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.

Report from the BBC.

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.

  1. Access to a wealth of learning resources
  2. 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.
  3. New opportunities for Collaborative Learning.
  4. 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.

 

 

21 comments on “Why WiFi is needed in schools
  1. Let me leave you with another video. This time a classroom with MOVEMENT and INTERACTION among learners.
    http://www.happysteve.com/blog/the-most-audacious-class-ive-ever-seen.html
    I see walking… standing… and chance to get up and move for those sitting.

    My daughter’s father is a world-recognized health researcher on behavioural medicine and I have learned so much about the health impacts of sedentary behaviour. Our children sitting in desks all day is NOT healthy for them. Mobility in a classroom is important. We need wifi to support mobility not only for improved learning designs but also for their health!

    • dyr2 says:

      This is a backward justification indeed. If schools are stuck forcing children to unnaturally sit in relatively restrained positions for so much of their time, why not rethink at root that instead of freeing ’em up with a suspected harmful agent? How does internet access, this unprecedented “library”, not lead to freeing children from a boxed in school environment altogether?

  2. Bob Bichen says:

    Newsflash: children can actually get up from their desks and move without a connection to the internet, wireless or otherwise.

  3. If you’re asking them to work at a WIRED device, you’re asking them to be sedentary. Mobile devices move with the children. I don’t appreciate your tone, Bob. I find it very condescending. I’m pretty sure your full-time job hasn’t even opened your eyes as to what is going on in the field of education in terms of new affordances, since you seem to have an inability to critically evaluate websites and value studies with an n of 1…

  4. Ray says:

    Valerie,

    You are the one pushing the technology.

    It is obvious that wireless is not safe. It’s not possible for something to be safe while thousands of studies show it to be unsafe.

    Therefore the only responsible way to use computers in schools is with wires.

    So use them less and actually have the students move around without their face in a screen.

    • Clint says:

      “It is obvious that wireless is not safe.” To you, perhaps. But certainly not to me, nor to the actual health experts like Health Canada, the Vancouver Island Health Authority, BC Ministry of Health.

      • dyr2 says:

        Local “health” (are you really fooled by the name?) look to province, province looks to federal, federal looks to WHO, WHO looks to ICNIRP, ICNIRP looks to…guess who?

        In Canada, universal acquiescence in Code 6 is co-ordinated via the FPTRPC. No dissent. Not a peep. Absence of independent minds all the way down. Is that the kind of students you like to churn out?

        • Edwin says:

          You’re right of course, governments often look to the World Health Organization for their info on potentially harmful substances or products, and wouldn’t you know? Wi-fi does show up on the list of Class 2b carcinogens. I guess that makes it a pretty cut-and-dry case, right? Except you know what else is on that list? Coconut oil, coffee, carpentry, being a firefighter, every canadian nickel you’ve ever carried in your life, oh, and the earth’s magnetic field. Things are placed on that list if they’ve only ever been suspected of being harmful; even if there is never any proven harmful mechanism. If fifty people in Dublin claim that playing soccer is a ‘carcinogen’, it could be placed on the same list.

          Wi-fi is known to be ‘harmful’ in exactly the same way that the earth’s magnetic field (that thing that keeps us safe from solar radiation?) is ‘harmful’ to us.

          PS: if you’re worried about kids being exposed to dangerous radiation, you’d be better served demanding that all children remain indoors during daylight; the sun’s radiation is actually harmful to children. In order to be logically consistent, might I suggest that you go ahead and begin scheduling protests against the sun?

  5. Bob Bichen says:

    Nothing fake about EMF sensitivity

    http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/article_7a0c5f3e-193b-561f-9502-fd74169c384d.html

    Low Levels of Radiation Such As Wi-Fi, Smart Meters Phones Cause The Blood Brain Barrier Leak:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk1opDDJndg

    • Scott Leslie says:

      Bob, another great link – to an OPINION piece, one written by someone who happens to share your views. How in heaven’s name does this substantiate the psychomatic condition EHS?

      • Bob Bichen says:

        Scott, it seems that you are incapable of discerning the difference between a piece that cites facts and peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and the facts and evidence itself. The purpose of a report citing scientific evidence is to present it in a manner that is more easily understood by a layperson such as yourself. You would lead people to believe that this makes it invalid, when it is in fact completely valid, and supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Why are you trying to deny the overwhelming evidence for harm from microwave radiation at the power levels of wifi? I’m not sure what you mean by “psychomatic,” presumably you meant to write “psychosomatic.”

        The video news article I linked to gives several examples of how the scientific process is undermined by powerful interests through smear campaigns and control of funding to prevent the very real dangers from microwave radiation being exposed to the public. If you find the “wrong” results, i.e., that microwave radiation at the levels used for wifi causes demonstrable harm to the human body, your career as a scientist is seriously jeopardized. It is impossible for science to progress if this is the environment it must operate within, and yet, due to the immense profits at stake, health is always sacrificed for money, just like in the tobacco industry.

        From the print article you seem to consider invalid for unknown reasons, I quote the following:

        ‘In 2011, the Council of Europe unanimously passed a resolution concerning wireless technology. The council, whose mission is protecting human rights, founded the European Court of Human Rights in 1959. The council has now recognized “biological effects on plants, insects and animals as well as the human body,” recommended wired Internet connections in schools, and urged its 47 member nations to “pay particular attention to ‘electrosensitive’ persons suffering from a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields and introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network.” ‘

        Are you claiming that the Council of Europe is making recommendations for children to not be exposed to wifi based on the perceived symptoms of a class of handicapped persons that you deem to be suffering from a form of insanity?

        You are a reprehensible person and you continue to demonstrate that you wish to persecute victims of a very real and widely recognized disability. I really hope that you are not an educator of children since you present a very poor example and should be evaluated for psychological disorders yourself. Do you ridicule children with peanut allergies, and those in wheelchairs who are incapable of walking, accusing them of making up the symptoms and that it’s all in their heads? You disgust me.

        • Scott Leslie says:

          Bob, I’m not incapable. You point to an opinion piece with little to no factual statements. The fact that a resolution was passed because lots of people like yourself sent letters is itself not evidence of anything except you folks are good at writing letters.

        • Scott Leslie says:

          Also do you even have a clue what an unimportant group the Council of Europe is? This is always trotted out as proof that somehow the political bodies of the European Union are tacking this issue seriously, when this is far from the truth.

          • dyr2 says:

            The EU member countries are in the same pickle as your country is, on the hook, in thrall, for revenues from big telecom & associated, among other perversions. An independent body cries out, and it is of no interest to you. You like the compromised, we see.

            Health care costs rise in step with wireless dependencies, warnings have been voiced since the beginning – earlier in Europe for latter day wireless mania — and it is meaningless to you, with a background of similar monstrosities of the past century. Amazing.

  6. Ray says:

    Here is a link to the actual scientist discussing death of brain cells and leakage of the blood brain barrier at levels of radiation found in WiFi classrooms.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_WJ_aJPWIA&list=UUI_8xq3QcBTrnb4665kpsNA&index=7

    If someone can insert the actual video, that would be better.

    • Edwin says:

      I’ll do you one better; I went ahead and looked for the actual scientific paper this guy published. His findings are controversial and have failed to be replicated in other labs, by other researchers.

      Here’s an article which sought to replicate his findings and failed. The article further suggests that studies such as the one conducted by the guy in your video made use of a breed of rat known for its spontaneous development of leukemia. In other words, the study exhibited a rather astounding methodological flaw.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533879/

      The National Cancer Institute likewise finds no evidence of harm from cellphone radiation, which is also non-ionizing (just like wi-fi networks)

      http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

      Finally, even though wi-fi is on the list of “Class 2B Carcinogens” according to the World Health Organization, so is carpentry, firefighting, coconut oil, nickel (like the kind used in every Canadian nickel you’ve ever touched), coffee, the earth’s magnetic field, and vinyl acetate, which is commonly used in hair products. “Class 2b” contains any material that is suspected of possibly being a carcinogen, but that lack evidence that they actually are. In other words, if you think carpentry might give you cancer, but there’s no evidence (or extremely limited evidence) that it is, it goes on the list.

      Here’s the complete list of class 2b carcinogens: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_IARC_Group_2B_carcinogens (class 2b starts on pg 9)

  7. Ray says:

    Edwin, the studies discussed in the video by neurosurgeon and researcher Leif Salford are on the leakage of the blood brain barrier and cell death in the brain.

    Your link is to a study on an unrelated issue, which is cancer.

    • Edwin says:

      Actually the study was related, as it was examining the morphological effects on mammalian subjects of low-frequency EM radiation, of the type normally used in cell phones. It found no evidence that such radiation negatively effected the test subjects.

      Additionally, here’s an excerpt from the abstract of an updated study on wi-fi radiation and the blood-brain barrier; it too found that the evidence supporting the assertion of harm is conflicting;

      ” Exposure to levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) that increase brain temperature by more than 1°C can reversibly increase the permeability of the BBB for macromolecules. The balance of experimental evidence does not support an effect of ‘non-thermal’ radiofrequency fields with microwave and mobile phone frequencies on BBB permeability. Evidence for an effect of the EMF generated by magnetic resonance imaging on permeability is conflicting and conclusions are hampered by potential confounders and simultaneous exposure to different types and frequencies of EMF. The literature on effects of low frequency EMF, which do not cause tissue heating, is sparse and does not yet permit any conclusions on permeability changes. Studies on the potential effect of EMF exposure on permeability of the BBB in humans are virtually absent.”

      Electromagnetic fields and the blood-brain barrier.
      Stam R.
      Brain Res Rev. 2010 Oct 5;65(1):80-97. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2010.06.001. Epub 2010 Jun 13. Review.

      Note that in cases where the brain has been heated by over 1 degree, the increased permeability is reversible, and also that the study found no evidence to support assertions that wi-fi is harmful.

      If you have access to a university or library that can get you behind the paywall, the article goes into greater detail.

      This study isn’t an oddity either; it reflects the consensus scientific view on the subject. If people truly believe that wi-fi is harmful to them or their families, then they must saddle themselves with the burden of proof. They think it’s harmful? They can prove it. Thus far, the overwhelming majority of scientific analysis shows no evidence of harm.

  8. Ray says:

    It looks as though the actual content of this site is changing as information comes out in this debate. I find that encouraging, as it shows that the moderators are at least listening.

    (With this said, please publish my comments about iPads, which according to the Apple manual emit higher SAR values than Iphones)

    One of the statements at the top of this webpage says that many handheld computer devices, such as iPads aren’t even equipped with ethernet ports, thereby making it impossible to hardwire them.

    This is true, and a real problem.

    I say rather than use this as a reason to recklessly irradiate the children, we go to Apple and request that they integrate an ethernet port. I’m sure that it is something that can and will be engineered when WiFi is removed from schools.

    • Clint says:

      Ray, I am constantly changing the content. It was static for the first week because I launched the site and the next day left for what I thought was going to be a peaceful holiday with my family & left my devices at home. When I got back it took me pretty well the entire weekend to parse the conversations that had occurred while I was away. When I saw the tone of some of them comments, I turned moderation on as a way to slow the stream and try to take a step back. I honestly had no idea the reaction this site would create, and the ferocity of comments that came at it so quickly.

      At any rate, the content will continue to change & be modified.

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