Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I wonder how much bandwidth this post will take...

Usage based billing. These three words (or two, depending on whether or not you choose to hyphenate anything) should strike fear into the hearts of everyone who reads them. Imagine a world where internet companies are allowed to mess with your wallet the same way cell phone companies often do. Ladies and gentlemen... we have entered the realm of usage based billing. For those of you who haven't heard the news, as of early March internet providers are allowed to lower their limits for internet usage, and charge for excess usage much the same way that cell phone providers treat "minutes" and data plans. Again, for anyone with a cell phone, we all know how difficult "usage limits" can be on these devices. The only thing more irritating than "going over" your limit and having to pay, is having to keep minute-by-minute (or megabyte by megabyte as the case may be) track of your activities.

Sometimes I just want to watch one of my favourite TV shows online. Or check out a YouTube clip. Or research for a paper. Honestly, when doing any of these things, the last thing I need is to worry about how much "data" I'm using. Considering the amount of technology we're asked to use on a daily basis (in our courses, in our research, in our day-to-day lives, etc), it would be nearly impossible to impose self-restrictions on internet usage. The majority of things I do online simply have to get done (homework, teaching activities, etc). Of course, the internet companies must realize this (unless they're completely oblivious, which I sincerely doubt is the case) and as such figure that there's money to be made, and they're going to take advantage of the opportunity.

There are a few very serious implications stemming from this change on the horizon. First, how much data does a video take? How much data will I use to complete tasks as usual? Where do I find this information? Is it even POSSIBLE to find this information? Second, how is this funding alteration going to change how we're expected to teach? How will this widen the socio-economic gap between the kids who "have" and the kids who don't? Some families can't even afford computers (which have arguably become a standard piece of equipment for education today), so how are they supposed to deal with this additional potential cost? Further along these lines, this proposed change will forever alter the expectation for homework. Is it appropriate for teachers to expect students to use their family internet allowance (or their personal internet allowance) to complete mandatory school work? How will this impact the thoroughness of the assignment? Will students and families be reimbursed for this additional mandated cost? Will ALL students still have access to the resources and materials they need (videos, large files, etc) in order to complete their work? How will this change the way schools spend their money? Will teachers still be able to use the internet to teach their lessons? How will this impact the "smart board" revolution?

In my last blog entry, I spoke about how I use YouTube in my private drum lessons. I LOVE YouTube for teaching... it's a fantastic resource. However, depending on the video, it can "cost" a lot of data usage. Would my students lose the opportunity to see these videos as their lessons if my internet was limited? Considering the fact that I've got anywhere between 10 and 15 students at any given time, you bet. I doubt I would be able to give those students this kind of multimedia experience if I had to budget my data needs for research, course work, personal use, etc. Similarly, I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me to instruct my students to use their own personal internet for tasks that I assign, either in the classroom or as "practice" for my private students. The internet, as will many different technologies, has the potential to be an absolutely limitless resource... unless of course someone decides to limit it for personal financial gain.

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