Using a Mobile Broadband Dongle Abroad

The sun is out, summer is here, the world cup in on telly and most of us are really busy at work! Many people have work or personal trips planned in the next few months and they are probably going to need online access while out there. However when working abroad getting online either with a mobile broadband dongle or via a mobile phone can be very expensive.

Richard Patterson from broadband and mobile broadband comparison site Broadband Expert has written a guest blog post for us on the trials and tribulations of using a mobile broadband dongle abroad. He also runs through a few tips to minimise your costs and avoid ‘bill shock’.

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Alone by Giorgio Montersino

Firstly check the data costs for using mobile internet on your phone or your mobile broadband dongle abroad, costs will differ by country, for example charges in non EU countries will often be more than EU countries. There’s a wide range of costs that vary dependent on both your provider and the country you are in all of which should be available on your provider’s website or by calling them before your trip. Although roaming costs have dropped they can still be very expensive for heavy use so it’s well worth doing your research.

Once you have an understanding of the data costs it’s important to understand exactly how you intend to use your internet connection before deciding how to get online. Activities such as watching or downloading video which use a lot of data can prove very expensive with some horror stories of customer racking up bills in the thousands of pounds being reported in the press. It’s best to keep an eye on your usage to avoid any nasty surprises if you do plan on using your standard UK plan to get online when abroad.

If you do plan on using your mobile broadband more than just occasionally when abroad the two best options are either a dedicated travel tariff or a local pay as you go mobile broadband plan.

Mobile broadband travel tariffs

All of the main 5 mobile broadband providers (Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile, 3 and Virgin) have introduced special tariffs or add-ons for using your mobile broadband dongle whilst abroad at a much reduced rate from the standard roaming charges. Rates vary between providers with Orange being the best value at the time of writing. For those who need to get online regularly when working abroad it’s well worth considering the travel tariffs available with each mobile broadband provider before signing a contract.

If you have a pay as you mobile broadband plan then you will need to activate international roaming before going abroad (speak to your provider to do this). Some providers may offer an add-on for using pay as you go mobile broadband packages abroad which will reduce data charges so it’s worth enquiring about these when you enable international roaming.

Buying a pay as you go mobile broadband dongle abroad

An easy way to avoid the high costs of using a UK mobile broadband dongle abroad can be to purchase a local pay as you mobile broadband dongle from the country you are in. This will usually give you the cheapest costs and is often the best solution if you plan on being abroad for some time. This means that you will be paying local rates and are not committing to any lengthy contract. Furthermore you can top up your data allowance as and when you need to.

Happy (work) holidays!

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Learning at an Online Conference

Yesterday I attended the Open University annual Learning and Technology conference: Learning in an open world. As I explained in an earlier post (The Totally Online OU Conference) at some point the OU team made a fairly radical decision and decided to hold the entire conference online. So was it sink or swim for them?

I’m sure there were many successes and just as many failures but from my minimal experience of the event I’d have to say that it was a journey definitely worth taking. An interesting observation was made by one of the OU team in the final talk (given by Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame, more on that later):

I wonder how you feel Jimmy when people say negative comments about Wikipedia. I think it is always easy to knock things and we have even seen that yesterday and today with people being cynical about what we are doing with this conference. Yet it is much harder to pioneer and take action in a positive way to make things better.” (sic)

The conference organisers Martin Weller, Karen Cropper and Janet Dyson have bravely pledged to use the online assessment and their own experiences of how it went to write an analysis of the process and a guide for others on how to organise an online events. I think these will prove to be invaluable resources as the public sector move into a time of serious justification: justification of travel costs, environmental costs, time costs and any other costs it might incur. For us transparency, collaboration and efficiency are very much the words of the day, and the OU Online Conference ticked all these boxes.

So what were the interesting bits for me?

Elluminate

The OU chose Elluminate as their Webinar software of choice. I’ve used Elluminate a few times but only as a presenter so it was interesting to see it from an attendees perspective. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the Tuesday session but I tuned in to the Open Teaching session first thing on Wednesday morning.

The OU team did a great job of keeping the audience engaged before the session by providing notes on audio testing, getting ticks and crosses from people on whether they’d attended the previous day and asking people to introduce themselves and where they were from. I was amazed to see that there were people from afar-a-field as Hong Kong, Australia, Germany, Latvia and Spain. It was a real multinational audience.

The general structure of each session was 3 lots of OU speakers (15 minutes + questions) followed discussion and an external speaker. Tony Hirst from the OU gave a great opening talk on Creating open courses, his presentation was clear, interesting and visually stimulating. I think as a webinar presenter you have to make an effort to be even more animated than usual as people can be so easily distracted. You also need to be quick to notice problems and receptive to your audience, even though you can’t see them. I noticed this in the next talk on Digital Humanities & Classics Confidential given by Linda Wilks and Elton Barker. There were quite a few sound problems and a lot of delegates were talking about this in the chat facility, but the speakers didn’t pick up on it. It didn’t take long before a few of the 70 participants who’d been in Tony’s session had dropped off the edge. An online audience is very fickle. Closing a session is much easier than walking out of a room!

Joe Smith who gave a great presentation on Open to knowing about climate change checked that his audio was OK before he started, getting a show of hands from the audience. There were 5 or so OU moderators in the webinar/room and they made a great team effort with the Q&A,. They handled both audio questions from people who raised their hand and twitter and chat questions. However the session over ran quite a bit. It seems that when there is no-one physically there to wave a “times up” sign speakers can just go on forever!

The intention had been to move delegates into breakout rooms to discuss different issues but it seems that on the previous day there had been a lot of confusion about how to get into rooms and then back to the main webinar room. This was abandoned in favour of a more general discussion. Credit to the OU team, they were very receptive to how things were going and quick to change their plans.

As I mentioned earlier in the post I also tuned in to tail end of Jimmy Wales’ talk on openness and Wikipedia. He was unfortunately fighting against the England Slovenia football match and a high level of network usage but he did a great job. I probably wouldn’t normally get to hear and converse with such a high profile speaker and to do it without having to get on a plane was fantastic stuff.

All playbacks of sessions are now online.

Cloudworks

Cloudworks is a site for “finding, sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas, experiences and issues”. Although I didn’t realise it at first it was actually developed by the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University. (It is part of the Open University Learning Design Initiative and is funded by both JISC and The Open University.) Cloudworks is very focused on enabling discussion, connecting people, encouraging sharing, establishing communities etc. As the intro explains:

Unlike many existing educational repositories, the emphasis is on building a dynamic collection of ideas and experiences; via a variety of educational content (learning designs, case studies, resources and tools) plus active discussions about the use and effectiveness of this content in different contexts. The voice of users of the site, their experience, reviews and reflections on the content of the site is a central feature….The target audience is practitioners in HE and FE, although the site may also be of interest to other formal and informal educational sectors. We accept that there will be a higher percentage of consumers than contributors, however over time we hope to increase the level of engagement with the site, encouraging a larger number of educators to share and discuss their ideas and practice.

It does seem like a well thought out resource and I’m sure users gain confidence the more they use it. However there are moments when it’s a little intimidating. There were so many urls banded about that I did start to feel dizzy at one point. Groups of pages seem to be listed under cloudscapes (there are also content, cloudstream, clouds and tweet divisions) but all individual items are assigned numbers rather than longer descriptive. There are obvious advantages of this but as a person just popping into a few sessions I did feel a bit overwhelmed.

Overview

I really enjoyed the sessions I had time to sit in on. Unfortunately distractions are a problem and I had 6 phone calls during the morning session, I’ve never been so popular! In one of the sessions I was in there was an interesting discussion about how people were experiencing more interuptions at work than home. Someone commented “strange that you have to not be at work to work“.

If I was to attend something like this again I’d try and focus more and make sure distractions like phones were out of reach. There is still a lot more to say about the content of the day but I’ll leave that for the time being. I’m sure those at the OU have a lot to digest about how the event well but if it’s any help to them I think they are on the edge of something big…

Further Resources

Get the most out of the OU online conference

The OU online conference kicks off today. The organisers have sent around a 10 step plan to get the most out of the OU event which its really useful.

They suggest:

  1. Block out time in your dairy to participate in the synchronous Elluminate sessions. See: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2994 for the programme with the links to the Elluminate sessions.
  2. Let your colleagues in your office know what you are doing and tell them what level of crisis it needs to be for you to be happy to be disturbed by them (and encourage them to also take part).
  3. If you think there will be too many interruptions in your normal working area, see if you can go to a quiet room or meeting room with a laptop (can you borrow one if you do not already have one?).
  4. As a minimum, make sure you have a set of earphones available and that they work with the equipment that you have and that sound is also working on your equipment. If you think you may want to contribute to the audio discussion you will also need a microphone, also worth testing beforehand.
  5. Test that Elluminate works on your equipment. See: Conference Info: Using Elluminate
    To actively participate:
  6. Watch the pre-conference videos at http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/3959 and comment on the cloud (interviews with Martin Bean, Simon Buckingham Shum, Grainne Conole, Andrew Law).
  7. Join the main Elluminate presentation sessions (see: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2994 for the programme with the links to each Elluminate session) and contribute to the questions and debate with text chat and/or audio within the Elluminate session.
  8. Join the moderated breakout Elluminate discussion rooms after each main session.
  9. Watch the multimedia presentations in cloudworks and add comments to the clouds. For the list see: Your Contributions for OU ‘Learning in an Open World’ conference http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2128
  10. Give us your feedback after the event (at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ouconf10) and there is a cloud for free format feedback: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/2992

Unfortunately I can’t attend today but hope to pop along on Wednesday. Enjoy!

Public Sector Nomads

One of my Twitter friends put me on to the Public Sector Nomads site. I’d actually heard about about the Nomad project before at the Local Authority event (Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working) I attended last year. Nomad’s focus was originally on mobile and flexible working and it created resources including case studies, specimen policies and procedures, business case toolkits, pilot project reports and presentations from various events. Nomad was initially an Local eGov project supported by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but things seem to have moved on since then.

The new emphasis is on community – it’s described as “a community for people interested in new ways of working, enabled by technology“. The team are currently looking for partnership and sponsor opportunities so they can work on a dedicated programme of events and materials for the public sector. The events are being delivered accross the UK and most seem to be free.

The Web site is a lively place with a Google Friend Connect Community and a very interesting blog with guest blog posts and case studies.

Although Academia has a slightly different take on remote working there is much we can learn from our local authority friends.

Fancy a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Skype Call?

I know that I write very little on online teaching and learning on this blog. I’d like to write more but time and my lack of knowledge stop me….Anyway here is something I couldn’t resist.

In March I stumbled upon The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book! This is a free resource looking at the benefits of using Web 2.0 applications in an educational environment and boasting 87 project case studies, 94 contributors, 52 aplications and 10 further resources. It was edited by Terry Freedman, an independent educational ICT consultant and is incrediably interesting and helpful if you want to use Web 2.0 in your classroom. The case studies range from those directed at primary school children to adult and lifelong learning and some even make interesting reading for remote workers. Through use of the tools the participants have learnt skills in online communication, collaborating in virtual teams and ways to self-intiate and motivate as well as the usual literacy, maths, languages, science and so on. Really Great Stuff!

Here are my favourites:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Skype Call
Two classes in different schools read the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs together via a Skype video call. Both classes practiced their reading fluency and voice before performing for each others’ class. The teachers were in touch with each other a few times to make sure they understood how to use Skype and to see how it worked in their classrooms. The students have found Skype to be a great tool to connect to people worldwide. They have gone home and shared information about this tool with their parents and several of them have set up Skype accounts. There are several children with families in Central America and they are using Skype to talk with their family members who live there. Their teacher has written a blog post (with video) about the experience.

Virtual Balloon Race

Three classes used Twitter to microblog daily as one of a range of strategies to develop writing. They used Twitter to make contact with schools across the world. The main challenges were overcoming the concerns over e-safety and creating contextual links across the curriculum to develop the use of web 2.0. The project changed quite dramatically from a virtual balloon to making links with specific schools. This was due to the fact that many teachers contacted the classes involved but didn’t have a Twitter account set up or a class email in place. The 3 classes made links with many schools but each communicated with one class each. @giraffeclass made friends with a class in a New Zealand school.

Around The World with 80 Schools
The Around The World with 80 Schools Project enabled schools to connect with other schools around the world through a short 5 minute video conference call (Skype). Students introduce themselves, share something special about their location or culture and ask a data-collecting question. Over 200 schools are participating.

Connecting Schools Across The Sea

In the Connecting Schools Across The Sea project Skype was used to to connect with a partner primary in France. They connected once a month for 1/2 hr and used language for real purpose and with a real live audience. Initially there were a few glitches, eg the Skype connection was slow on the first link up and the sound needed to be monitored closely before the lesson. The Head of Department initally said that it would be impossible due to firewalls on the school network but it wasn’t a problem. There is also a Slideshare presentation available.

Remote Worker Redundancy

In response to a blog post about IBM’s ‘remote worker culture’ (IBM – The New Workplace – It’s all about the culture) one person commented: “I can tell you that remote workers are getting steadily laid off, forced to relocate to central “delivery centers” at their own cost, and fired if they refuse to do so on 30-day’s notice.

What followed was an interesting discussion about IBMs working practices and how management had used “remote vs. office-based mandate to effectively eliminate jobs“. A disgruntled ex-manager claims that:

IBM are working toward a delivery model that is a majority of lower paid workers (and a much larger percentage of contractors who routinely receive salary cuts – like clockwork each year), who receive direction from a smaller and smaller number of senior technical staff. Many of the senior tech folks have been remote for years. If someone refuses the mandate to relocate to a physical delivery center, they have effectively resigned and do not need to be given a fully-funded severance package (in the US – employment is “at-will”).

Naturally those working for IBM were quick to quash these claims but it does raise some interesting questions about remote workers status when cuts are made. A quick trawl of the Web shows that there are organisations that are insisting their remote workers move to on-site working or be made redundant. Apparently an employer is entitled to whatever changes they like to terms and conditions for “business reasons”.

I initially wrote about this back in October 2008 (The Credit Crunch and Remote Working). Since then we’ve been through some tricky times but there still seem to be positive drivers for remote and flexible working – even the new government agree.Those of my readers who work, like me, in the UK public sector will know that significant cuts are already being made. Redundancies are invevitable. Does being a remote worker put you in a more fragile position?

Yes

On the one hand there is the old remote worker perception issue. Remote workers may be possibly less involved culturally and less ‘seen’ and there may be a tendancy to perceive them as less effective and so first for the chop. It’s always easier to get rid of someone where there is distance between you!

No

However on the other hand many remote workers have proved themsleves to be highly effective and moving staff off-site often offers savings. At my BUCS talk a few weeks back there was much discussion of how remote working could save the University a lot of money. This is a practice already being carried out by many Local Authorities. where the business case for flexible and remote working is clear.

A working families briefing paper on Flexible working in a challenging economic climate sees flexible working as a positive thing during a recession. Options such as reduced hours, off-site working, pay cuts and reducing expenses costs are offered as alternatives to redundancy.

Instinctive reactions to challenging economic times such as reversion to ‘default’ employment models of the past (full-time, inflexible) should be examined closely. Will such a move be strategically beneficial? Retrenching from a position where flexible working is acceptable and encouraged may damage workplace cultures, and revoking flexible working arrangements may have consequences which outweigh any putative gains anticipated by such a move. What will be the effect on morale, on loyalty and commitment, on the trust between employers and employees? Will such a move damage an employers reputation, and where will this position the business when the upturn comes and new recruits are needed? Is it really the time to abandon flexible ‘smart’ working practices in favour of more fixed ones at a time when a flexible workforce might be a useful tool to navigate choppy waters.

Remote working may also be a ‘useful tool’ to help get many back to work. People may find themselves out of worl and see contracting and home working as an option. It’s quite possible that someone set up to work from home can get started a lot quicker than someone who has to relocate or change their lifestyle considerably.

The difficult times are still far from over and there are many more employers who will be forced to make staff members redundant, but hopefully not because of where they do their work. Lets hope that we don’t move back to our inflexible ways of working. The working families briefing paper stresses our need to emphasie the benefits of remote working:

It might not be enough to pitch flexible working at the general level – linking flexible working to specific areas of concern is much more likely to see it seriously considered. Two interrelated areas are important. Where flexible working is already in place, how can its ‘value’ be captured and demonstrated? And what creative solutions can be used to deploy more flexible working to help organisations cope?

As they say “difficult times call for bold thinking: now, more than ever, flexible working is a vital tool for business survival and longer term success.

The Totally Online OU Conference

Fancy attending the Annual Open University Conference? This year’s theme is Learning in an Open World and it is open to everyone, not just OU people. Oh…budget cuts mean you can’t justify the travel at the moment? Well not to worry the whole conference is online only!

This year’s OU conference is the first totally online HE/FE conference that I’ve seen. The event will take place across 2 days (22nd and 23rd June), with the synchronous presentations being held in Elluminate and asynchronous discussion held in Cloudworks.

Martin Weller gives the full details on his blog but the essentials are that the conference divides into four session, each with three OU speakers talking about a specific project. There is then a moderated discussion session where people can go into one of three Elluminate rooms to discuss issues from the talks. After that everyone reconvenes for an external speaker. Elluminate sessions are set to a limit of 300 users (this is because, as Martin explains, managing discussion becomes difficult beyond this). However if there is a huge amount of interest the OU have said that they can investigate alternatives. All the sessions will be recorded and available for viewing after the event.

Submissions

There is still time to contribute something about your project, work or research (deadline is 7th June). They don’t want papers but are after digital artefacts (so a Slideshare presentation, YouTube video, Flickr photos or another Cloud in Cloudworks will do).

Attending

If you are interested in attending one session or more you need to register your interest on the Cloudworks space.

The theme will explore how ‘open’ has evolved in education since the OU’s inception in 1969. They will be looking at projects such like openlearn, cloudworks, Moodle, iSpot. Should be interesting.

I’ll be there…well I’ll be here but I’ll also be there…you know what I mean!

The twitter hashtag for the conference is #OUConf10