Change is just a mouse click away…or is it?

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: November 9th 2013

Online LearningThis past week, a colleague and I prepared for a provincial webcast on the technology needs for the future we move down the road of supporting learning and teaching. As I prepared I tried to think of some simple takeaways that could help a large group (especially in a webinar) understand what we were trying to say. As we proceed to embrace all the options available to support learning today and into the future, we know that technology will play a huge role and teachers are thirsting for access to supporting technologies. Often when we talk of technology we speak only of devices but these handy dandy little things like iPad, laptops, and other hardware need to connect to something, and that something is our network. What infrastructure do we need to support learning? What are examples of why it’s important? That’s what this blog is about – an example that illustrates what we need.

Discovery Education sent out an email this week offering to teachers to join Tundra Connections live broadcasts of the polar bear migrations in Churchill, Manitoba. They invited students and teachers to join expert scientists broadcast from the field to talk about these bears. Following the link, teachers would have registered and moved to Tundra Connections who actually are hosting the programs. There are multiple schedules to support various times of the day and week.

Once at Tundra Connections, teachers are offered further schedules of programs and resources if they need. Full lesson plans are available, separated by grade level and on a variety of topics from climate change to bear physiology. There is support not only for the webcast, but for extended lessons on bears. For those who want more, Tundra Connections then links beyond to Bear Trust International who offer several educational programs and resources, all free, all online and again segmented by grade and including not only polar bears but all bears and even other mammals.

If glossy text material and guiding lesson plans are not only what you wish, there are connections to researchers and bloggers who are writing about their experiences in Churchill and classrooms can comment or interact. There are live webcams including the weather (-10 right now by the way) where you can simply watch and learn.

Not enough? – for teachers who want more, there are links to archived broadcasts and then connections to the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute which works with teachers and K-12 students on why studying biodiversity is valuable.

What about Twitter? Teachers and classrooms can follow @PolarBears where they join over 12,000 others who are interacting and sharing experiences, lessons, activities, blogs, classroom interactions and more.

This is but one example and there are hundreds. A field trip to the Polar Bears would be wonderful BUT…that just isn’t possible for 99.99% of us. As a substitute to learn about bears, their challenges, climate change and to connect with experts, the above is a great option.

However, all of the above means nothing if when the classroom teacher does all their pre-work and hits “click” – and the wheel (or globe) of death simply spins away while the little ones (or big ones) grow restless in their desks or on the carpet of the library. The teacher’s entire plan depends on all these miraculous things above actually working. Teachers don’t really care about LAN’s, WAN’s, OSx, Windows, IP’s, IE, Safari, etc…all they careTechnology in the hands about is that “the stuff” actually works when they need it to.

Network connectivity has become like the air we breathe. In our district, we did some statistics that are very interesting. We found that:

• The number of unique wireless devices connecting to our network is almost four times the number of devices we own.
• The number of unique wireless devices connecting to our network daily represents about 60% of our student and employee base (for us, that’s almost 50,000 unique devices daily).
• 60-70% of our traffic is internet bound, 30-40% is internally bound.
• We are beyond 90% utilization daily on our network.

We feel that we are only on the leading edge of the appetite for bandwidth. Considering the one single example above, as these options continue to expand, the need for connectivity will only grow. We are excited (I am excited) about the options available to our learners. As our teachers reach out to embrace these options and take advantage, the tools we give them must work. Teachers are prepared to take risks and it often happens that things go wrong. They are tolerant of failure and can weather the storm when things don’t work. But when we are looking for systemic change, then we must place the tools that teachers need in their hands to support this change. Unfortunately, too often those tools are seen as a piece of hardware with little regard for the infrastructure needs behind that hardware. The computer is only as useful as the things to which it can connect and the computer is but a small cost of the overall need including support.

Failure an Option - FeatureI believe the opportunities available are amazing. Change can and is happening. In many cases, that change is enabled by a click that opens the classroom to a new world. Hopefully, when the teacher takes the risk, the reward will be worth it. We likely will never hear a “thank you” for increased bandwidth, but we will sure see the results if it’s not there to support our vision.

We also acknowledge that there is a cost for what we’re asking. It isn’t good enough to just say “give us more” we need to recognize that there is a dollar amount attached somehow and those dollars come from somewhere. The urging in this blog is only to say that I think this investment in bandwidth is a critical piece of the overall investment in public education if we are going to get to the future we envision. Clearly, as our own internal data shows, the car we’re driving does not have enough gas to take us to our desired destination. Hopefully a better model with sufficient fuel is just around the corner.

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