Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘post

Edublogs asked this question.

My answer is a more nuanced “neither”.

I call what I write and illustrate in my blog “entries” to indicate the reflective nature of journalling. I share my still-evolving thoughts out loud, and if they happen to help others with their own reflections, so be it.

I might have called them “posts” in the past, but I am not a journalist or advertiser. I certainly do not consider what I write to be “articles”.

There is another reason why I do not use “blog” as a noun. How does one distinguish the whole blog from an entry (read the blog on my blog)? Calling an entry a “blog” is just lazy.

I also wish to distinguish what I do here with navel-gazing tweets and self-aggrandising Facebook posts. So I stick with “entries”.

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While it might have seemed like I was picking apart this opinion piece on providing universal Internet access yesterday, I support most of its ideas and the principles it was based on.

For example, one of the concepts was that it was not enough to simply provide devices and broadband connections to all households. We also need to drive behavioural change, e.g., utilising the connections and devices productively and ethically.

Providing hardware and software without good “humanware”* leaves users open to potential harm. For example, they might not know how to secure their devices against hacks.

Equitable access to broadband connections and devices also does not ensure access to information. Users need to be taught how to work remotely with secure video conferencing or to participate in online learning.

*I consider the practices, attitudes, and values that are socially transmitted and negotiated to be humanware.

One barrier to the installation of humanware is another divide: The access to timely advice and reputable sources of information. Consider the importance of using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

VPNs are not created equally even though most claim to provide secure and private Internet surfing experiences. Rerouted traffic goes through a VPN provider’s servers and what they do with all that data is not immediately transparent to the average user.

VPNs also allow users to access information they need or want even if an overriding policy prohibits it. This does not have to be an illegal act.

I have a Netflix subscription and was looking forward to the interactive episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. According to the actress who plays Kimmy, it was released in the USA over two weeks ago.

The episode has been delayed indefinitely in Singapore (see screen shot below).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive episode delayed.

This past week I visited Netflix hoping to watch the special episode. The page oscillated between displaying the “safety” message and telling me it was not available in my region.

I know Netflix dubs episodes in different languages to reach larger audiences, but the last time I checked, I spoke english in Singapore. I still do.

The rules for not streaming the interactive episode were not known, they prevented access, and they did not make exceptions. This was despite the comedy being mild. How mild? This IMDB parent’s guide stated that “’Shit’ is used once in season 4.”

I resorted to using my VPN service to watch the episode. As it was a choose-your-pwn-adventure special, I watched it with my wife to enjoy the different routes it took.

So what it my point? VPNs provide access to what you want or need even when obtuse or outdated policies hold you back. In my case, I enjoyed some harmless entertainment. In the case of a worker or student, a good VPN might not only provide a more secure web browsing experience, it could also provide a richer one. But only if this humanware is first installed and constantly updated.

Access is not just about the hardware and software, it is also about the know-how and know-why of humanware.

This opinion piece by two academics about digital access as a universal right and basic utility could not be more timely. But I seek to balance it with some critique.

The article cited a statistic that might surprise those who view affluent Singapore from the outside:

According to Professor Jean Yeung’s recent Straits Times article on her study of a nationally representative sample of over 5,000 children aged six and under, although the Wi-Fi penetration rate is near universal in Singapore, 8 per cent of families in her study who lived in rental units did not have a connection, and 44 per cent lacked a computer or a laptop at home.

The authors pressed with this statement:

As local media reports revealed, the home-based learning experience was highly uneven across families.

Whereas affluent families fretted over higher order concerns such as the quality of online instruction and children’s excessive screen time, less well-off families grappled with basic problems of device ownership and Internet access.

I agree, but I think that that we should not be looking for equality, i.e., treating everyone the same. We should be striving for equity, i.e., provide more help and resources for those that need it more. This is not just a semantic argument. It is a pragmatic one because it shapes the actions we take.

U-Save 2020.

Consider a system we already have in place, U-Save — vouchers that eligible households receive to offset the cost of utilities. The government provides more financial aid to those living in smaller apartments and less to those in larger ones. This is based on the working principle that the less well off live in small apartments and need more assistance.

The authors of the article then proposed that a system like Wireless@SG be extended to every home:

With our Nationwide Broadband Network successfully in place, offering broadband access speeds of 1Gbps and more, extending free home Wi-Fi to residential areas will not involve more than a concerted coordination with telcos outfitting every home with modems and wireless routers.

Our other utilities — electricity, gas, water — are not free and their infrastructure needs to be maintained. Wired and wireless infrastructure need to be maintained and upgraded. The latter tend to be the first to fail and make headlines compared to the more established utilities, e.g., StarHub and M1 each had a major outage in April and May respectively during our circuit breaker (our shelter-in-place).

Making Internet services “free” will place the burden on taxpayers. The same taxpayers will also likely have to put up with inferior customer service since there is no commercial pressure to compete and improve.

The authors then addressed the need for digital devices:

The current NEU PC Plus scheme offered by IMDA is generous and well-intentioned.

Yet, as with all mean-tested programmes with conditions, coverage will fall short. Some who need it will not apply while some who apply will not be given.

NEU PC Plus programme by the IMDA.

[Image source]

They then pointed out how disadvantaged families tended to choose mobile phones over computers because phones cost less. Computers, if present at home, were old and shared.

Financial cost is not the core issue. A Chromebook or mid-range laptop costs less than a high-end mobile phone. You might even be able to buy two or three Chromebooks instead of fully-specced iPhone.

The pressing issue is that learning resources and platforms tend to be optimised for computers. Computer screens are larger and computers have more processing power, storage space, and extendibility (think peripherals).

I argue that there an urgent need to shift the mindsets of teachers, instructional designers, and platform developers. The shift is mobile first (or even mobile only). This means that content delivery, curation, and creation, as well as cooperation and communication, be designed with the affordances of a phone or slate first.

Such a shift highlights another need: Access to professional development for learning and platform designers to operate with such a mindset. If we design first for mobiles, we reach all who have access to mobile devices.

Thinking and doing mobile first is not reaching for low-hanging fruit. If designers and developers currently operate on the desktop paradigm, it can be challenging for them to do otherwise.

But if they do, they might discover how the many affordances of a phone — location-awareness, orientation in 3-D space, augmented audio and video among them — provide opportunities that level the playing field.

Are you wondering what life might be like in a modern country after one or more waves of our current pandemic? The latest podcast episode from Pessimists Archive offered some insights.

It is not a stretch that working from home and home-based schooling can become more feasible options. This is only if we follow the patterns of previous pandemics, i.e., we go with the flow of disruption, develop or improve supporting technologies, and craft enabling policies.

The entire podcast is worth a listen for the details. It was a bit of a departure from its usual fare of focusing on how we irrationally fear technology-enabled change. But it stayed true to its recurring message of why we need to move forward.

On a side note, I wonder how many people are preparing for the possibility of a long-term stay of the pandemic. By people I am referring to the lay folk, not strategists or governors. By long-term I am referring to possible cyclic returns and not one protracted wave.

If we do have cyclic returns that perhaps last about a third of each year for two to three years, what adjustments are we planning to make?

I hope that a particular link does not work by the time you read this. Why? Every now and then someone will copy entire entries from my blog and paste it into their blog without acknowledgement or my permission.

How do I know this happens? Pingbacks.

I received an email notification yesterday that my reflection on the cost of textbooks was pinged in another of my musings about novice teaching mistakes.

Blog post plagiarism.

Screenshots of my blog entry on the left and the copy-and-paste job on the right.

I am choosing not to share the link to the plagiarising blog. Instead I share screenshots of my original and the copy [1] [2].

On visiting that blog, I noticed that it harvested an assortment of posts probably in a bid to get attention, increase its search engine optimisation (SEO), and benefit from ad revenue.

I will be taking steps like contacting the owner to have the copied entry removed, asking Google to counter the copy’s SEO attempt, and notifying the copycat’s web host.


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