Monday, January 21, 2019

Education for the Indo-Pacific Does Not Need 5G Mobile Communications

Exploring the mobile internet,
Solomon Islands,
Photo: Irene Scott/DFAT.
The short paper I presented on "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific" at the International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE) in Wollongong last December, has been published by IEEE. One curious addition to the paper is the keyword "5G mobile communication". The paper discusses using smarphones for education, but I never mention fifth generation mobile networks, nor do I think these are really necessary.

A 3G or 4G network connection is more than enough for a student. A 3G network provides tens of megabits per second and 4G hundreds. This is sufficient for a student to watch videos, and upload their own, as well as take part in live video conferences. In practice students may have much more limited access, due to cost and logistics, so I design online courses where the student can download large materials infrequently, and then use a much slower connection for interaction.

An example of where this may be an issue is the Solomon Islands. The Australian Government is funding a fibre optic cable to the Solomon Islands and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has asked for ideas how this could help young people with skills and education. I have submitted a proposal "Micro-credentials by Mobile Phone for the Solomon Islands", which is based on my TALE paper.

The problem in the Solomon Islands will be getting the data from the point where the fibre optic cable lands, to where the population is. It is likely the the capital, Honiara on Guadalcanal, will be connected, but not all of the other populated islands.

To address this issue I design online courses which do not require a high speed connection. The student can download all the materials required at the start of the course from a cyber cafe (or be sent a data file in the post). They then only need a slow connection to read announcements and participate in text based forums. Live interactive video is nice to have, but not at the cost of excluding many students. If a 2G GPRS connection is available, providing about 100 kbps, the student can take part in Webinars with audio and slides.

Where video and audio are not available, the course designer and instructor have to make sure that the student gets a sense of human connection, through the text based forums. This is not ideal, but can be made to work.


T. Worthington, "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific," 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, Australia, 2018, pp. 861-865. doi: 10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183 URL

Keywords: 5G mobile communication; Australia; Conferences; Education; training; employment; educational institutions; teaching; Australian educational system; assessment; cognitive learning theory; social learning theory; Indo-Pacific; blockchain; micro-credentials