Home learning and the future of digital education
By Charles Kitchin, City Manager for Suffolk at CityFibre
While home-working has been quietly on the rise for several years, the pandemic-driven shift to home-learning for students of all ages has been sudden and dramatic. Overnight, desks and classrooms became tablets and kitchen tables, creating new barriers and challenges nobody could have ever imagined or planned for. This has been incredibly tough for everyone – students, parents and teachers alike – with the stresses on all sides being shared widely in the news and on social media.
A key reason for this is because the tools being used for home-schooling today weren’t ever meant to be used by the entire school roll all at the same time – nor as a replacement for in-person learning. As a result, teachers are spending their valuable time juggling IT troubleshooting and battling against buffering, revealing a gaping divide between the haves and have nots when it comes to quality connectivity and ownership of school work-friendly devices.
Learning at home using new and engaging digital tools should be an opportunity everyone can enjoy. Indeed, teacher groups have suggested that a blended approach combining at-home and classroom-based learning could be here to stay. But is it fair that some areas have better connectivity and online experiences than others?
If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that broadband is as important as water and electricity to our everyday lives, and that we need to level up access if all our learners are to benefit from the next-generation of educational tools. This is why CityFibre is building town-wide full fibre networks that will bring almost every property in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft within reach of the fastest, most reliable and highest capacity connectivity available. By doing so, local students accessing full fibre services can be assured of a seamless online learning experience.
Future of education
Besides connectivity, a second reason why many students have had a mixed experience of home-based learning is that they haven’t yet had the opportunity to try out more of the digital tools that are now emerging, and find one that suits them. We all learn differently, and in the classroom it is much easier for the teacher to adapt to different students’ needs. But, from home, a one-size-fits-all approach can exclude a lot of people. The good news is that digital technology has become a platform for the development of new approaches to learning that make it possible to personalise it to the students’ needs, capabilities and learning styles.
This is why the ‘EdTech’ has really taken off in the UK, with innovators seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate this unprecedented shift in the way we learn for good. Recent reports measure its growth at 72% during 2020 in the UK alone, citing augmented reality and digital classrooms as being the key areas of development.
Of course, the success of innovations like these depend wholly on the infrastructure that supports them. Like charge points for electric cars and connected navigation systems for autonomous taxis, digital connectivity is a crucial enabler of these technological leaps in remote education and training.
Going back to personalised learning, the best and easiest way to achieve this is by creating immersive learning experiences. Can you imagine being able to put on a headset and experiencing the sights and sounds of the Colosseum at the touch of a button, rather than just reading about Rome in a textbook? With technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), this is all a real possibility – at all levels of education. VR simulators, for example, are already being used to train the armed forces and even surgeons.
Importantly, AR and VR aren’t bound by the laws of physics, making it possible for learners to experience unfamiliar or even dangerous environments from a safe distance. Already, there are programmes that allow users to dive beneath the sea to study the wreckage of the Titanic or walk on the surface of Mars – so the only limits to ways they can enhance education is the imagination of developers and educators. In addition, because most VR experiences can be enjoyed independently, students can go at their own pace, skipping parts that they’re already proficient at while spending more time on areas where they want to improve.
Already, researchers have found significant benefits to these methods. Studies show that VR and AR technology can boost overall performance by as much as 40% by enabling learning through doing, which is known to double children’s ability to retain information.
A strong connection
Ultimately, if remote learning methods and new technologies like digital classrooms, VR and AR are to become accessible to all and more widely used, it’s essential that all homes are supported by digital infrastructure that won’t let learners down. Just as Suffolk needs roads that can handle every day commuter traffic, home-learning requires digital infrastructure that can support today’s always-on digital lives.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case with much of our existing communications infrastructure, which was built to carry telephone signals, not data. Currently, less than 20% of premises have access to full fibre, with the majority still restricted by ageing infrastructure which is no longer fit-for-purpose.
This is why CityFibre is giving Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft a boost by building a new full fibre network that’s not only up to the job today, but futureproofed for the needs of tomorrow.
Designed specifically for the digital age, full fibre networks use 100% full fibre technology to carry data at light speed all the way from the home to the point of connection – think of a pristine open highway with no bumps in sight. This gives users consistently faster speeds - for upload and download, near limitless bandwidth (i.e. everyone in your house can work, study, stream or game simultaneously), and connectivity you can depend on. With full fibre, you’ll never need to worry about you or your child missing a lesson at home ever again!
With areas of all three towns soon to be able to connect to the new full fibre network, and more homes coming on line throughout the year, CityFibre will make a real difference to the lives of many residents in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft .
To check availability, and keep an eye on which ISP services are live in your street, visit: https://www.cityfibre.com/residential/