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!

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