5 Mbps connection no one else would be using the internet connection during that webinar) and needs upload speeds of greater than 1 Mbps if presenters are going be sending data (e.g. webcam footage) of reasonable quality.
Currently, according to tests carried out at broadbandspeedcker.com, the core of Oxenhope has an average speed of just over 2 Mbps and a mode of in excess of 2 Mbps. However, when the outlying farms are taken into account, the mean speed falls to 1.5 and the mode to below 1Meg. Stanbury has less available information, however the mean is just short of 1.5 Mbps (thanks to just one suspiciously high result) and the mode is significantly below 1 Mbps.
In Oakworth, the homess outside the core report a mean of just 0.6 Mbps and even with the main is only a mean of 1.2 Mbps with a mode of 1.5 Mbps. (N.B: this excludes customers using Virgin fibreoptics in parts of Oakworth. With this taken into account the average rises to just short of 3 Mbps, demonstrating the importance of fibreoptic broadband).
As a result, it is safe to conclude that the majority of learners in Oakworth and Stanbury are unable to access modern learning methods and many will struggle to access any VLE content at all. Users in Oxenhope should be able to if they have sole use of the internet in their home.
Content by Kevin Campbell-Wright (@kevupnorth)
PostScript by David Robertson-Brown (@DavidR_B)
As a Dad of three young lads in Stanbury, I regularly help out with homework and try to expand their minds and connection to the wider world.
The adoption of technology within a learning environment is continuing to grow and the local school is rightly encouraging kids to use specific web sites to help with their projects both within and out of school hours. They have a fibre broadband supply which runs straight through the village, but residents had no opportunity to pay to access this when it was being installed.
It’s essential that the rest of the village and neighbouring farms are kept up to date with such technologies and services, so we can continue with the further learning of our children at home. A decent broadband service is central to this and I fear that kids in the Upper Worth Valley will be disadvantaged by the commercial attitudes of large internet service providers and BT whose only focus is profit. Fair attention should be given to this by our authorities so that fair access is available. This is REALLY important.