Tag Archives: broadband

Benefits of high-speed broadband to education

FibreopticA recent NZ herald article reports on a survey by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research which questions some assumptions about high-speed broadband and its effect on productivity. In particular, the survey found that there was ‘no discernable (sic) additional effect arising from a shift from slow to fast broadband’.

The article then goes on to state the contrary viewpoint and ends by claiming that there is evidence that high-speed broadband would deliver benefits such as :

  • hospitalisation of older people could be reduced by 40-70 per cent
  • smart grids could save 30 per cent of energy
  • e-education would deliver far more productive 1:1 education services
  • smart cities, smart transport and smart infrastructure would greatly contribute to the environment and society at large.

These seem like gross generalisations and are, I suspect, not based on any rigorous evidence. Working as I do in education, the 3rd bullet point seems to me like over-optimistic hype: I don’t believe that it’s a lack of bandwidth that prevents 1:1 services from being widely available in our education system. Sure, a ‘fat pipe’ would mean one-to-one tutoring would be able to use a full range of high-quality media. But would that necessarily be more ‘productive’? Writers such as Garrison and Anderson have argued that asynchronous text-based interaction is more effective when higher-order learning is an imperative.

If bandwidth was such a key factor in improving the effectiveness of education, I’d expect the lecturers I work with every week to be clamouring for it. Many of them are already doing great things with embedded media and synchronous communication. Where the technology is holding them back, it’s more likely to be a lack of reliability and training. If speed was the key factor, they’d all be working with KAREN. In fact, the great majority of them have never heard of this high-speed network.

I’m all for high-speed broadband being widely available to educators here in New Zealand, and I look forward to the day when I can use new tools in new ways because lack of speed is no longer an issue. In the meantime, we need to beware of hype which tries to persuade decision makers that high-speed broadband is the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’: education will only become more effective when a whole raft of problems are resolved. Indeed, we could make profound and positive changes without changing the technical infrastructure. It’s about a lot more than mere speed.

References

Garrison, DR & Anderson, T (2003). E-learning in the 21st Century. Routledge Falmer, London.

Unknown author. About KAREN. Accessed 3 November 22009 from http://www.karen.net.nz/about/

Unknown author. Survey questions ultra-fast broadband gains. Accessed 3 November 2009 from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10607054

Photo: Optical fibre by BigRiz

Digital strategy – can we really lead the world?

The Digital Strategy

The New Zealand government’s draft Digital Strategy, was released recently. It states:

New Zealand will be a world leader in using information and technology to realise its economic, social, environmental and cultural goals, to the benefit of all New Zealanders.

An ambitious vision, and one that builds on New Zealanders’ self-belief as can-do people. But I’m not convinced the performance of the country’s technology providers supports such ambitious goals.

Hype vs reality

I knew my ISP was keen for me to sign up for their new ‘unbundled DSL’ service when the information pack, on expensive paper and complete with faux wax seal, was hand delivered to my front door by someone far more glamorous than the usual courier drivers. I’m too cynical to be taken in by the claim that the new service would ‘bring New Zealanders the ultimate communication experience‘. But over the last few months my broadband had been getting measurably slower and the email service less reliable – perhaps ADSL2 would fix all my problems?

You can probably guess the rest of the story – the recurring failure of various parts of the system, the constant calls to support staff to log faults and to check on progress, the lack of proper documentation about the system and its status. The details are too tedious to go into here. Suffice to say it’s 1 month later and I’m still disappointed in the service. My personal elearning capability and productivity has fallen away as I’ve become preoccupied with technical problems.

Technical support vs management

Overall, I’ve found the provider’s technical support staff to be very helpful and responsive in trying to resolve faults. Conversely, the management of the roll-out seems to have been very ad-hoc: the impression is of a process relying on trial-and-error and the competent fire-fighting skills of technical staff. Many times I’ve thought to myself: ‘if only they had planned this properly’ or ‘if only they’d spent as much on communicating information as they did on hype.’ Sadly, I’m sure this is not the first or last time I’ll have such an experience.

Being good at fire-fighting and fixing faults might make you a good follower, but it won’t make you a world leader. Innovation is extremely difficult in a culture focused on a constant round of short-term fixes. If New Zealand is serious about being a world leader in information and technology, it will need to radically change its management culture, not just upgrade the copper.

Some related news articles:

Internet nightmare: why NZ broadband sucks

The future of broadband in NZ