Day: November 10, 2009

Tearing Walls Down

Yesterday was a incredibly momentus day in history.  It was the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  Those of us who remember the date, remember how powerful and emotional the event was.  One of the remembrances for me was President Ronald Reagan and his speech at the wall imploring President Gorbachev  to “tear down this wall”.  The moment has been captured for us to revisit at YouTube.

“Tear Down This Wall” Reagan speech June 12 1987
For today’s youth, what does this mean?  Chances are, it’s something that’s mentioned in class, and perhaps that’s it.  To many of the youth, the significance probably was a link on the Google Home Page.In so many ways, huge moments in time and history can be researched and played back as necessary.  Internet access tears down walls of ignorance when it’s used properly.

We are about to embark on an initiative that will help us tear through our own walls.  Shortly, we will open wireless access to all schools in our district.  We’ve done it in many of our schools but soon it will be them all.  More importantly, there will be a guest network that will allow teachers and students to bring their own wireless devices to attach and learn where it’s appropriate.

But, what’s the point of just opening access?

None.  In preparation for the event, we are assembling all of our principals, each school’s computer contact, and our technical staff to spend today with David Warlick to help shape a vision and a plan for school implementation.  While equity of access will be there for all ~85 locations, the actual impact and implementation will vary from school to school depending on readiness and a whole whack of other variables.  Our homework before attending the event was to think about engagement and student achievement.  One of our superintendents put it nicely at dinner last night “I could put on a video of any television show and kids would be engaged.  But, where’s the learning?”  Good question.  The other question was to define what the profile of a graduate from Grade 8 and Grade 12 should be.  What does this truly mean, and where does technology fit in.

These are tough decisions to make.  Flipping the switch doesn’t mean a change whatsoever.  Where does the change come from?  What can we do to make a difference?  While we initially set about to make wireless access to all teachers, it becomes very clear that all participants in education need to be supported as learner.

David asked an interesting question in his 2 cents blog yesterday.  Are schools liable for anything students access?  In our implementation, they’ll still have to go through the same content filter that we use for all schools.  The other question that arose over dinner last night was software.  In Ontario, we have an incredible suite of software titles licensed by the Ministry of Education.  Students will have access to that software on school machines but the software licensing doesn’t extend to student computers.  Will this inspire a change to accessing more resources online?  We are fortunate in that many of the recent licenses include web access and student home access.  But, it’s still going to require an assessment of just where the resources lie and how can they be accessed.  The promise to the guests attaching to the new network is that nothing will be installed on their device by our IT Department.

All of these are good problems to have to solve.  There will be a lot of smart minds mulling over this today and into the near future.

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