Ubiquitous access

Here’s what I think.

We’ve moved past the point where we can demand that parents purchase the computer school deems necessary for use in classes. Maybe we can determine the necessary specifications that are required, but we can’t determine the platform they choose to run with and we can’t determine the model. There are so many options out there now and all at different price points. If we want to ensure equity of access to information, then we have to acknowledge that some families are not going to be able to afford the high price option. It may well be that a mini pc with an external hard drive to store documents may be a workable option. I functioned like that for three weeks last year while my computer was out of action and it was viable.

We also have to acknowledge that plenty of kids are out there with computers in their pockets. My kids have just got iTouches, and they can successfully navigate the web using these. Shouldn’t we be acknowledging the power of these devices and let students use them to their advantage for their study? A $269 iTouch is capable of browsing the internet (as can any smart phone with a decent screen size for viewing); it could be connected to a school network and students could be conducting research with portable devices like these. Yes, I know, they could also be sucking the school’s bandwith by downloading Apps, but maybe that becomes part of the teaching we need to do about responsibly using the internet at school.

Right now, I teach in a private school where the expectation is that students will begin with their own laptop. When I was a teenager, I went to school in a lower socio demographic area, and that experience has made me highly conscious of the need to ensure equity of access for all. Why should it be that only the kids from higher demographic areas have access to the technology that they will find in their future workplaces? I know some lower demographic schools have been set up with computer labs and the like, but there is something different about having access at your fingertips and a laptop that goes home with you at the end of the day. It becomes your workbook, your modus operandi. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen too many workplaces of late operating with a pen and paper model.  If students are given laptops via Government initiatives or given the option to bring their own, at least we can be reasonably comfortable in the knowledge that a significant number of these students may have access to the internet when they get home too.  Even if they don’t, kids are smart enough these days to figure out where the free wifi in their neighbourhood is. Andrew Hiskins, from the State Library of Victoria, was telling me how they find kids flocking to their location on weekends because they know they can access facebook via the free wifi extending from their premises.

I’m waiting to hear the stories of schools being faced with students coming to school with their own laptops and their own internet access. USB modems are everywhere. I’ve seen students at my school pull them out of their pockets and use them when our network has gone down. I’ve done it too! Will we start to see parents out there, who desire the best for their children, taking matters into their own hands and providing their own hardware and access? Access that will bypass school filters. Access that will challenge teachers who are not entirely comfortable with students who can access the answers to questions easily. These are challenges that I think we will see schools facing. The 3G network is ensuring that the phones in their pockets are becoming vehicles for change. Maybe it will be our parent communities who start a groundswell approach to bring our schools up to speed in terms of ensuring access for all.

How much longer can schools ban phones and dictate terms when access is ubiquitous?