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Posts Tagged ‘wifi

I still hear people in schools and education institutes declare that learners can learn “any time, anywhere (on campus), with any device”. This might be part of a plan to “personalise” learning.

My simple response to this is that their “any” plan is only as good as their reach and robustness of their wifi.
 

 
I cannot claim to have visited every school and campus here, but I have been to several.

The institutes of higher learning (IHLs) somehow manage to mostly blanket their large campuses with wireless access.

Most of the schools I have been to, on the other hand, have spotty wifi. This is despite the fact that schools here have set up additional and alternative networks to cater to what seems like an exponential increase in devices.

I still have to bring my own connection (BYOC) when I step through school gates. Even when I do, I worry when the meeting or workshop venue is below street level or at the school periphery. The wifi typically falls short.

Even the 3G/4G signals are weak here. When my telco’s signal is weak, I cannot tether my phone to my laptop. So even BYOC does not permit the “any” plan.

When I am invited to sell, reinforce, or extend the “any” plan, the message falls short because my audience and participants know that the plan is only as good as their wifi.

It is 2018 — get with the plan already!

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A few days ago, I reflected on a criticism of Chromebooks in classrooms. In my reflection I unpacked the criticism and weighed in on the issue.

Today I share another perspective: Chromebooks are a means to a larger end.

For Google, that end is mind share. The goal is to get as many kids aware of what Chromebooks can do and how to work in the cloud. When the kids grow up and can afford to buy things or make important decisions, Google knows that mind share becomes market share.

But an educator typically does not think this way. So what it the long term appeal?

Chromebooks are a strategy to get fast and reliable wifi in schools. As just about everything must be accessed and done online on Chromebooks, wifi is a basic necessity. A teacher cannot teach and students cannot learn without it.

Chromebooks then are a chess piece in the larger edtech game. The wifi and Internet pipe that schools get as a result could then power many other efforts, be it the modernisation of administrative processes or the liberation of libraries.

This is assuming that gatekeepers do not apply too many locks and filters to the pipe. But not to worry. If they do, the kids will figure out workarounds and the adults can learn from them.

It was not the fault of Plickers. It was a terrible 0g and SWN connection at a school venue.

Yesterday I planned on using Plickers at a master class to provide a shared experience for 60 teachers. At that point, I wanted them to apply what they had learnt about the SAMR framework for technology use and integration.

In my original plan, I would have just given a mini lecture on SAMR to highlight how one tool could be used at four different levels depending on the mindset, resourcefulness, and pedagogical leanings of the teacher.

What would follow was a Google Forms quiz on the session’s content taken by all participants individually. They would then take the same quiz using Plickers, this time in their assigned groups. The plan was to illustrate how the tool could reinforce old practice or enable new ones due to task design.

My plan and implementation allowed for the mini lecture, but I only had time for one quiz. I opted for the Plickers-based one. Unfortunately, I had to resort to the Google Forms quiz and describing the original plan.

Plickers fail.

The failure was down to two very poor wireless signals. My phone’s signal went from 4G to 3G to almost no bars at the venue, so I could not tether my phone to my laptop. This meant that I could not call up the ‘live’ Plickers page on my laptop’s browser (to show questions) nor use the Plickers app on my phone (to scan code answers).

I bought some time during an activity and managed to get on the school’s wifi — the infamous “segregated wireless network” (SWN) — with the help of a teacher. However, things hardly changed from my run-in with SWN two years ago.

Back then, web pages in my browser were stripped of formatting to look like the web of 1997 instead of 2017. This time around, I kept getting “insecure website” error messages when trying to access Padlet and Plickers. The new Google Sites seemed to work fine though.

Why was Sites secure but Padlet and Plickers insecure? Why were the latter two secure enough minutes ago when I tested them while having lunch offsite? My phone connection, home connection, and Wireless@SG treated Padlet and Plickers as secure. Does the SWN admin know something that every other entity does not?

Infrastructure.

During the initial activity, I asked teachers to suggest key factors for technology integration. That group highlighted “infrastructure” as one important factor. I can see why. There is no point telling them to integrate technology if their hands are going to be tied by wifi.

To be fair most other schools and educational institutions I visit provide excellent wifi. But even as I acknowledge these hotspots, I also need to point out the notspots.

With Bhutanese educators.

It is 2017 and sadly school wifi woes are still somehow a concern here. I had slow but reliable Internet access when I conducted a weeklong series of workshops in Bhutan in 2010. My experience at yesterday’s school venue was one of time travel. I went back to when I had my dialup modem and someone kept picking up the phone. Connectus interruptus.

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

It can be a bit strange walking back into your old place of work. It was for me last week when I visited NIE for two days of intense committee work.

I had not been back for almost 10 months, but things felt familiar. The academic semester was over and the place was pleasantly low traffic. It was wonderful to bump into ex-colleagues and chat with canteen vendors at lunch.

But I could also use the eyes and ears of an outsider and all was not well. For example, I shared yesterday the news of the impending closure of the Classroom of the Future.

I had serious work to do while I was back in NIE. I refused to use the printouts that were prepared without my knowledge. (The work was technology-related and it was certainly not about paper technology.)

One committee member brought his own printouts while the rest of us relied on our devices. I needed wifi to get digital reams from my Dropbox.

That meant requesting for guest access to wifi via an automated service. This was something NIE guests would invariably ask for when they visited the campus. It was and still is a basic need.

It took five hours before the system responded to my request, so I used my phone and my trusty mifi device instead.

As I have written before, you not only need to BYOD, you also need to BYOC [1] [2]. You do this to get things done professionally whether others are going to help or not.

All that said, a five-hour wait is a big step backwards for something as basic as wifi. The hotspots for guests are also limited to certain places in NIE. It did not extend to the meeting room I was in.

I recall stepping into another institute of higher education in 2006 at the invitation of a fellow academic. She asked a question and I replied that I had a resource online that would help.

Thanks to easy access to public wifi that institute had for guests, my sharing went flawlessly. That organization helped itself by helping others.

Later that day in 2006, I met with technical staff who told me that the public wifi was kept securely separate from their corporate wifi. I remember that well because it made a big impression.

I will also remember the five-hour delay for NIE wifi because it seems like a big step backwards. I am as ashamed of this as I am proud of being an ex-staff of the institute. I hope they rectify the situation.


I have invested in an LTE travel router, the Huawei E5372.

I have written before that BYOD is often about BYOC. This device not only helps me when I travel, it also helps me with my consulting work.

With a mifi device, I do not have to depend on others. I can create my own ad hoc wireless network, dictate my own policy of use, and get the job done. This could mean conducting wireless presentations, feeding five to ten learning stations, or getting something done at any time and any place I can find a 3G or LTE signal.

No mess, no fuss, no muss. A plus: I model for others how they can do the same thing cheaply and sustainably.

It is an investment that pays off when you consider what you get back in terms of peace of mind and a reputation for great work!

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.


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