Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘access

Every now and then I get requests to be interviewed, to write an article, or to have something I wrote be part of someone else’s site.

I say no almost all the time and I explain why based on the context of the request. But there is one reason that is common to all requests: I do not want to be manipulated into pushing someone else’s agenda.

Everyone has an agenda, even if they say they do not. Having an agenda is fine if you are honest about it and if you have your heart in the right place.

Quotes taken from what I say or write might get decontextualised. An opinion piece that I write might get edited until its original message gets diluted or warped.

These are probably why some politicians who are interviewed by the press also post their speeches or thoughts on platforms like Facebook. Better to hear from the horse’s mouth.

The sad thing is that not all do this. Instead of allowing people to thinking critically and make their own decisions based on source material, the sources and the press conspire to leave it up to the press to publish selectively.

What is our excuse in the realms of schooling and education?

Is the source material unavailable?

Is the source material available, but not accessible?

Is the source material available and accessible, but not understandable?

If we say yes to any of these questions, why is this the case and what are we doing about it?

In the wider world, people can take control of the information they generate. They create, share, and discuss, largely on social media.

If the goal of schooling and education is to prepare kids for the wider world, then why are we not allowing and insisting that students create, share, and discuss more openly?

On Wednesday evening I participated in a salon event that brought together thought leaders from different areas of the education arena.

While I am not at liberty to discuss my assigned topic, I think I can share some thoughts publicly about an offshoot from that topic.

One of the things my group discussed was the inequitable access to technologies that might boost human cognition. It was a reminder that the future is already here; it is just not evenly distributed.

The rich can provide for their kids. Creating new educational technologies helps this group because cost is no object. Doing this raises the ceiling in our bid to move up and along the cognitive development trajectory.

The poor or otherwise disadvantaged cannot do the same. This only increases the gap between the haves and have-nots. We should be thinking and acting to raise the floor. This will also create positive movement in human cognition while not leaving people far behind.

We will probably need to raise both the ceiling and the floor, but we are already good at doing the former. It is time we did more of the latter.

Most modern wifi routers or access points (APs) allow you to specify at least two hotspots: One for the 2.4GHz spectrum and another for the 5GHz spectrum.

Smok’d Window by Diego3336, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Diego3336 

I use my hotspot names to send social messages to my neighbours. To someone upstairs who smoked indiscriminately, I have one AP set to StopSmokingOutYourWindow.

This might seem passive-aggressive, but it seems to have worked because I no longer smell second-hand smoke late at night. That or the smoker might have died from lung cancer.

No running with fish, no smelly fish, no by waldopepper, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  waldopepper 

To a lady downstairs who prepares an assortment of agonizingly smelly fish every day over a charcoal fire, I direct AuntieYourFishStinksUpOurHome.

I have only just started this second message. Old auntie might not realize that her method of cooking is dangerous when done indoors. She is equally unlikely to surf while she stinks, but her younger flatmates might get the message.

If anyone tells me to be more tolerant, I invite them to stay in my apartment. The smell slaps me awake in the morning, sticks to the laundry and other fabrics, and is nauseating. Someone needs to stop or otherwise compensate me for sleep deprivation, the cost of rewashing clothes, and buying Febreeze. Lots of Febreeze.

The smell is so bad that one of the occupants downstairs walked up and apologized to me on her own accord. Once.

My router allows me to set up even more hotspot names should I need temporary ones for guests. Maybe I should spread some short socially-conscious messages like:

  • DoNotAnyhowlyBurnIncensePaper
  • MyGateNotXmasTreeForYourFlyers
  • VoidDeckNotShoppingCartLot
  • YourKaraokeNotOK
  • NotNormalForKidToScreamSoMuch
  • NeedAPriestCall1800ScrewBlessYou

On Wednesday I reflected on the screenagers article.

While it left a bad taste in my mouth, it had a juicy moment or two.

There was a simple but important observation that Tim Elmore made:

This is the first generation of children that don’t need adults to access information. But they do need adults to process the information, to help them interpret the data.

I suspect that there are some adults and teachers who do not realize that their kids can already get the information they need. Or maybe they do not trust their kids because they are wary of anything new (new practice, new culture, new expectations).

The few that do may not be entirely comfortable with the facilitative role of guiding learners along. After all, they have not experienced this type of teaching.

So what does a teacher to do? Hang on to outdated practice for grim life. What does an educator do? Let go and go with the flow.

Today I share a longer video that was created in the style of RSAnimate. The topic is open access which is a critical component of open learning.

The video focuses on research, specifically on open access to data and journal articles.

Video source

It makes sharp point bluntly: Very smart people (researchers) and libraries pay princely sums to get journal subscriptions. Some even have to pay to get their articles published. The journal publishers get all the money but the researchers do all the work: Writing the articles, arranging for peer reviews, doing reviews, serving as editors, etc. This is dumb.

The closed and costly nature of journals severely restricts access to people. People who need it most or could be impacted the most by the implementation of ideas or principles locked within the journal tombs. (Yes, the high-sounding language of the articles might be beyond the comprehension of lay folks, but that is another issue that is related to creating this exclusive club.)

We do this because “it has always been done that way”. But that does not make it the right way to do things.

The creators of the video make the argument that the research is already funded in some way. This could be by a private individual or group, or by the government, which in this case means that taxpayers fund research. In either case, why not let the results of the studies be free to access and free to reuse?

Why allow reuse? To cite the video, this is to allow other folks to “build new tools that can interact with the articles and uncover new relationships”. We know there is a lot of information out there. We now need to connect the dots.

How might we break the cycle that is fueled by conservatism, exclusivity, and prestige?

One way is to appeal to the continued survival of researchers. If the mantra is “publish or perish”, then highlight how being more open helps you publish and get cited more. If journals are closed, it is hard to publish. If journals are closed, fewer have access and cannot cite your work.

Another way is to fear-monger. If researchers do not challenge current practice, someone will come along and offer a better system. To cite the video: “scientists and publishers are slow to change… some are going to be left in the dirt because openness is the future… and the creative ones are going to survive.”

The problem with urbexing by shaundon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  shaundon 

A former teacher trainee of mine contacted me recently because she could not believe what she was experiencing in school.

She had just started her teaching practicum and was upset to learn that she could not use her own computer to access the Internet via the school’s network. She emailed me to verify if this was policy.

At the moment it is. A non-sanctioned personal computer cannot be part of the MOE network due to security protocols.

Only full-time teachers might be provided with laptops that are recognized by the network. But to add insult to injury, the teachers are unlikely to have administrative rights to the laptop.

So my former trainee and her personal laptop are in limbo, right? Not always. Some schools provide alternatives like shared PCs or wireless access for personal computers.

The problem lies with a one-size-fits-all approach to providing Internet access even though there are different types of teachers and an assortment of Internet-capable devices.

Take my wife as an example. A few years ago, my wife decided to return to teaching as an adjunct teacher. There are other types of educators: teaching assistants, relief teachers, part-timers, para-educators like counsellors and education service vendors, etc.

While these folks might spend significant amounts of time on school premises, they are not given equal access to the Internet. The schools might be bound by MOE policy or they enforce their own.

Mobile Devices Galore! by schoschie, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  schoschie 

These educators and service providers bring their own laptops, netbooks, slates, smartphones and other devices. From a policymaker’s or administrator’s point of view, this is a security nightmare. From a professional educator’s point of view, this might represent untapped learning opportunities.

So what are these educators to do? I recommend they help themselves.

When my wife’s Macbook was not authorized on the school’s wireless network (or when a classroom was out of wifi range), she tethered her iPhone to the laptop in order to show YouTube videos to seed discussion.

So look at what you have first before lamenting about what you don’t. Don’t underestimate the impact of the growing BYOD (bring your own device) movement. If BYOD does not cut it, write a grant to get the funding you need to innovate.

SingTel by xcode, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  xcode 

With the grant money you could get a 3G USB dongle plus 3G subscription and a “mifi” device (we have the Huawei and Dlink devices in Singapore). You plug the former into the latter and use the combination to create ad hoc networks for you and your students to use. This can be done anywhere a reliable 3G signal is available.

A final tip: Educate your Head of ICT or align yourself to a progressive one. The ones I have met (and the ones I managed to influence) have found innovative ways to balance security with access.

Eventually policies can change. Guests on the NIE campus can now get wifi access by SMS (see 27 Apr 11 item). UNISIM has an entirely free and public network that is separate from its other networks.

Until policies change, help yourself. Then do something to change backward policies.

I feel for Chris Dawson when he describes how he has to stretch every dollar for his school, particularly in these bad times. He laments: “just how do we get on the list for retooling to meet 21st Century needs?”

In contrast, schools in Singapore have lots of money to provide infrastructure and training. I wrote about this previously and I agree wholeheartedly that cheap netbooks, wireless networks, and 1:1 computing are the way to go.

Our schools have computer labs… which remain under or improperly utilised! Computers need to be a norm in classrooms. One way is for schools to invest in mobile labs like the one offered by Apple.

Why? If going to a computer lab remains a novelty, then technology is not mainstream and integrated sufficiently. If, on the other hand, the technology can be so commonly called upon to enable or support learning, it becomes natural and transparent. I think that Dawson articulated similar thoughts (but better than I have) in another blog entry.

So it looks like we have different factors leading to the same problem. Chris might have an infrastructure problem; Singapore schools have a mindset issue. Both prevent us from promoting learning for the 21st century.

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