HET201 Extending Learner Horizons in HE Assignment 4 Critical review of a key policy driver 50% weighting for the unit - Pass/Fail Work required: A critical review of a key policy demonstrating an understanding of how such policy impacts on your professional role within higher education. Your review may include historical perspectives, development of the policy, key debates and references to key documentation. 2500 words (or equivalent).
INTRODUCTION The “Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future” government initiative document is of interest to me on a number of levels. Globally, the implications are massive; reliability and speed of connectivity are important factors in solidifying the notion of a global village1. A facet of this is reflected in the conservative policy linking the superfast broadband initiative with there ideology for a “Big Society” (Government, HM., 2010. Giving Green Paper). The entanglement of the Big Society and Global village is evident in the Giving White Paper where the term Global Village could be simplified to our global online connectivity. “Finally, we are excited about the potential that technology, and in particular the development of social media offers; both in terms of overcoming obstacles to giving, and in creating and sustaining new social norms.” (Government, H., 2010. Giving Green Paper.)
I foresee massive benefits in the classroom, institution and its online reach due to a better-connected nation. I am interested to find out whether widening participation could be improved by the superfast BB initiative. I have already been involved with some research projects utilising the superfast broadband. One of which was entitled “The University of the village” and incorporated distance learning with Skype video conferencing to extend widening participation to rural parts of Cornwall. Unfortunately the results for this research project have not been released yet. I have several concerns for the government initiative, which I hope by studying the policy that surrounds it will either be confirmed or can be put to bed. “Britain’s superfast broadband Future” sounds fairly expensive. I am interested to find out how much of this initiative is public funded. I am also curious as to how the government intend to roll out superfast broadband in a non-discriminant manner. The digital divide is already quite apparent in the classroom. I hope to find out whether the initiatives will intensify or balance out the divide. The intention of this policy review is to outline its impact on my professional practice as a technical instructor for New Media. Whilst reading the document I realised that the impacts could be divided up into three sub-categories, global, local and institutional. Global Local
- Affects the nation and therefor, also my professional practice. - Affects the local community and therefor, also my professional practice. Institutional - Affects the institution (University College Falmouth) and I directly. 1
McLuhan described how the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology and the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time. In bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion, electric speed heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree. 2
Rural 80 LAs Local Authorities that have at least 80 percent of their
For this reason the rest of this policy review will be broken down into these categories. GLOBAL The term “digital divide” is used in this text to represent an imbalance of access and therefor ability between people who inhabit urban and rural environments. This being said, the notion of a digital divide can manifest in other forms. The three most predominant categories to facilitate a digital divide are gender, age and class (Warschauer, M, 2007). Pedagogically speaking, all forms of digital divide have an impact in today’s classroom. A vast amount of time is spent harmonising digital literacy to raise the skills of the less able students with the ones that already have a good technical ability. The superfast broadband initiative stands to lessen the rural / urban divide. “We want to do more than bridge the digital divide – we want communities to have the tools to participate fully in the Big Society.” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.)
I am interested to see what implications this will have on the other categories of digital divide. As private companies push technology to the threshold of what is currently possible; prior, yet still worthwhile tech services become cheaper and more accessible. As superfast broadband becomes the new commodity, standard broadband prices should in theory decrease to reduce the class digital divide. I fail to see how superfast broadband will reduce the gender and age digital divides unless out reach projects are created to facilitate a better understanding of the technology. The government hopes that the superfast broadband initiative will help stabilise and grow the economy. “A world class communications network will help the economy grow as we recover from the recession” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.)
Reports show that in times of recession young adults flock towards higher education as the answer to unemployment (Holmes, C. & Mayhew, K., 2010). The surge towards higher education may have been suppressed slightly by two factors; heightened student fees, which are now capped at 9k and reduced funding for H.E institutions especially outside of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) remit (BIS, 2011). The consequence of growth as a resultant of better communication networks in the UK might lead to an increase in funding for H.E, particularly areas that utilise the new communication infrastructure such as Digital Media, computer science and any online entertainment related courses.
LOCAL The majority of Cornwall is classified R802 by the government (DEFRA, 2009. DEFRA), which makes investment in the county risky. Especially, when you consider that deploying superfast broadband in rural areas has been found to be up to three times more expensive than in built up, urban environments. Thankfully the superfast broadband initiative outlines the government’s commitment to equality and backs this up with a £530 million fund to pick up where private companies fall short. “This is a big commitment from Government and will deliver superfast broadband to the vast majority of homes in the UK, not just those in more urban and densely populated areas that the market will cater for.” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.)
Progress like this has multithreaded benefits to a community like Cornwall. Establishing links with the community via widening participation is an institutional priority at University College Falmouth. As I mentioned in my introduction I have already been involved in widening participation driven by the superfast broadband initiative and I am soon to begin work on another research project entitled Rural Connective. I am aware of many other projects, which owe their existence to the superfast broadband initiative. Cornwall has always been “a natural home to inspiration, art and ideas since the early 19th century” (VisitCornwall.com). A vaster communication network throughout Cornwall will lead to greater opportunities for collaboration within the already thriving creative aspects of Cornwall. The better connectivity will allow the university to tap into these creative groups and vice versa. The new communication infrastructure will have a massive impact on entertainment, the way entertainment is deployed and the speed, at which it is delivered, especially in rural areas. This has massive implications on the way that rural areas consume and input into popular culture. Stereotypically, rural consumption of popular culture has tended towards passive. A common preconception is that cultural trends are started in the major cities and then filter out into more rural areas. The Global Village is a welcome disruption from the norm allowing information to be shared almost in real time. Current trends, virals, cultural and entertainment news spread across the UK (and the world) in a chaotic, non-linear way causing a shift from high culture to mass media (Modood, T., 1997). From the experience I gained, participating in the University of the Village project, the shift from high culture to mass media in rural areas has lead to a better understanding of technology, and a greater participation in the Global village. In my opinion this factor is beneficial to my professional practice as it leads to a better understanding locally about what is taught at UCF and therefor more involvement and less resistance.
Rural 80 LAs Local Authorities that have at least 80 percent of their population resident in rural settlements (including those urban areas with between 10,000 and 30,000 population regarded for this exercise as ‘larger market towns’). There are 55 LAs in this group (DEFRA, 2009).
INSTITUTIONAL FUNDING (bold and capitals for a reason), in H.E institutions there is an unprecedented emphasis on research, especially the kind of research that draws in funding. The government’s pledge of £530 billion towards the super fast broadband initiative, plus money from private companies the likes of Virgin and BT has already spurred massive amounts of interest from HE institutions. The existence of the links below are evidence enough of the growing interest: 1. http://air.falmouth.ac.uk/research-projects/superfast-cornwall-labs 2. http://air.falmouth.ac.uk/research-projects/airbt-superfast-broadbandworkshops The implications of this growing area of research on my professional practice emanate not only from the projects I have already been involved with but will probably shape a lot of what I will be involved with in the future. I intend to develop my research to wrap around the improvements to the UK’s communication networks and use these findings to inform what I teach in the classroom. What affect will Europe’s “best broadband network” have in terms of international recruitment? International students paid roughly £1,887 million in tuition fees from 2007 to 2008 (Kelly, U. & McLellan, D., 2009) and the number of international students has risen since. If the UK is host to the best communication network in Europe, international students might not feel the need to move to major cities, safe in the knowledge that no matter where they settle, they will be connected to everywhere else. This will be beneficial to rural universities such as UCF for attracting greater numbers of international students. From the start of the academic year, 2012, students will have to pay up to 9k a year for H.E education due to government cuts. This does not mean that H.E institutions make more profit, simply that the government pays less. Unfortunately for the institutions the students undoubtedly will not see it this way. “Students paying higher fees will have increased expectations of facilities and academic quality, which universities should all work to meet.” (Marshall, P., 2010)
I don’t know how many times already I have heard colleagues utter the words “now the students are paying nine grand they are going to be expecting a lot more from their course”. Where does this “more” come from? Maybe part of the answer can be found in web2,0 technologies. Award leaders could look towards putting more emphasis on online learning, support materials, video tuition, conferencing with external resources and countless other uses for the web. With the new superfast broadband there will be enough bandwidth to support the new demand for an online education infrastructure. Not to mention the possibility of creating online courses akin to the OpenUniversity online
curriculums. There are also opportunities to improve widening participation via online conferencing as well As Cornwall becomes better connected with the rest of the UK, media students will benefit from a vaster public audience. The majority of students produce an online portfolio by the time they graduate. The new developments in broadband mean that their portfolios have the potential to be seen by more people and can be viewed in much improved quality. For this reason, student’s digital portfolios should be regarded high priority and cultivated from a much earlier stage. A large number of student projects involve the local/global communities in some shape or form, be it documentaries, social or locative-based media. The new broadband initiative will open up a better infrastructure and wider audience for the students to incorporate into their projects. Ubiquitous/pervasive computing has had a massive surge in interest from the students. This being said, the students have experienced a lot of frustration with the mobile Internet services currently in place. The government has highlighted satellite connectivity as a solution to the most extreme, rural connectivity and therefor a priority. “Satellite is a viable option for the most remote users and for those in some other not-spots. It will need to be part of any solution aiming at universal coverage.” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.) A reliable mobile infrastructure means that instead of student time being focused on solutions to signal drop out and reliability, they can concentrate on homing in on usability and concept. This leads nicely into the next point, which is that in the policy document there is mention of the benefits to service and companies such as the NHS, Post Office, local nurses and local businesses. “The availability of mobile broadband services to deliver key services in the future, such as healthcare, is as important as fixed services.” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.) I am sure that with the wealth of talented students at UCF the institution can make a big impact in terms of mobile services to benefit the community. I will do my best to facilitate the creation of locative, pervasive and ubiquitous services for the greater good. One area of the document that raised slight concern was: It does need to be highlighted that each service delivery to a school or public building using fibre means that route has been upgraded and has been readied making it easier and cheaper to upgrade. This is a potential contribution to upgrading routes to rural areas, and where suitable, we will look to make this re-use a reality. (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.)
The communication networks that support large institutions can be quite unstable. There are plenty of times where I have experienced down time over the network or just really slow upload/download speeds. If the local community can leech off the network then what will happen to the reliability of the university network? Reliability and consistency is a necessity when working in a classroom environment. One of the most interesting and unforeseen impacts to arise from the superfast broadband initiative stems from the relinquishment of certain wireless frequencies to aid in mobile connectivity. “Government has set a target to release at least 500 MHz of public sector spectrum below 5GHz by 2020 for mobile communications uses, including mobile broadband.” (Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future.) The Media Centre staff body has been aware for a while that the wireless microphones and video gear are soon to be made illegal. I was not aware before reading this policy document that these devices are being made obsolete because “the government's regulator OFCOM is reviewing use of the radio spectrum and has identified some sections which could be auctioned” (GB AUDIO), which is linked to the superfast broadband initiative. The equipment that has been made obsolete can not be modified and therefor need to be replaced which will be very costly.
SUMMARY Returning to my concerns in the introduction, I have come to some conclusions. The way in which the government is funding the superfast broadband initiative is sensible, letting the private companies take up most of the cost and then stepping in only where it is not financially viable for the companies do so. It’s a little concerning that there was £330million underspend for the digital TV switch over. How much of the statistical calculations and costing can we trust? If the new communication network has the affects on the economy predicted by the government then this will have many benefits for higher education institutions. The shift from broadcast to on-demand entertainment should cause a rise in applications to new media type courses with particular focus on web development, content creation, design and marketing. Parallel to this there might be a surge of jobs that encompass these types of skills. The notion of web 2.0 classrooms has been around for many years but has been hindered by a digital divide. A barrier that can be found in the staff body as well as student cohorts. If every house in the UK had access to the Internet and the majority of connections were based on superfast broadband this would go someway to reducing the digital divide. However, the digital divide will still be apparent in the technology students have access too. Its all very well making sure the communication links are there but if the household can’t afford the equipment to benefit from the connection they are still no better off. This being said, technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible. An example of this is the Raspberry Pi3, a tiny, fully functional computer that can be bought for under £30. This is a subject for a whole new research paper though. Getting involved with institutional research is high on my priorities. Research is also a high priority for the institution because of the income it can produce. The superfast broadband initiative brings with it a chance to draw in funding through research around how best to use the new and improved broadband service to better serve the community. I find the energy and funding opportunities in this area exciting, the superfast broadband initiative will definitely influence the direction I take my research in.
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming. (raspberrypi.org) 3
References: Government, HM, 2010. Britain ’ s Superfast Broadband Future. , (December). Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publicatio ns/10-1320-britains-superfast-broadband-future.pdf. Government, HM., 2010. Giving Green Paper. Available at: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_193436. Warschauer, M., 2007. A teacher’s place in the digital divide. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.17447984.2007.00118.x/full [Accessed July 4, 2012]. Holmes, C. & Mayhew, K., 2010. SKOPE Issues paper 24 - UK Higher education in recession. SKOPE, (September). BIS, 2011. Higher Education : Students at the Heart of the System, BIS. DEFRA, 2009. Defra Classification of Local Authorities in England Updated Technical Guide April 2009. , (April). Anon, VisitCornwall.com. Available at: http://www.visitcornwall.com/things-to-do/arts-andculture [Accessed July 6, 2012]. Modood, T., 1997. Culture and identity. Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diverstiy and, 4, pp.29-39. Available at: http://www.maths.lancs.ac.uk/~penn/notes/Soc 244/modood culture and identity.pdf [Accessed July 9, 2012]. Kelly, U. & McLellan, D., 2009. The impact of universities on the UK economy. Available at: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&btnG=Search&q=intitle:The+impact+of+univer sities+on+the+UK+economy#7 [Accessed July 9, 2012]. GB AUDIO. Available at: http://www.gbaudio.co.uk/radio2.htm#press [Accessed July 10, 2012]. Marshall, P., 2010. Meeting the challenge of heightened expectations : how universities can enhance the student experience. , pp.103-106.