Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where are Your Black Holes?

Over the past twelve years, I have been fighting the same fight.  I have long been an advocate of teachers integrating the use of technology into their professional practice, but the excuse that most teachers I spoken to about this have used the same excuse for not wanting to jump into the EdTech waters.  "I'm sorry,  not all of the kids have access to the technology or they don't have access to the Internet in their homes and it isn't fair to them."  This was an excuse in 1999, when I first became the Technology Coordinator at Capuchino High School and it is an even bigger excuse today.  Equity and access issues have been at the forefront of the battle I have waged to make sure that every student has access to technology.  Why?  Because I believe that giving students access to the libraries of the world and any information 24/7/365, is the great equalizer of our time.  I also did everything I could to provide the technology and access to the Internet to the students I worked with through the Digital Bridge program.

The video above, from the TEDxNYED (Technology Entertainment Design x New York EDucation) Will Richardson talks about the importance of the Internet on the lives of our children.  Will talks about how our children use the Internet to learn on their own, without the use of teachers.  They search the Internet to solve real problems, as they occur in their lives.  It could be as easy as who was the 16th President of the United States, or as complex as how to solve a quadratic equation with multiple coefficients.  In this video, Will talks about how his daughter learned how to play Journey's "Lights" on the piano.  As teachers, we need to realize that this is the way our students learn and in turn, how can we best teach our students given their desire to be constantly connected to a variety of electronic resources.

So, to bring this back to the issue of equity and access, how can we level the playing field and make sure that all students have access to the wealth of resources that are available to them on the Internet?  We have between 85 and 90% of the students we teach carrying cell phones and most of these devices can access the Internet.  The cost of computers, especially netbooks and tablets are low and are continually dropping closer and closer to the $200.00 mark. Free access to the Internet is becoming more and more available, yet there are several areas where this access is lacking.  The map below, taken from Ji-Wire ( a site that shows free and paid wireless access for any area around the world,  shows a large area in the Woodside High School attendance area that does not have any access to free wi-fi access.  Why?  The area that is outlined is an area that has plenty of retail businesses and homes, but it is a lower socio-economic area.

This to me is a "black hole."  A black hole where the light of the information available on the Internet does not enter.  The people who live in this area are more than likely, people of color and mostly Latin American.  One of the more pressing issues facing education is how to bring light into the Black Holes that exist in our communities.  Can we talk to the public libraries, Boy's and Girl's Clubs, YMCA's and other public agencies to provide free wireless access in their buildings for students?  Can we talk to the independent coffee shop, ice cream store, fast food restaurant to add free wi-fi or to open up their existing wi-fi for their customers, mostly the students we teach.

So, where are your "Black Holes" and what can you do to bring light to them?

3/30/11 - One of the things I left out in the post was that one of our district's "Black Holes" was the city of East Palo Alto, but there is some light there now with the Wifi101 project, that has blanketed the community with free wi-fi with towers on public buildings and apartments where the owners have granted them space.  The group also takes in computers and refurbishes them and donates them back to the community.

There is another group doing this in the city of Richmond, across the bay from us.  Building Blocks is a non-profit that provides computers and Internet access to families who could not afford their own access. Here is a video about their project in Richmond.