December 2006


[Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 20 – Broadband take-up].

Digital Nations in the making was always intended to track the relationship between technology change and the potential for adult learning. But this created a problem in a fast changing world. How do you keep readers abreast of change after a book is published? It was a problem Virman Man, NIACE’s books editor and I identified at an early stage; and was the origin of this Transforming Learning blog, which could provide links to current data and research.

At the end of the 2006 – and almost seven years since the UK Government announced its ICT infrastructure for the Community plans – it’s time for an update on access rates and penetration and for a few predictions for 2007!

Getting a link to the internet for their students is always an issue for adult educators, but things are changing. Home dial-up connections are declining sharply as take up of broadband services – in response to lower costs – climbs. Providing always-on connectivity and rapid downloading of multimedia and audiovisual material, broadband offers great opportunities we need to seize.

 Just three years ago only 19% of connections in the UK were broadband, but by September of this year the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that this figure had reached 75%, compared with 59% in October 2005 – a figure I quoted in Digital Nations in the making.

From some recent research I have been doing, I have learnt that online learning is not yet a big area in either adult education or further education, but the possibilities are opening up, as ONS figures show that 85% of people accessed the internet in 2006 from their own homes.

With many adult services developing their own learning platforms like Moodle, there’s more incentive for tutors to create activities which can reinforce their own classes and link to media rich material created by others. A good example is languages for listening to audiovisual material of people conversing and practising pronounciation. There’s plenty out there like the BBC’s Talk Greek programme.

For 2007 I’m betting that using mobile devices for informal learning and access to web services via ubiquitous wi-fi will be fast growing areas. 

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Photo of $150 prototype laptop for the developing world.
It’s worth loking at the article in the New York Times (30 November 2006) by John Markoff updating on progress with the project One laptop per child in the developing world. Devised by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, the scheme has tentative support from 5 countries – Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria and Thailand – and could be set to supply, through a Taiwanese production company, $150 laptops to millions of young people.

Provided it gets backing from the Governments concerned and there is support for teachers in how the laptops can best be deployed, there’s room for optimism here, despite the scepticism of some. Suchit Dash has some interesting comments on the programme on his Thoughts on Technology blog.

[Digital nations in the making: Update Page 98 – Web 2.0 & adult education].

The mid November Economist had an interesting article on ‘blogging professionals’ (Going Pro, p. 67, 16 November 2006). These are people whose blog readership generates sufficient income from click-through advertising to enable them to concentrate solely on blog production to the exclusion of other work. They represent a small percentage of bloggers, but are by no means restricted to the technical.

dooce.com is a good example from a disillusioned Mormon woman – who has suffered from depression and chats away about home, kids, husband and the world – and shows the kind of advertising she has attracted to the site. She shares high popularity rankings with the author of You-Tube’s geriatric1927, whose wartime memories, recorded on simple home video, have found a seam which absorbs the interest of thousands of people.

One blog mentioned in the Economist article was that of Om Malik, which I was particularly interested to see, as I had used his excellent material in Digital nations in the making when writing about developments in Web 2.0

Another sign of the times for blogging is the attention paid by the mainstream press. Most have links on some day of the week. The Wall Street Journal (27 November 2006) for instance had Jessica Marmor’s Blog Watch on the highly topical issue of Weather and Climate. Two caught my eye as being of particular interest to tutors and learners studying environmental topics. 

Jeff Masters, an expert in air pollution meteorology, who has literally flown into the eye of many storms to collect data, has  a wunderblog, full of informed views and data, including a good review of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Another site realclimate.org has expert contributors from many countries and significantly looks at the politics as well as the science relating to climate change. Both are well worth looking at.

For the last (and best) word on the subject of climate change, Jeff Masters recommends “for every citizen of the globe” the website of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of over 2000 scientists from 100 countries, mandated by the UN.