My blog has been unattended for a few weeks now as I took time out to have a completely non-work related holiday with my wife and my sister and her husband in the North-west of the USA. During that time we travelled by car from Vancouver down to San Francisco, taking a very zig-sag route to include everything from the coastal sites, the Redwood forests and the splendour of the Cascade mountains.
During my time away I wasn't completely off-line – maintaining a regular update of my facebook page to keep friends and family appraised of what we were doing. Doing this was no problem, for, unlike travelling in NZ, getting connected to the internet was not a problem from wherever we were. Travelling on a budget we stayed in two or three star accommodation mostly, yet from our hotels in the cities to motels in smaller towns, and even in a yurt in the backblocks of Oregon, we found wireless connectivity with unlimited downloads was a part of the package – people simply assumed that's what you'd want. Further, I didn't have to pay 'extra' for my internet connectivity anywhere during the entire trip, nor did I have to worry about download limits. Just like the provision of electricity and sewage, it was a 'part of the package' of services.
Not only did we find accessing the internet easy from our accommodation, but also from most museums and art galleries, cafes and malls, – walking through the Westfield mall in San Francisco I picked up wireless access points from at least three of the major department stores there which I could access for free. This is ubuiquity at its best. Wherever we were it seems we were able to use our mobile devices to search for more information about what we were looking at, check maps to determine where to go next, or book our accommodation for the following night.
And we weren't alone. It wasn't uncommon wheverver we were to see others checking their devices also – whether for information of some sort, simply checking emails or sending tweets, it was clear that the expectation of 'being connected' was well established in the psyche of this population.
Of course, being connected isn't possible without a device, and this is where I also found things interesting. The extremely large range of internet capable devices available in a range of places, from the sorts of places you'd expect such as Radio Shack, through to supermarkets and malls. In a Macey's store in Seattle I went looking for the electronics section to see what they had available, only to find that the section I was looking for turned out to be a vending machine, where I could simply insert cash and take possession of the device I was after. Such is the commodification of these sorts of things.
My reflection here is really about the imperative of ubiquity. For the past few years now I've emphasised ubiquity as a significant trend in education, opening up a whole new experience for both teachers and learners – and my visit to the US reminded me again of how much ground we have to cover here in NZ before we can really experience this for ourselves and our students. The current focus on the foll-out of UFB to all schools, and the increasing competition among ISPs that is bringing pricing down is a start – but we must do more here I believe.
We must take on board the fact that ubiquitous access is actually an imperative in terms of NZ remaining competitive in the global economy, and that experience of this is an imperative in the lives of our learners. Sadly, we are hamstrung at the moment through the lack of access, the restrictions of download volumes and the pricing schedules – all of which mitigate against the true experience of ubiquity. We're also hamstrung by many of our leaders in different positions within our education system who still see internet access as an 'extra', an 'option' to consider after the library is stocked and the sports teams are equipped, and by some who demand to see how it all impacts on learning before committing to suppport. Now I'm not knocking libraries or sports teams, nor am I saying we oughtn't focus on how anything we do impacts on learning – what I am saying is that we need to aspire to a bigger picture here of the imparatives behind achieving the sort of environment where we can experience ubiquitous access to the internet that will in turn support the things we do as confident, capable, life-long learners.