Monday, October 10, 2022

Offline learning in focus as energy crisis looms

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

The prospect of power cuts and major energy saving measures this winter highlights the need for digital resilience and offering alternative access to educational resources. Up till now we have simply assumed that electricity and internet access were ubiquitous and unlimited, at least in privileged economies. One lesson of the pandemic was that many students did not have unlimited connectivity. Some were learning on pay-as-you-go mobile subscriptions and couldn't afford to watch heavy video files or attend long Zoom sessions. As a result many educators have learnt to offer alternative low-bandwidth formats such as text versions of videos, podcasts and downloadable files and these will be vital if the threats of power cuts come true this winter.

James Clay covers this in a post called When everything goes dark. Low-bandwidth formats are not simply emergency solutions but also smart solutions that offer greater accessibility even when all the lights are on. 
When the power goes out, this means no lights, no power, potentially no heating and no broadband. Of course a blackout also means as well no mobile signal, so no 4G. So though you may have a mobile device with enough battery power to use it, it you won’t be able to use the internet.
Universities should already be planning to provide digital resources that are available offline. He suggests contingency training for teachers on how to offer alternative formats and provide support for students. Even if the crisis is avoided these measures will be not be wasted. A lot of video content can and should be replaced by audio, especially when it is simply 30 minutes of talking head video, and a text version is essential for those who have difficulty hearing the speaker.
If you’re not using video, you don’t have to be constrained by text, downloaded audio recordings and podcasts are possible options. Audio also means that the screen can be turned off (or turn the brightness down) again increasing battery life.
Of course this situation is a typical first world problem. In many parts of the world power cuts and poor connectivity are simply part of everyday life and so work and study need to be adapted round the blackouts. We can learn a lot about resilience from all the educators and students in countries afflicted by crises and war. Many Ukrainian universities have managed to continue their courses in spite of horrific destruction. I don't mean that we have to prepare for such extremes but we certainly need to have alternative strategies ready for implementation when needed. Maybe it's time to reach out and learn from them about how to provide education in times of shortage and crisis.

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