Sunday, September 17, 2006

Digital Bridge: Bringing it all together... Finally

Over the past few years, the issue of the 'Digital Divide' has bothered me. I knew that teaching students how use technology as a tool to increase their awareness and take their learning to new places was something I wanted every student to have the chance to experience. The 'Digital Divide' took on many forms, economic, social, gender based or on municipal infrastructure. While most of the United States had the ability to access the Internet with a broadband connection starting in the late 1990's, it hasn't been since the last year or so that we have seen that most students we teach have access to computers in the home and have that computer connected to the Internet. A recent Wired Magazine article states that there has been significant progress in the issues surrounding the 'Digital Divide,' but that there are still issues that prevent many students from accessing the Internet from home. Internationally, there have been several programs that have addressed this issue for students in third world countries, the most notable being the $100 laptop program from MIT's media lab and its director, Nicholas Negroponte. (Negroponte Speech at 2006 TED Conference - approx. 18 Minutes)

In our area the issues in providing access to computers, software and Internet access for our students has been mostly economic. Students unable to purchase computers, software or get themselves to the local Public Library (All San Mateo County Public Libraries have free Wi-fi access.) to use a computer, were left out of the online world.

If they could get a computer in their home, either buying a cheap computer or getting a free computer from a friend or neighbor, the issues of software to use on the computer and access to the Internet still remained. As part of the Global Communications grant, we were able to pick up about 35 or so computers from ROP that we can 'give' to students to take home. One part of the 'Digital Divide' has been bridged... But the issue of software and Internet access still remain, or do they?

Over the past two and a half years, there has been an explosion of 'free' software out on the Internet, which allows students to download software onto their computer that is compatible with most, if not all of the software applications we use on campus. (Microsoft Office, etc.) Many of these applications are categorized as Web 2.0 tools. A fellow educational technology specialist in Texas listed many of these applications on one of his blog posts. I mentioned to him a few that he left off of his list and he blogged it again giving me credit... (I'm getting spammed to teachers in Texas and around the country... isn't the blogging thing a little cool?)

There have been a few 'municipal wi-fi projects' that have launched in the past two years, most notably the Google Network in Mountain View, the Earthlink Network in San Francisco. Events over the last few weeks have made it possible for all students to be able to access the Internet if they live anywhere in San Mateo or Santa Clara Counties or in the cities of Fremont and Newark. Joint Ventures Silicon Valley has just created a partnership with Cisco Systems and a few other companies to cover all of these cities in an open wireless network. This will allow anyone with a laptop in an open area within the city limits of these towns to access the Internet for free. There will also be adapters available to bring this access into your home. Now, the access is ad supported and will be slow in some locations at some times during the day, but it is the complete bridging of the 'Digital Divide' for the students we teach.

I am just psyched that we will have the ability to give every student we teach access to a computer, a wealth of applications and to the Internet. I can't wait to pull it all together. If you know of a student that does not have a computer and needs access to one, please let me know!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Web 2.0 - School 2.0: Getting Jazzed about what is going on!

First of all... Thanks for the great response to the latest blog entry. I received several responses from teachers and administrators (one Assistant Principal and one Principal) around the district and I feel like there are quite a few opportunities for teachers to collaborate that go beyond what we have seen in previous years.

Here's a little of what I think can and will happen... I heard from a few of the District librarians that they felt they wanted to move forward in integrating technologies into what they do on a daily basis. I suggested to them that they create their own 'District Library' wiki, where they could post all of the materials that are common to all of the Libraries in the District and then use their own school library sites as the place where they could talk about the special collections and events happening at their own Library. I defintely want to pursue this project with them and will be asking to come to their next council meeting. (I'll have a separate post on Libraries in the next few days!) Educational Uses of Wiki's

A second potential collaboration happened when I received an e-mail from a teacher at Mills, who had been doing some things on the 'Read/Write Web' with PB wiki, a free online wiki tool. I took a look at what the teacher had posted and found there were quite a few links to pages that other teachers might find useful. I used PB Wiki with my Computer Systems Design class last year when they did their 'Build Your Own Computer' project, the culminating activity of the class. PB Wiki is a cool tool, but I found something a little better, called Wetpaint. I also heard from a teacher at San Mateo in the same discipline, who wanted to get started with some of these tools, but didn't know where to start. I e-mailed back and said that I would be more than happy to come by and help set up some tools to publish out on the web, but I also sent the links to the pages that the teacher from Mills had sent me. This is the true collaboration that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned when he developed what we call the 'World Wide Web' in 1989.

I went over to Mills this week and met with the science teacher to set up a Wetpaint wiki. When I arrived, he already had his site running and had plenty of ideas on how to use this with his classes, including how the students would add to the site. Now, I will work with the teacher at San Mateo in either setting up their own wiki, or becoming a contributor to the wiki at Mills. Result: Instant visualization of what the teacher at San Mateo wanted see and a potential collaboration of teachers in the same discipline from different schools. Anyone else want to help out???

So, my offer still stands...

If you want to start a wiki or a blog, send an e-mail and I will help... I am only teaching periods 1 and 2, therefore, if you have a prep period after the early morning, I can definitely come by and help you get going. E-mail me and we'll get started.