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Posts Tagged ‘wireless

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.

When Singapore rolled out its first Wireless@SG initiative to provide free wifi to the masses, it was described by someone I know as very secure. It was so secure that very few people could actually log in.

wireless-workshop

When I facilitate my workshops at various institutes, I rely on my own Wireless@Workshops thanks to my mifi device.

The device not only helps me access Google Edu Apps and Edmodo, it also helps me present wirelessly in two ways.

As I no longer own a remote presenter, I use an app, Unified Remote (UR), to control my computer or flip Google Slides with my iPhone.

I can also run the presentation off my iPhone or iPad and showcase apps with the help of AirServer. I wirelessly mirror my mobile screen onto my computer which is connected to a projector.

The AirServer and UR server applications run in the background on my MacBook Air and communicate with my handheld devices over my mifi wireless network.

This allows me to walk among the participants instead of being rooted to one spot. Even though those parts of the workshop are presentation-centric, this sends yet another subtle message that you can do things a bit differently to connect with people.

I read this Telegraph report on the call to ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools.

Some school administrators, teachers and parents will probably be glad that they might have another arrow in their quiver with which to shoot down mobile learning initiatives.

By extrapolation, what is next? Ban buses and cars as they are a leading cause of death and a source of pollution? If we did this then kids could walk to school for exercise. But they should probably wear Hershey kiss-shaped aluminium hats and apply snake oil to keep radiation at bay!

But seriously, the reports also notes that:

The conclusions contradict advice from the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health, which says exposure to electromagnetic fields poses little or no risk to human health.

And:

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that a ban on mobile phones and wireless networks in schools would bring widespread disruption.

He said: “The impact on schools would be enormous. Most schools have Wi-Fi networks now, while pupils and teachers carry mobile phones. Many schools are shifting towards far more mobile computing so pupils can have laptops they can take home to do their homework on. This would prevent all of that.”

I’ll offer a slightly different argument against supporting the ban on mobile phones and wireless networks.

In the case of mobile phone use, the assumption is that kids are using them as phones and therefore holding the devices up to their heads. How often do they use a mobile phone to call? They SMS, IM, game, browse the Web, etc., probably more often than they actually talk. When they do these things, the devices are held away at reading length.

As for wireless networks, why create yet another bubble to reinforce that the school is not part of the rest of the world. Need unfettered and speedy Internet access for some self-directed learning? Do so wirelessly in the comfort of home but not in school.

If you think about it, just about everything we do carries a risk. Instead of ignorantly fearing what we don’t understand, we should be managing these risks with valid and reliable information. That information might be in a state of flux now and no one should over react to it.

I am part of a research group that is investigating mobile learning in NIE. One of the components is the impact of the environment in such a venture. One such environment in NIE is our prototype collaborative classroom, an example of which is shown above.

There are five such classrooms at the moment and the plan is to convert the classrooms at the ground level to this less traditional format.

We asked the tutors assigned to these classrooms what they thought about the facilities there (see below). The scale is 1 for “not useful at all” (orange) and 5 for “very useful” (green). The easy way to interpret the chart is “green is good”.

[Click to see larger version]

The items rated most highly were wireless Internet access (4.51 out of 5), group-seating arrangement (4.49) and power supply (4.41). The least valued items were the visualizer (3.98) and the IWB (3.29).

I am glad that the tutors favoured the features that help make the classroom potentially more connected and collaborative. The IWB and visualizer do not do much to challenge pedagogy.

I would add that you don’t need an elaborate room to do this. All you need in terms of infrastructure are a good wireless network and mobile devices. Most existing classroom furniture will do, but having a flexible layout does send a subtle message to all who use the room.

In previous entries [1] [2], I talked about how schools could create anytime-anywhere, secure wireless networks instead of relying on computer labs or special media labs. I also described how students could be given laptops or netbooks on a 1:1 ratio. If not, they could adopt mobile labs like the ones Apple has been offering for a while now.

Having a mobile lab or 1:1 access would allow students to use technology as part of normal classroom activity instead of a novel experience or a time-wasting walk to a lab. More importantly, it would also require the teacher to rethink their pedagogical approaches and instructional strategies.

I had facilitated workshops for teachers in one such classroom in the USA about 7 years ago, so I was familiar with the concept and the practice. When I try to get teachers to imagine the same thing in NIE or in schools, I get blank looks. Surely there had to be a model of practice somewhere in Singapore.

Two weeks ago, Digital Life (5 Nov 08) [PDF] featured a short report on how the United World College (UWC) here in Singapore had set up such a system. The ubiquitous wiressless network cost UWC S$60,000 in 2005 and access is via 256 laptops in 16 trolleys. Any classroom can become a computer lab and lessons can be blended.

I would love to see how UWC conducts its lessons. That way I can determine if the setup goes beyond cool infrastructure to relevant and powerful pedagogies. I’d want to see if they were elaborate toys or real tools that enabled or transformed learning.


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