Friday, October 29, 2010

The Internet in K-12 schools, an Educause presentation

I recently attended the Educause conference. (Educause is a professional society focused on educational technology).

One of the more interesting presentations was by Julie Evens, CEO of Project Tomorrow. She reported the results of their survey of over 300,000 K-12 students, parents, teachers, administrators, and teachers in training.  The survey sheds some light on the preparation and proclivities of our future students.

Evans began with the student vision -- what students want and envision for themselves in their future education. The essential elements of their vision are that education should be socially based, untethered and digitally rich.

1. Socially based

Students want to use communication and collaboration tools to create personal networks of collaborators and helpers. They want to teach each other and learn from outside experts, online tutors and their teachers.

2. Untethered

Students envision technology-enabled learning that goes beyond classroom walls. They already have smart phones, tablets and laptops and want to use them in school. They want to take online classes and learn at their own pace.

3. Digitally rich

They want relevant, interactive teaching materials and self-administered tests -- for their eyes only. They also want digital tools so they can be content developers as well as consumers.

Evans says many students are "free agent learners." The survey profiled a typical middle school student as follows:

  • 37% have searched online for self-directed learning
  • 23% have found podcasts/videos to learn about something
  • 18% took an online test or assessment on their own (my italics)
  • 17% used cell phone apps to self organize
  • 14% used online writing tools to improve writing skills
  • 12% found experts online to answer questions

The survey also compares the views of students and administrators with those of teachers in training, concluding that teacher training needs to move beyond Microsoft Office:
While these future teachers have a desire to integrate the technology to support socially-­-based, digitally rich curriculum in their classroom, they are primarily being taught to use technology for word processing, spreadsheet, database tools or multi-­-media presentations. Less than 25 percent of these future teachers are being taught core skills which will enable them to leverage the power of technology for student achievement with online assessments, the use of student achievement data to inform instruction, or facilitate collaboration amongst students using Internet-­-based tools (such as blogs, wikis or social networking tools). Even fewer are learning how to teach online classes (4 percent).
You can read or download the slides from Evan's talk or a copy of the survey report.  The survey is done annually, and the 2010 version is online now.


While these results are thought provoking, they are biased. Survey participants are self-selecting so they are already online and clearly interested in the topic. The work is funded by Blackboard, which has a clear interest in online education, but I have no reason to think they influenced the results in any way. Finally, Project Tomorrow grew out of the Net Day organization so they are probably fans of the Net -- that may have shaped the survey wording a bit.

In spite of the disclaimer, the survey results shed light on the future, and educators and prospective employers of today's kids should keep them in mind.

Follow this link for more on the preparation and expectation of today's university students.

An example of collaborative writing at Educause 2010

We frequently write collaboratively on the Internet.  Writing a composite document, where each co-author is responsible for his or her own section, is relatively simple to organize, but finding a way for many people to collaborate on a more integrated document is difficult.

The organizers of last week's Educause educational technology conference were faced with a large collaborative writing challenge.  They wanted to create a white paper synthesizing the presentation highlights from the sessions concerned with research on teaching and learning. The problem they faced was that there were 23 50-minute sessions spread over three days. One person could not have attended, let alone documented every session.

Their solution was to seek collaborators among the three to four thousand attendees, many of whom would attend one or more of the 23 presentations.  They created a simple survey form (using Google Docs) and asked those who attended the sessions to answer four open-ended questions. The report will be written by an Educause staff member using the results of the survey.  We will follow up when that report is published.

Related links to:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Student skills at Arizona State University -- create content and collaborate

Arizona State was a pioneer in "cloud computing" by and for students. They were early adopters of Google Apps and cloud computing.

That was four years ago, and they are now graduating their first "cloud class."

They consider the move a success.

Sam DiGangi, ASU's associate vice president of university technology and an associate professor of education says:

I think this is the first generation that will graduate with a foundation not only in knowledge and expertise of a specific content area, but also in tool skills--the ability to collaborate, to edit, to revise one's work, to dynamically incorporate input in writing and in designing.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Own your connection infrastructure, use netBlazr

A while back I wrote an article and blog post stating:

The question is not whether we are going to deploy new infrastructure; the question is “who will own it?”
The article discusses several alternatives to ownership by the current telephone and cable companies: local governments, cooperatives, small ISPs, and home and building owners.

I know of two trials in which home owners purchase their own links to a backhaul point -- similar to what we now do with our sewer and gas lines, and one wireless access company called Fon.

Fon claims 1,726,336 "members." Members purchase an 802.11n base station that is augmented with several application-layer programs for $99 or €79 and share bandwidth with other members. There are eight Fon installations in my zip code, but only two have been active during the last hour. After several years, Fon deployment is not dense enough to provide a viable alternative to the cable and telephone ISPs in my area, and I don't expect it ever will be.

But, technology and business models improve, and a new company, netBlazr, hopes to sell small business owners equipment for forming a network. The $299 equipment package contains three 802.11n radios and a fast router. Fiber backhaul is supplied by netBlazr. The basic service is free, but they also offer a premium service and dedicated circuit plans with guaranteed speed for small businesses.

NetBlazr's technology and business model are different than Fon's. The extra radios and faster router should improve performance in densely populated areas -- the extra routers let netBlazr change the network architecture on the fly if something goes wrong. The network architecture and backhaul provisioning lead them to deploy in highly local areas. They pick a backhaul point then sign up customers they can reach from that location. They started in a small area within Boston, and will expand from there as demand and density allow. If things go well, they will expand to service office buildings in other cities.

Will netBlazr catch on and scale up to provide a viable alternative to the incumbents? It may be a long shot, but companies like Google or Craig's List seemed like long shots at one point. You never know -- improving technology is on their side and their competitors are not used to competition.

Appended link:

Here are the slides from netBlazr founder Brough Turner giving a talk on the advantages of WiFi over Wimax and LTE and introducing netBlazr.

Update 6/12/2015

Fon announced today that they have over 15 million people sharing Internet access over their personally owned open hotspots. Since WiFi range is limited, the value of a Fon membership increases with dense coverage, and as shown here, most of the "Fonistas" are in Western Europe.

In addition to signing up individual users, Fon is making deals with Internet service providers. In the US, cable companies are rolling out their own versions of shared access as is Google Fiber.