The new access issue!

Some observations of education from about 18-24 months ago:

  1. 1:1 programs existed mostly in litmus test projects, advantaged schools, OLPC and schools with a visionary leader
  2. Hardware, software and infrastructure could be adequately described as disparate and inadequate
  3. Teachers would use a range of hacks (Students mobiles, Wiimote IWB, Cheap laptops on eBay, Students iPods, etc) to bring technology to their class
  4. As I tweeted to @tomwhitby “we are the last generation to which technology is an option” which stimulated an intellectual twitter exchange and his ‘Doors’ blog post
  5. Students who don’t or can’t own a: home computer/iPod/mobile phone/internet where seriously disadvantaged

Shift to today:

  1. As 1:1 programs, mobile devices in the classroom, ubiquitous wireless, IWBs, etc roll on access is either now or inevitable
  2. Technology is front of mind for school leaders, educators and administrators
  3. Free wireless hot-spots are spreading
  4. Equity now exists: within the classroom, between classrooms, between faculties, between schools and slowly between states/departments
  5. Access to technology is no longer an issue

What does it mean for the access issue:

  • Question: If the ‘access issue’ is no longer an issue of accessing technology what is it an issue of accessing?
  • My answer: The new ‘access issue’ is all about accessing knowledge

We have made a seemingly overnight shift from an issue of ‘getting the technology’ to a discussion of ‘how we use the technology to access knowledge’. Students can, now and do access a potentially overwhelming stream of knowledge with or without the teacher. As educators how do we support students in accessing this knowledge to improve their understanding of syllabus outcomes and the world? The roll of the teacher has shifted, we are no longer the source of all knowledge, we are moving increasingly towards being the facilitator of accessing, processing and understanding knowledge.

Choices in overcome the new access issue:

One of the greatest challenges for teachers in 1:1 computing is sharing the power with your students and acknowledging that  ‘I no longer know it all’. However, if we continue to grasp onto control and continue to act as the filter of knowledge then we are not assisting our students overcome the new access issue.

Choice 1: eText Books or Internet?

  • It is very easy to purchase the latest eText book download to the device of your schools choice and start at chapter 1, instant learning. My argument is that this limits the students to a single source of knowledge, one that was probably out of date before you bought it. It doesn’t allow students to access she variety of content online and become discerning consumers of information.

Choice 2: Freedom or install management software

  • This is a rapidly growing software market (we can’t control their thoughts but we can control their screen) that can do everything including see what they see, control what they see, lock their desktop and more. In some yet to be released 1:1 research by Intel there is a story of this technology actually slowing the learning pace as the teacher kept bringing students back that had moved ahead.

Choice 3: My content or student creators

  • For most of our careers we have provided the content, so it is a natural progression to use technology to provide the content. ” I used to write blackboard after blackboard now I just upload it to my Blog/Wiki/Powerpoint/Moodle/LMS/OneNote/etc”. Rather we should be providing support and frameworks that guide students through the wealth of online content and enable them to create their own content.

Howard Rheingold speaking on 21st century media literacies makes some very similar points:

21st century media literacies from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

What do we need to do the address the new ‘information’ access issue:

  • Explicitly teach search skills (meta-data & natural language searching)
  • Provide rich tasks that require students to extensively search and explore a variety of content
  • Use Social bookmarks to model accessing a variety of content
  • Teach knowledge as problematic not as silo-ed
  • Ask Google Proofed Questions

Some helpful links:

8 thoughts on “The new access issue!

  1. Hi Ben,

    Great post. A few thoughts from me. Firstly, I don’t think access to technology in classrooms is quite as encompassing as it seems from reading your post. Yes, there has certainly been huge changes with the DER program for year nine, and that change will continue, but having just returned to my primary school after 5 terms away there seems to have been almost no change in access in this space.

    I agree completely with your point on eTextbooks vs internet. We should be encouraging teachers and students to be critically evaluating web content as it is dynamic, relevant and far more authentic than textbook material. Being able to analyse this content and consider bias, inconsistency and the potential for inaccuracies is going to be one of the most important skills that we can give students.

    Lastly, on student creators. This seems to be a huge point of challenge for a lot of teachers. I personally think that the way the DER laptops have been set up an implemented provides an amazing opportunity for student creativity. The hard part is convincing the teachers to allow students to take the technology and run with it, using the creative power of that the laptops enable to look at the content in fresh and interesting ways.

  2. As a fairly new teacher it’s exciting to have this shift happening early in my career. When I first started teaching I was staggered that the standard classroom was no different to when I went to school.

    There is still one access issue, access to the internet in some homes. Yes, there is free wifi, but I’m not encouraging my kids to sit in McD’s and do their homework. A number of kids at my school still don’t have internet access at home, although hopefully they will be exerting some pressure on their folks to get even the cheapest of connections.

    There is one thing you didn’t touch on here, that is, internet filtering. A Google search for MP3 is blocked, yet, it was for a legitimate purpose. We were investigating bit rate in IST.

    The current filtering policy doesn’t just block the illegal and socially unacceptable sites.

    I’ve been using a free version of BackPack for years, recently it was re-categorised and blocked. It’s a crucial tool for keeping myself organised. It was blocked because the paid versions allow the storage of files.

    You quite rightly said “…if we continue to grasp onto control and continue to act as the filter of knowledge then we are not assisting our students overcome the new access issue.”

    Problem is, the internet filter is doing that. I strongly believe that having the internet filter in place has not allowed us to model and encourage appropriate use of the internet. Instead, we have enabled some kids to be experts at finding ways around or flash games sites that are not blocked.

    To me, a key next step in this “revolution” is to better consider the policy behind filtering. An open discussion is required.

    • Simon
      Home WifI access is certainly an issue in disadvantaged communities and some parents are still yet to grasp the benefit to their children caught up in the negative media surrounding internet access. As a PDHPE tecaher I certainly won’t be advocating students accessing WiFi at McDonald’s the Free WiFi Hotspots site lists many others too. Most council libraries have connectivity and many are moving towards WiFi in your own community you will find many of the Blacktown Youth Health Services have homework rooms with connectivity and support. In some schools it could become a new roll for the year advisors or HT Welfare to provide a list of appropriate free Wifi in the community and also advice on selecting the cheapest ISP. I know that many families that don’t like being contacted or signing contracts choose 3G as no contracts or sign up, but it’s the most expensive (by up to 60x) form of connectivity.

      Educators need to challenge the barriers to effective teaching practice but also work within the realities of our organizations. Whilst you see a barrier from the NSWDET filter other school have different challenges:

    • Whilst NSWDET schools internet is covered by global budget (essentially free for schools) many schools pay for their internet at standard rates. Teachers are forced to access content judiciously to keep costs down
    • NSWDET has set minimum standards for bandwidth to schools but in some NSW, many NT and Nth WA schools their bandwidth is via a Satellite (similar to a 14.4kps modem)
    • NSWDET tecahers can at least request unblocking, many schools are bound by their schools commercial filter and cannot request unblocking re-categorising
    • I think that the political feedback suggests that there could be movement towards relaxing some categories but like all things in NSW this will be a long political process of lobbying and consultation.

      Filter checks area part of teaching in a digital environment teachers should be checking all URLS at least a week before the lesson to give time for the filter team to process the request and the client on the laptop to update.


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  4. Hi Ben,

    I agree with Simon that access is still an issue for students. I have students who still don’t have internet access at home and (unless they got a laptop in Year 9) no computer either. I think we assume wrongly that all parents see technology as vital in the home. This disparity of access still makes the setting of rich tasks based on internet searches etc problematic.

    i also agree that the current filter is very frustrating with many valuable sites blocked. And, yes, I know I can request them to be unblocked but that in itself is often a frustrating process.

    I do agree with all that teachers must let go – let the students find the solutions and the information in their own way etc. It is the only way to learn for life and feel truly statisfied with the results. We really do need to be facilitators and we certainly don’t need to know how to do it all ourselves before they start – we all learn together along the way.

    More and more teachers are embracing the possibilities all this new technology is offering up and, while many find it challenging, no one can deny we are entering an exciting new era in education. Some will just need some coaxing and support, which their students will willingly supply if they give them the chance!

    • “More and more teachers are embracing the possibilities all this new technology is offering up and, while many find it challenging, no one can deny we are entering an exciting new era in education. Some will just need some coaxing and support, which their students will willingly supply if they give them the chance!”

      I think the response to DER across Australia is really promising. Teachers are responding. When I speak to most teachers they see the positives and the challenges but are making the shift, the gap is very big so filling it will take time.


  5. Ben,
    I think this is an extremely powerful post and you have captured the future of Public Education well. The reemphasis on the word access is an important one as it highlights the moral obligation we have to our students to ensure a meaningful, successful and exciting learning experience that enables and empowers them. @pryorcommitment advocates the notion of Planning School and your thoughts have encapsulated the philosophy behind that. I am personally committed to this idea of Planning School as I see it as a way to embrace our changing world and ensure we change with it. Stephen Covey describes shifting paradigms, where a paradigm is the way we view our world. We have to be proactive, we have to chnage what we do and how we do it. I agree with the thoughts that others have made in reply to your post, but believe that we have to think creatively to work towards resolution of such issues – BUT within the context of the paradigm shift, within the context of our moral purpose, within the context of Planning School. Congratulations Ben, this is an insightful and futures oriented post.

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