The internet is getting slower right at the moment that we need it the most. According to The Financial Post, Canadians are online more than ever before, and for longer periods. It’s put a strain on our internet infrastructure, putting the brakes on upload and download speeds across the country. That’s not good news for online education, particularly at a time when millions of students are expected to complete courses online.
Selwyn (2010) writes that “the use of technology in education needs to be understood in societal terms.” I posit that this moment in time allows us to experience one of society’s issues of inequity: internet access. Internet access is the basis of online learning. How can you learn online, if you are not online? We are studying learning and technology, and are in the midst of critiquing online learning events. When we meet virtually, we see each other’s faces (and cats) via video connection. We seamlessly share our writing and research through Google Docs. We are in a place of digital privilege; and from this vantage point we survey and assess the world of online learning. However, not all Canadians are fortunate enough to ascend to these digital heights.
According to a 2019 report from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, 37% of rural households had access to high-speed internet. The situation is even worse when we look at households in Indigenous communities: only 24% have access to high-speed connectivity. Those numbers are all the more stark when you consider that in urban areas, 97% of the population has access to services that offer 50 mb/s of download speed and 10 mb/s of upload speed.
This is not just a tech support issue; this is a societal issue. How would our approach to designing learning systems change if our internet accessibility was downgraded? I think of the use of embedded video and live streaming as a staple of online education. How much does the use of video media exclude large swaths of learners from accessing learning opportunities? Is live streaming a luxury that excludes learners? How do we reconcile the enriched learning experience of video and live streaming with the fact that using these media may exclude disadvantaged learners from participating in our learning event?
As more and more of us experience slower internet speeds, will we be able to empathize with the millions of Canadians who are challenged by substandard internet connectivity? As I dismay over my tortuously slow download speeds, I realize that this may be a learning opportunity.
Selwyn, N. (2010), Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26: 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. (July, 2019) High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy. Retrieved from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/139.nsf/eng/h_00002.html
Jackson, E & McLeod, J. (April 2020). My internet seems slow: How is the coronavirus affecting internet providers?. Financial Post. Retrieved from: https://business.financialpost.com/telecom/my-internet-seems-slow-how-is-the-coronavirus-affecting-internet-providers