Opening up the Networks to Learners

Brenda had promised that travel would be scaling back after last week in Edmonton — and when you look at the calendar, it certainly looks that way.  I just didn’t know that I’d be headed back up to Canada just barely more than 24 hours after landing from Alberta on Saturday.  It’s OK, though, because I have been looking forward to my work in Windsor (Greater Essex County Schools), because it will be a small part presentation and then a lot of conversation about achieving classroom 2.0 within 1.0 structures.

iPod Touches are an established part of learning at North Rowan School in Salisbury, North Carolina

I know that one of the planned actions is to open up a layer of WiFi in their schools (not sure if it’s all schools) that will be available to students and the devices they bring to school with them.  I’ve had several conversations with Essex ed tech guy, Doug Peterson, about this in the past and have been intrigued by the concept.  But while in Edmonton last week, Sid de Haan, one of the ed tech consultants with the Edmonton Public Schools told me about one high school where they’d done the same thing.  They also established a portal for their students — and I wish I had asked more questions about it.

What got me to thinking was a few statistics Sid shared with me from the first day of the launch.  At the beginning of the school day, 800 devices were already logged into the portal, accessed through the student-ready WiFi.  At lunch, it was up to 1,200 — out of a total enrollment of 2,000.  He said that they were using laptops and a lot of iPod Touches.  He also said that there were a surprising number of netbooks, that parents had bought for their children, in anticipation of the new wireless service.

Of course you’d have to examine much more data on the usage of this student-ready network to draw any hard conclusions.  But I get the feeling that, given access, most learners will find a way to jack in.  Many of them were on Facebook, I’m sure.  Many were other places that were not strictly curriculum aligned.  But we do not control the verbal conversations that students have outside of the classroom and class periods, we shouldn’t require controlled conversations through the networks — within reason.  If it were me, I’d still have some filtering going on.  But I’d open things up to most social networking services, and perhaps even set up a body of students and teachers to manage what gets filtered and what gets released.

Here’s a question. if students are bringing their own network devices into their schools and classrooms, are the schools responsible/liable for what they access?  Anyone know?

In a similar conversation with Sandra Gluth, another ed tech consultant in Edmonton, I learned about another school where a corner of the building exceeded within the reach of the wireless service of a nearby apartment.  When I was in school, we had the smoke-hole, a place on campus where smokers went to puff their cigs.  Today, they gather in an opportune spot, to tap into the networks.

10 thoughts on “Opening up the Networks to Learners”

  1. I’ll admit, I’ve both censored students from cyberaccess, and have been an opponent of such practises, almost within the same week.

    This dichotomy arises out of my inability to arrive at a concensus with my colleagues about how much access sudents should be given, and when. As you have hinted, we are playing catch up with our students in the wireless world.

    If it means I have more ways of connecting with my students, then I am more in favor of allowing access than I am of restricting access. I currently conduct a fair percentage of my class collaborative learning using a Wikispace portal. Given unlimited time and funding, I would like to extend the variety of platforms and methods of connecting in the wireless world, in order to better and more completely engage my students in their thinking and learning in real time, and asynchronously.

  2. It sounds like the parents of your students are much more enlightened than ours! There is a layer of fear that settles over our parents when we even mention the possibility of giving the middle school students their own email accounts on the school server! I would like to start using Google Docs but the kids cannot create Google accounts! Granted, at my school in Columbus, Ohio, the parents are paying $18K a year for their kids’ educations, so they are very invested in everything the kids do. But it’s so frustrating for the teachers who want to incorporate the latest technology into their classrooms to keep coming up against brick walls, not from within the school, but from the outside. The funny (I mean, funny-strange, not funny- ha ha) part is that when the kids are HOME, the parents really have no idea what’s going on online! Great blog, by the way!

    1. I think Stacy has hit the nail on the head when she says that much of the resistance comes from parents themselves. Many parents have great fear about what their children will be able to access on the web and an event greater fear about how much they as parents don’t know about how to use all this new technology. Maybe part of that 18 K should go toward parent education classes to make parents information literate. It seems to me that only when administrators, teachers, and parents get on the same page about how much access is appropriate for a school learning environment, will there be success in offering substantial access to students while still being able to assure administrators and parents alike that such access is being used responsibly and for educational purposes by students and teachers alike.

  3. Is it possible to look to universities / colleges as a starting point to answer this question? NYU is a huge university, and they seem to have done this with very few glitches. Of course I understand that most school districts don’t have the financial resources that a school like NYU has, but perhaps something can be learned. The network is open to all students, regardless of device, but with legal agreements. I know every time I sign onto the NYU wi-fi that I am responsible for my use, and that NYU cannot be held liable. However, I am an adult; not sure how to circumvent the issue for children. I do think it is worth thinking about — if universities can do this on a large-scale, it must be possible to open the network for schools on a smaller scale, with some restrictions.

    1. The school I was writing about is in Edmonton Canada. But there seems to be as much misinformation about the Internet there as there is here in the U.S., if not a little more. But it sounds to me like there needs to be a little education of parents at your school.

      Many schools and/or districts hold tech fairs, or future fairs, or some such, and invite parents to come and see what’s happening in their classes. It is usually a chance to show off how tech is being used — but I think it would be interesting to also give students a chance to educate us on how they use the Nets for their own reasons — their social networking, video games, content mixing, etc.

      Often, they invite a guest speaker to kick things off with some context, which could be very helpful. If they Columbus paper has a technology writer, invite her. Or find an HR person for a local tech industry. Find a college person who talks about Tech. But it needs to be someone who is compelling in terms of understanding that the networks are where learning happens — that we are starting to think more about networks learning than classroom learning — not that classrooms go away. But it’s the networks that we go to in order to get the information and sometimes even work the information.

  4. We have a wireless network at my high school that students (or anyone) can access. It gets them access to the Internet, but not directly to our network (can’t access the domain – we have a parallel wireless network for school devices that are full members of the domain). I don’t know specifically what the law says, but we have the same Internet filter on the open wireless as on our network.

    More info and

  5. David facilitated a couple of sessions with our teachers and principals yesterday. What happened was a great visioning and thinking session. The concept of accessing resources is an interesting one. Our implementation will be that students will access the internet resources through the same content filter that they would have with our board purchased equipment. The same level of access should be in place.

    What I’m mulling about is the fact that we may have two learning situations. The school network will have all of our purchased learning software. The public network will have the internet and the cloud. Does this mean the end for locally installed software? Will this be the ultimate push towards doing everything online?

    As an omen, Commoncraft released “Cloud Computing in Plain English” today.

  6. At our school, we can get the wifi from the house near campus from the primary wing – very handy when I am upstairs in 1st grade doing a Skype videoconference with another school ! Maybe they should get a tax credit for “giving” to the school?

  7. Isn’t great how technology helps student to learn. Even at their very own iPhones or iPod Touches. I just love the idea of eLearning, very powerful tool.

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