Why WiFi is needed in schools
Anti Wi-Fi advocates suggest that wired connections are a suitable alternative for internet access. The reality is that devices with network ports are becoming increasingly hard to find on contemporary laptops. But it is not just computers. Entire new lines of devices, such as tablets, e-readers and smartphones, have no physical network connections. Restricting Wi-Fi means an entire generation of technology is not useable in classrooms – technology that is often easier for younger students to use than a traditional computer.
However, Wi-Fi is not just about devices in a classroom for the sake of having shiny new technology for technology sake. There are teaching and learning implications when choosing wired vs. wireless access in a learning environment. A wireless school is fundamentally a different learning environment than a wired school.
- Wired only computers restrict access to the internet to specific physical locations. In many schools, the only place where students have access to the internet – and the learning resources available there – is in a computer lab.
- Wi-fi enables new educational practices to emerge because access to the internet becomes ubiquitous – a given. When access to unlimited resources becomes available anytime, anywhere virtually instantaneously, educators begin to use those resources differently.
- Wi-Fi enables instantaneous communication between students and students, students and teachers, and students and their family members from anywhere in the school.
- W-iFi allows for initiatives such as 1:1 computing (where every student in a school is given their own device when they arrive at the school) and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs, such as the ones that have been developed in Alberta.
- Increasingly, both the internet and mobile devices are being used by teachers inside the classroom, with studies showing that up to 73% of teachers are using mobile devices for teaching and learning purposes. No Wi-Fi means that there is no internet access on these devices.
Wired networks were great 20 years ago, but are as adequate for contemporary teaching and learning as slate and chalk.
Below are a number of contemporary pedagogical initiatives & research studies that support the need for Wi-Fi in schools.
iPads for Learning – Department of Education & Early Childhood Development, Victoria, Australia
iPads for Learning was a major Australian research trial examining the impact iPads have on students’ learning at home and at school, as well as how iPads can benefit and transform teaching practice. Over 700 iPads were distributed to students at nine selected schools and the Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute. Students used their iPads with wireless internet access at school, and while at home were able to use their iPads with or without internet access.
The evaluation of the trial showed that these tablets:
- increased independent and self-initiated learning among students
- increased student motivation and active engagement in learning
- improved teachers’ capacity to plan for and meet individual student needs
- improved student learning outcomes
- extended students’ learning beyond the classroom
- improved parental engagement in learning and strengthen home-school links.
Specifically with regards to Wi-Fi, the study showed that:
- High speed access to online information enables more self-directed learning and rapid access to a fast-growing market of relevant and regularly updated educational apps.
- Portability enhances collaboration between students and communication between students and teachers, increases parental engagement in learning and strengthens home-school connections.
- Students used the iPad to take greater control of their learning, using a single device to search for information on the internet, practise specific skills with selected apps, create keynotes and multimedia presentations, and present and share their learning with their peers, teachers and family.
Essa Academy: Bookless school where everyone has iPad
The Essa Academy is located in Bolton, UK. This is a very good example of the type of classroom that is possible with ready access to Wii. Notice how the teacher at :40 in is able to instantaneously monitor student progress on an assignment and intervene to assist students she sees having a problem. This type of instant feedback mechanism requires wireless technologies in the classroom.
Additionally, the school was able to reduce their annual printing costs from £80,000 per year to just £15,000 a year. That type of saving would be enough to pay for 2 additional teachers in a Canadian school.
Call for WiFi Revolution in Schools
While anti WiFi advocates promote removing WiFi from our schools, parents in Scotland are urging policy makers to make WiFi ubiquitous in Scottish schools.
Iain Ellis, chairman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said: “We are aware there is wi-fi provision in a number of schools but that pupils are not yet being given access to this absolutely essential learning tool.
“While we fully understand pupil safety is paramount, we have to get to grips with using wi-fi technology in order to help young people to use the internet constructively for educational purposes.
“Increasingly, it seems that almost the only place pupils can’t access the internet is in schools, when schools are the very place where young people can be taught the skills to navigate the internet safely and responsibly.”
UK teenagers without the internet are ‘educationally disadvantaged’
This research study from the University of Oxford in the UK points out that many kids do not have internet access in their homes and, as a result, face additional academic challenges. While this paper focuses on what children lose academically and socially when they do not have internet access in the home, there are implications for schools as well. If children do not have internet access in their homes (possibly due to economic conditions in the home) then the only place where they might be able to access the internet is at school. Shut them out at school as well and you set up conditions that educationally disadvantage them even further. We need to make access to the internet easier, not more difficult.
Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Teachers’ Perspectives
This qualitative research study (pdf) done by the non-profit Canadian charity MediaSmarts sampled a group of exemplary teachers (as identified by their peers) about their perceptions around digital and media literacy issues. The findings point to the need for educators to be more proactive in teaching digital and media literacy as this group of teachers identified their students as “not so savvy surfer” who loved playing with mobile devices, but “lack the skills they need to use these tools effectively for learning.”
We need our teachers to be more proactive about teaching digital literacy skills, which requires more, not less, access to technology in schools. Additionally, the report states that:
School filters and policies that ban or restrict networked devices in the classroom make it difficult or impossible for teachers to use networked tools to enhance learning. They also imply that schools do not trust their teachers to exercise good judgement, which is out of step with the fact that teachers are frequently required to teach students how to deal with offline content and conflict. Learning how to exercise good judgement and act as good citizens is central to the development of digital literacy skills. Ironically, however, restrictive policies designed to protect students from online content take away the very opportunities they need to acquire these skills.”
In other words, our teachers are asking for less, not more, restrictive policies around internet access to teach students core citizenship skills. A ban on wifi is an extremely restrictive internet policy.
The teachers featured in the report also identified 4 key pedagogical features of networked technologies that enhance student learning.
- Access to a wealth of learning resources
- Communicating with others outside their classroom. The ability to connect with the world outside the school in real time is the single most powerful benefit of technology enhanced learning.
- New opportunities for Collaborative Learning.
- Working with Individualized Learning Styles.
This report was also featured in a Canoe technology article Blocking tech in classrooms impedes learning: Teachers, which states that when technology is used in school, it often focuses too much on teaching kids how to use a device, which they already know.
Teachers said kids know how to Google, but they can’t distinguish good information from the fake stuff. They can use Facebook, but they don’t know how to protect their personal information. They can watch YouTube, but they don’t use it to learn new things.
You can’t march the kids down the hall to a computer lab once a week for computer class and expect them to become experts in how to sift legitimate from non-legitimate information on the web, or how to protect their personal information, or how to use the web as a learning tool.
How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms
A study published in Feb, 2013 by the Pew Institute in the US on how technology is being used in the classroom shows that devices that require WiFi or 3G connectivity are already being heavily used in the classroom:
- Mobile technology has become central to the learning process, with 73% of AP and NWP teachers saying that they and/or their students use their cell phones in the classroom or to complete assignments
- More than four in ten teachers report the use of e-readers (45%) and tablet computers (43%) in their classrooms or to complete assignments
iPads for Learning
iPads for Learning is a blog post from a Grade 4 teacher in Calgary on how she uses mobile technologies in her class. There are a number of examples on this website of projects created by students using mobile devices.
I cannot imagine a more useful tool (tablets) for representing, consolidating, expanding or creating understanding on the fly. I have no doubt that the rapidity with which app and software developers react to user feedback and update accordingly makes it one of the few technological tools out there that can effectively react to the ever-changing needs of youth in education and the evolving 21st century classroom.
As you read her blog post, note how many different applications were downloaded and used by the students, as well as how often cloud based applications such as Google Docs are used. Quick and easy access to apps and web based services are required to enable students to produce work like this:
QR Code Crime Scene
In this lesson, English teacher Jarod Borrman (who teaches at a 1:1 school where every student has a tablet) has his students take part in a CSI crime scene investigation as a way to connect more deeply with 2 key chapters in the novel Huck Finn. From Jarod’s blog post:
My goal was to have students take a more constructive approach to a piece of text while gathering some kind of formative assessment. I wanted the iPad to merely be a tool to aide in constructing knowledge, not the device to deliver the knowledge.
Here is a video of the classroom activity. Note how the students are moving around the classroom, not stuck at a desk. They are actively learning and participating in an engaging learning activity. Wifi is necessary to enable this type of classroom mobility, and to connect the QR code clue with the snippet of text from the novel.
Here is another post about using QR codes in the classroom.
Mobile Learning – we cannot continue to live in Pre-Digital Age
This article from UNESCO on mobile learning notes that we are not doing enough to utilize the potential of mobile devices.
Despite the considerable potential however, mobile technology was still not being adequately leveraged for education purposes, Janis Karklins, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information told forum attendees. “We cannot continue to pretend that we live in the pre-digital era, and to do so risks plunging schools into irrelevance. We live in a world where many, if not most young people carry a powerful, easy mobile computer in their pockets,” he said. “The question is not whether schools and school systems will engage with these mobile technologies but when they will and how they will.”
Kindergarteners Gaining Independence, Pride & Increased Comfort Level with the iPad
Post from teacher Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano showing a learning activity where kindergarten children are using tablets to take pictures of nouns in their classroom and emailing them back to their teacher. When you look at the photos of this activity, notice how the children are up and moving in the classroom with the technology they need going with them.
Photo credit: Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano used under Creative Commons license
A True Digital Classroom: South Kent School, Connecticut tablet program
Video from South Kent, Connecticut high school on how adoption of tablets has changed teaching and learning in their school. Note how the Head of the School talks about how the digital platforms and the internet has flipped their entire philosophy of education and how they approach teaching and learning.
“It has made learning really explosive”
Learning in the Modern Classroom
Another blog post from teacher Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano outlining a lesson in a Grade 4/5 classroom that began with students Skyping live one on one with a poet who allowed his work to be reinterpreted and remixed by the students. As you read through this post, note the number of places where students are connecting to the internet and using mobile devices such a tablets, which have no physical connection to the internet – only wifi or 3G connections.