Network report misses

13th June 2003 at 01:00
What a disappointment is the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) report on the "Opportunities and Barriers to the Use of Broadband in Education" (page 4, Such an important topic deserves better, as do the teachers labouring under the weight of difficult-to-use IT solutions.

The BSG report epitomises what is wrong with educational ICT (information, communication, technology), with too much emphasis on communications and technology and too little on information. The focus should be on information strategy, user requirements, and management of change, not on technology and networking.

The BSG Report assumes faster networking is an end in itself, as if this will magically transform the educational experience. Everyone has to spend money on "broadband" as if this is all that is needed. This misses several points.

The first is that speed of external connection is irrelevant. It is end-to-end speed and quality of experience. This speed is more likely to depend on the school local area network (LAN) as a bottleneck but this is not mentioned.

On quality of experience you would be hard pushed to find a more difficult site to navigate than the Department for Education and Skills' Curriculum Online. More spent in development and less in promotion would have ensured a better end-user experience.

Third, speed is only required if there is justification. The saying "If you automate a mess, all you get is an automated mess and things go wrong faster" applies in the current situation. Since content is difficult to find on Curriculum Online, and the overheads to organising digital content are excessive then network speed is not going to aid teacher productivity.

Better, not faster, is required .

Fourth, the BSG Report misses the link between national curriculum and digital content. Every school has to teach the national curriculum. There would be greater benefits if digital content were tied directly to national curriculum modules. Teachers could then locate, acquire and use digital material relevant to their needs. Unfortunately no one seemed to think it important to link the Curriculum Online and national curriculum parts of the DfES together. There needs to be radical action to improve the situation, with a fresh appraisal of the requirements to support education with effective, modern ICT.

So where do we go from here? First, make "ease of use" a priority in future activities. Full 3D interfaces are now a reality. Yet here we are, pushing out-of-date solutions on to the next generation.

Second, ignore the BSG recommendation for broadband education projects to have a sustainable follow-through for three years as this does not make sense with rapidly developing technology, where costs are continually declining. Only by anticipating developments and designing for the future will we get attractive and appropriate solutions.

Third, rethink the recommendation to make the DfES the repository for digital content. Adding to the content load when navigation is so poor is not going to help anyone.

A major step forward with the application and exploitation of technology was achieved once in the UK, albeit some time ago with the DTI Pilots Programme. The contextual factors of mistakes, lack of experience, inadequate project and programme methods, and embedded resistance seem to be very similar 20 years later. Maybe the same model should be applied again. Our teachers deserve the quality of solution such a programme would deliver.

Dr Gordon Ross,

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