Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are Schools Ready for the Mobile Hot Spot?

Controlling Access or Teaching Access Skills

A few weeks ago I realized that my cellular phone was out of contract and I had the opportunity to upgrade to something new. Bonanza right? It is one of the few moments in your life that you can think about the latest technologies and how they will affect your life. Like most people who use Verizon for their wireless company, I had heard the rumors about the iPhone possibly making it's way to that service. I waited, I hoped and then I just got flat out impatient so I caved. I started to research the Droid and made the call to switch. Here I wait as my Droid X is being shipped.

You might ask why I actually picked the Droid. You might also ask why that has anything to do with mobile hot spots and education. My reasons for picking the Droid revolve around the limitless amount of features that come with the phone. The apps, the HDMI Jack, Yahtzee, Angry Birds, touch screen and what? The Droid can act as a mobile WI-FI hotspot for up to three other devices? Yee Haw... Sign me up! That means that I can take my Droid and my iPad anywhere that I have Verizon service and I have full Internet access as part of my phone plan. Oh... Wait a minute... If my daughter is with me then she could have access to the Internet as well on her iTouch or laptop if she stays near me. I guess that is one way to make sure she still loves me.

Then I put my teaching hat on for a moment and said, "If I think this is pretty cool, then most young students (a group of individuals that are buying Droids by the masses) will probably think this is pretty cool as well". Picture this, every student in your class having a mobile hotspot in their pocket. Schools that have worked for years to control Internet access in the hallowed halls of their building have now lost the ability to shape their students Internet experience. All of the money spent on firewalls, bandwidth meters and content filtering are no longer the tools of control. So how is this going to play out?

There has always been two diverse rules of thought when it comes to the Internet expience for our students. Some believe that we can mold their experience by controlling every aspect of their experience. Let's limit what they can see and limit the time that it is on. Many schools have taken that approach in the last few years and it has worked to a certain extent. Those schools have been successful in curbing inappropriate activities for the most part but it has always created an adversarial relationship. Students would always be looking for ways around the system.

Other teachers and educational leaders have taken another approach in the meantime by really trying to teach the access skills that are sorely needed for our young minds. These skills include time management, information retrieval and assessment, critical thinking skills and general proper Internet use. Access is given all of the time and there is no content filtering. Those leaders believe that through proper educational techniques and some behavior modification, teachers can create good habits in our students when it comes to Internet usage.

So now that control through technological means becomes a less viable option. One would think that some schools would tend to now lean toward the educational nature of Internet usage. Or will they use other forms of control? Do we now not allow cell phones in buildings? Will wireless signal scanners or blockers now become tools of the trade for teachers? Whatever the solution will look like, as a teacher I would hope that we as a community do not loose sight of what we are hear to do. Teach students how to obtain information, synthesis it and learn from it. Even if it is acquired from their own WI-FI signal coming from their pocket.