Sometimes when I look at my kids sitting for hours playing some online computer game, I start to think they really don’t appreciate the amazing resource they have at their disposal. In the mid 90’s I started to teach internet computer classes in the evenings and the adults were truly amazed at what they saw. Sure it was slow but we could look at web pages hosted thousands of miles away, we could talk to people on the other side of the planet using our keyboard and collaborate with anyone – anywhere. It was amazing what that little box – the 14.4k modem could transform your computer into – a box that could take you around the world.
It all seems fairly common place now and perhaps we’ve slightly lost sight of some of the amazing possibilities. How many of us have wasted hours just watching TV online or playing Candy Crush instead of using this resource for something better.
Of course some people actively use the internet every day for personal development. Universities and educators operate on a global level now, information can be transferred with amazing speed not just via periodicals slowly published by professional bodies. In fact it is perfectly possible for the lay person to get access to pretty much the same level of information as a graduate at a top university preparing their PHD.
What I try and do with younger children is to slowly introduce more interesting web sites and how they can incorporate them into their learning. Take for instance language skills – if you are learning a foreign language why not try and watch your favorite show in that language once in a while. It works amazingly well especially if you pick an episode you are familiar with. My eldest child watches episodes of the Simpsons on the French media site called M6 Replay for example.
The video is also accessible directly on YouTube and should be available in all locations. It should also be mentioned that there is a great education section on the BBC websites called Bitesize which covers all levels of children’s education and much of it linked directly to the UK school curriculum. Especially useful if you’re taking holidays or home schooling children.
The internet is full of such examples and possibilities, often for free to develop your skills in any area you can think of, it is a truly a wonderful resource for the children of today if we use it wisely.
If you’re looking to learn a new language then the internet is an unrivalled resource. You can access lots of online information and lesson without having to spend a penny on expensive courses and tutors. Obviously interaction with a native speaker is essential to developing your skills further but there’s no doubt the internet can get you a long way on a study of language. If you’ve got some money to invest, there are actually lots of great tutors who teach languages online. This market was already growing but the pandemic of 2020/21 has increased it by many times. People have realised that tutoring online is not only quite straight forward it’s also very economical. Costs of travel are eliminated and it’s very flexible for both tutor and student.
One of my favorite resources is available on one of the best sites on the world wide web the BBC Website. There’s nothing quite like it for sheer breadth of content and there’s lots of language lessons available for free too. This is the languages page where you can access the online lessons for a host of different language from French to Chinese – http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/. For younger students the Bitesize range has a selection of basic language skills – these can also be used for people to new to the English language to develop their knowledge.
If you are learning a new language there’s also a host of opportunity for practice to be found on the many media sites on the web. When I was learning French I found watching my favorite shows on the M6 Replay media channel helped a lot. Listening to dubbed French when watching the Simpsons really helps your language knowledge and makes it fun to learn. Unfortunately many of these web sites are restricted by location – i.e. you have to be in France to watch M6 Replay, USA to watch Hulu etc. However it is possible to bypass the geolocation blocks by using a proxy or VPN server.
This page shows the technique – BBC iPlayer on my iPad, but it’s relevant for PCs, Laptops and any country in the world.
If you prefer video demonstrations then you might prefer this-
You can also watch it directly on YouTube if you prefer but the principle is just the same. Hide your location by routing your connection through a proxy or VPN server. For geo-targeting blocks then just ensure that the server is in the right country, for for the BBC or UK TV online then use a British server and so on.
It would be nice if these media sites opened up their content to the world however that seems unlikely in the short term. But there is no doubt if you look around the internet and use a couple of inexpensive proxy services you c an track down some awesome language resources online.
In the early days of the web, everything was pretty much free and accessible to all. To some extent this is still the case, at least in many sectors but things are starting to change rapidly. There are growing examples that instead of a huge repository of knowledge the internet is rapidly morphing into a huge virtual shopping mall. What’s worse it seems that many of these Malls have strict entrance restrictions – you can only come in if you’re from the US, or using a certain browser etc. There is a huge branch of ’restrictive technology’ being developed simply to block, censor and filter websites.
Education is one of those areas that is bucking this trend, at least for now. Online classrooms and virtual lessons are appearing over the internet, sponsored by educational establishments across the world. At the moment you can even sign on for free at a class run from Harvard, Princetown or Cambridge University in the UK. World class education, for free available to anyone without restriction – well for the moment anyway. It is believed that this model won’t stay in this altruistic mode for long, but at least we can enjoy it while it does.
It is difficult to see who is to blame, but certainly the free market and profit incentive looks at the core of this change. We are increasingly seeing profit maximising models being applied to some of the best sites on the web. One of the easiest to spot is the price discrimination techniques adopted by many of the webs biggest media sites. This is an economic technique designed to maximise profits and involves charging different prices to different markets. In the real world this is fairly easy as you can use geographical boundaries, a company will charge one price for it’s goods in India, then a higher price in Europe where there is more money available.
With the internet this is more difficult to operate as we are all connected to the ’same internet’ irrespective of our location. But the media companies have implemented special technology called geotargeting which does split the market. The website basically determines your location from your IP address, and then you are offered different products and prices dependent on this. For example the media streaming company Netflix operates globally but has a host of different services tailored to different countries. You can watch Netflix in Canada and have a completely different set of media than in the US. Incidentally you can bypass these blocks and to some extent control your own internet connection – see this website for details – or watch this video if you prefer.
It basically involves hiding your real location and supplying a false one as required. You don’t actually change your location but use an alternative one by routing your connection through a proxy like this. This enables you to maintain some anonymity and also bypass any geo-restrictions being applied to a site. So for example if you want to watch British TV stations online you’d choose a proxy server based in the UK.
Hopefully education will be the exception to this profit maximising model that seems to be determining the future of the net. It is difficult to see how the vast investment required to supply these resources can be raised without the profit motive though. Both the technology involved in producing proxies and trying to block them is largely linked to maximizing revenue. Even usually altruistic companies like the BBC have started blocking VPNs and proxies in order to promote their commercial alternatives such as BritBox.