Friday, November 02, 2007

Why Wireless?

As I’ve blogged about previously, my school recently opened up our wireless network for personally owned devices to access the Internet. Students, staff, parents, and community members can connect to the Internet with any 802.11 a/b/g device Monday through Friday at my school (turned off on the weekends for security reasons – I hope to eventually get it turned on on at least Saturdays since the building is fairly heavily used that day as well).

As some folks in the community might have concerns about this, my principal asked me to write up something for our school newsletter about the rationale of why we were offering wireless at AHS. I started off just writing about the obvious reasons (access to teacher web pages, databases, other resources on the web, etc.), but then couldn’t help myself, and found myself launching into a mini Fischrant. Because I didn’t just want to talk about the obvious reasons, I wanted to talk about the philosophy and the vision. I wanted to be transparent about what we were doing, and try to get folks more involved in the discussions we are having about 21st century education.

When I was done it was about three pages, which is probably just a tad bit longer than he wanted for the newsletter (regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I can be a bit wordy) and probably a little bit “different” than what he had asked for. I figured he would edit out most of the ranting and make it much shorter. To my surprise, he ended up running almost all of it, only editing out three or four paragraphs to shorten it up a bit. It gets mailed out today (we also post it online as a pdf), so it will be interesting to see what – if any – reaction we get to it.

So, I figured if my principal was willing to run my rantings in our school newsletter, then I should probably put it on the blog as well. So here’s the full rant - before the editing - in case anyone can use any of it.

Why Wireless?

As Arapahoe High School begins to offer wireless Internet access for personally owned devices, one of the questions that some folks have is, “Why? Why would you give students one more way to be off task when they are at school?” The answer to that question is not simple, but we’d like to take a few minutes to talk about some of the reasons we view this as an extremely positive development for our students.

The most obvious reasons are rather straightforward. There is a wealth of information and resources available to our students via the Internet, and online resources are an integral part of many of our classes. This includes resources that Arapahoe and/or Littleton Public Schools creates and provides for students online such as:

  • The Campus Portal, which gives students real-time access to their grades and assignments.
  • Teacher Web Pages, which can include assignments, notes, worksheets, presentations and links to additional resources.
  • Electronic Databases – online, subscription-based services such as Ebsco and ABC Clio that Arapahoe pays for to bring the best reference tools possible to our students.

Then there are the vast resources of the open web, which include not only sources of information and knowledge but communication tools and practically unlimited storage capabilities. AHS teachers utilize blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools to enhance and extend their students’ learning, to knock down the walls of our classrooms and the idea that learning only takes place in classrooms, with desks that are in straight rows, and only happens between 7:21 and 2:16 each day.

There are other reasons that may not be so obvious, but are perhaps more important in the long run. Our students will spend the rest of their lives in a multi-tasking, technology-driven world and will need information and communication technology literacy in order to be successful – in both their professional and personal lives. They will need to be continually learning throughout their lives. “Lifelong Learner” will not be an educational buzzword for them; it will be an economic and personal necessity.

The world our students are entering is a much different world than the one in which most of us (their teachers and parents) grew up in. In a flat world, in a constantly connected world, in a world where the answers one needs may be found from the teacher down the hall, from a server in Indiana, or from a blogger in India, students need access to the tools of the modern learner. We feel that to be successful in the 21st century, our students are going to need different skills, abilities, and habits of mind than we did in the last century. They will need to know how to create and maintain their own Personal Learning Networks. Our students must know what to do when they don’t know what to do. They will need to know how to learn how to learn.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
- Alvin Toffler

In times of rapid change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
- Eric Hoffer

Our students are the ultimate knowledge workers – their primary “job” is to learn – and we need to make sure they are able to take advantage of the resources available to them. By offering wireless access, we are allowing them to practice “just in time” learning, whether they are in the classroom, the library or the cafeteria.

We are moving from:
“do your own work” to “work with others”
“just in case” to “just in time” learning
“hand it in” to “publish it.”
- Will Richardson

We need to engage our students through relevant, timely and meaningful activities. We cannot limit them just to the knowledge available to them within AHS, they need to explore and interact with the global society of which they are a part. Technology is not the goal, but rather it is the enabler that allows us to achieve our goals.

These are just technologies. Using them does not make you modern, smart, moral, wise, fair, or decent. It just makes you able to communicate, compete, and collaborate farther and faster.
- Thomas Friedman

We are trying to foster a collaborative environment among students – sharing not only with other students in the classroom, but with other classrooms around the world. Students need not only to be able to present information to their classmates, but to share their work with the much wider – and often more authentic – audience that the Internet provides. We need to move from an isolated to a connected classroom.

The best companies are the best collaborators. In the flat world, more and more business will be done through collaborations within and between companies, for a very simple reason: The next layers of value creation – whether in technology, marketing, biomedicine, or manufacturing – are becoming so complex that no single firm or department is going to be able to master them alone.
- Thomas Friedman

None of this can happen if technology and access is an “add-on.” Students need ubiquitous access to these 21st century technology tools.

The computer is the primary instrument for intellectual and creative work in our society.
- Gary Stager

Wireless access to the Internet is a force multiplier; it allows students to leverage the knowledge of folks all over the world.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you ever going to be 18 again?

  • Are your students ever going to be your age?

  • Should we be preparing students for the world as it was when we were 18, or for the world as it will be when they are our age?

As far as students being “off-task,” our philosophy at Arapahoe is to have high expectations for our students, to educate them to behave ethically, responsibly and safely and then expect that they will do the right thing. When they don’t, they know we’ll have a conversation and try to learn from the mistake, but we don’t assume they are going to mess up. We give our students responsibility, and then help them live up to that.

We have created an environment where students are both respected and nurtured, where they are treated as professional learners, where they are seen as individuals that can contribute to the common good. An environment where they are viewed not just as passive consumers of information, but as active producers, who add meaning and value to the information. An environment where students are encouraged to interact, not only with others in their classroom, but with others in their community - and in communities around the world. Our students need to learn in a responsive information environment, where they are able to ask questions and seek answers, not just from their teachers but also from the vast information and human resources that the Internet enables.

Our students are facing an unpredictable future, much more so than any of us faced. Yes, we didn’t know exactly what our future would hold, but this generation is the first generation in history to really have no idea what the world is going to look like when they are adults. They need to be continual learners, to be able to teach themselves, to seek out and refine their own learning networks so that their learning doesn’t end when they walk across the stage at graduation.

In order to do this, they need practice. We are offering them that opportunity, as well as our guidance.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
- Albert Einstein

Why wireless? Because their century demands it.


  1. Karl,

    Your posting dovetails perfectly with the evolving vision of libraries without walls and librarians as guides, collaborators and co-teachers.

    One of my administrators told me this week that our students might be allowed to bring laptops to school, but only to work offline doing word processing!

    Glad I'm retiring soon...then I can work for change without having to tread softly.

    Eloquent posting. Thanks.

  2. Karl,

    Our IT has concerns with security, ie. virus. Simply agreeing that they have updated virus scan doesn't necessarily protect your network. How do you or would you respond to a device infected your network?

    We're currently investigating this and would appreciate your feedback

  3. @Dean - I'll have to check with my network folks for more details, but my basic understanding is that the personal devices side of the wireless network (what we're calling PODNet) is firewalled from our main network. Anyone that connects to PODNet can't "infect" our network because they're siloed (is that a word?). (Well, it's protected at least to the same level that our network is protected from any device on the Internet, whether they're on PODNet or elsewhere.) I think the worst they can do is take down PODNet, which might also impact the speed of our district network, but otherwise wouldn't affect us (and then they would presumably shut down PODNet until they could investigate the issue.) I'll comment again if I get more clarification.

  4. @Dean - Some more info from my network admin.

    You are correct, PodNet is firewalled off from the rest of our Intranet. The exceptions to this are our web server, and a couple of DNS and DHCP servers. Access to those servers is only by specific ports. We also setting up QOS (Quality of Service) on our wireless network that guarantees (or least should) that PodNet users won't block our Intranet (LPS-1) wireless traffic.

    We don't have a NAC (Network Access Control) system in place but may in the future if deemed necessary. A NAC basically queries any computer that tries to gain access to a network for proper virus deifintions and OS patches before letting them connect. NACs are a fairly new thing and the technology isn't very mature or cheap.

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  6. If college campuses and every Starbucks, and Barnes & Noble can be a wireless hot spot, then I can't for the life of me figure out the paranoia of high schools.

  7. Karl,
    I liked you post today. I am one of the IT guys for my district. As we are moving into distance learning and other learning opportunities for students that require students to use personal wireless devices, we are weighing the risk of allowing personal wireless devices to connect to the district's network vs. the educational and learning opportunities. We haven't opened up access to personal wireless devices, yet. We have the technology in some locations that will allow us to setup wireless security similar to the way you have your wireless setup. We also don't have Network Access Control (NAC) for the same reasons but it is high on my needs to investigate list. What measures does your IT department have in place to prevent people with personal wireless devices from connecting hardwired to the network and by-passing the security setup?

  8. @Kerry- Again, I'm not an expert on this, but I believe the basic security is that in order to connect to our network - either wired or wirelessly (on the district side) - the machine has to authenticate as a member of the domain.

  9. I think it's an outstanding move on the part of the school. As you stated so well, today's students need to be prepared for a different world. The will be faced (at most colleges) with wireless access in their classrooms. If there is room for failure (i.e. using the internet inappropriately during class time) wouldn't it be more constructive for it to happen in high school? Shouldn't our students learn as many great study skills as we can teach them so that they are more likely to succeed as they go on to college?

  10. Karl-

    Nice post here. Our school convened a public WiFi study group last year and everyone was in agreement that it should be added to our school. Students lived in a connected world, except when
    Many detractors at my school brought up the same obvious concerns that you mentioned-kids are going to fool around, play games, etc. Let's expect more of our students than you mentioned, let's expect them to do positive work. Yes, there will be some fooling around with their own devices, but this happens right now on school owned lab machines! And when it does happen, we have conversations with the students.

    One other point...I am a technology coordinator at my school and I work with teachers to devise creative and meaningful ways to engage students through the use of technology. With our traditional model of 2 labs, we don't have enough access for our teachers to use the 21st century learning tools and methods that we've been talking about. If all teachers started doing the things they wanted to do in our traditional lab environment, we wouldn't have nearly enough access for the students!

    Wireless and connectivity for student owned devices on campus is the next will happen in our schools. Now it is just a matter of when it will happen.

    Matt Montagne
    University School of Milwaukee
    Middle School Technology Coordinator

  11. Karl,
    Definity some out-of-the-box, forward thinking here. Very nice work. A concern came to mind though, the licenses for some of our subscription databases prohibit access from the general public/community. How do you address this issue?

  12. @Bob - For the most part, I think we're okay with the subscription services. Our licenses allow our students to access the databases from home (with a generic login/password), and so student/family use via their own devices is fine.

    At school we do have IP verified links to the databases that automatically log folks in. So, technically, a non-school-related person could attach to our wireless network and login to the databases if they knew that URL. But I don't see that as very likely and, since they are on school property and could access the databases through our computers, I'm not even sure that would be a violation of the agreement.

  13. Well, though I may be a bit late on the topic, let me just say that having wireless in the school is immensely useful. Considering the library only has maybe 25 computers and the school has something like 2200 students, I've found that doing computer work while at school virtually impossible. So I greatly appreciate the new wireless, thanks Mr. Fisch. It's saved my life already, suddenly I can apply to college online and work a band concert all at the same time. I keep finding more and more uses for it. Suddenly, during lunch when I"m brainstorming with other students, I can get online immediately and find ideas or pictures to back up what I'm trying to accomplish. A lovely improvement

  14. Excellent post Karl. Food for thought.

  15. Just wanted to say thanks posting this, Karl. We are looking at doing this at our school and all of our department heads read your post prior to our meeting yesterday to discuss wifi on our campus next year.

    Thanks again!
    Matt Montagne
    Milwaukee, WI

  16. @Matt - So how'd that meeting go? Glad you found the post helpful.

  17. @karl-the meeting couldn't have gone any better. We had a great conversation and your post was referred to several times. It also helps that our department head leadership team is quite innovative and is already doing more with participatory media technologies. So when we talked about how this would mean better access for a students, they were pretty enthusiastic (right now we have a lab model and the labs are typically scheduled out 6 weeks in advance, which obviously doesn't allow for much spontaneity!)

    Thanks again, Karl. This is the value of working transparently...we definitely benefited from your sharing!