Great - we finally have computers making their way into the hands of Australian students. But what if they don’t have access to the internet that will really equip then as 21C learners when they get home? (I’ve written more about the Meraki solution on my own blog here.)
In this scenario, I have been thinking about how schools can provide equitable access to students from a wide demographic range to the internet. With Kevin Rudd’s promise that students from years 9-12 will receive a computer of their own it is important that consideration is given to how they will connect to the network that connects them to their 21C world. One powerful solution is to set-up a secure WiFi network across the geographic area that surrounds the school community. While I realise that not all kids go to school’s nearby, a large proportion still do.
Let’s say a school with Rudd’s promised 100Mbps connection was to share that connection with student’s within the schools geographic radius this could be a very effective way of providing access and moderating content usage. It is one thing to provide students with these machines but unless we empower them with the ability to use them as network devices we are missing the point.
This may seem like a pipe dream but there is precedence of a similar projects here in Australia. The Victorian Department of Education has set-up the ‘World’s largest’ Wi-Fi network with a server backbone built their own Linux kernel. With 540,000 students, 42,000 teachers, more than 200,000 computers, and 40,000 notebooks spread across the 1700 sites, DET VIC last year allocated A$6.5 million (US$4.8 million) to implement a wireless network aimed at easing connectivity. I’d be interested to find out if student access to this network extends beyond school hours or are they sending students home with what equates to notepads without a pencil to write on it. Positively, according to this article DET Victoria has experienced a minimum 20 percent saving against cabling and 50 percent due to open source software.
This idea of the school providing network access for students beyond school-hours led me in search for a solution. While the USB modems provided by mobile carriers are becoming effective tools for business they are still way to expensive for school use. However, we now have the ability to create secure easily access to WiFi networks via one node on the network by way of relaying that signal. One device and service that impressed me on this search is Meraki. This company has focused on changing the economics of access since its beginning as a MIT Ph.D. research project that provided wireless access to graduate students. One can take the tour on how Meraki works here. While many, large scale WiFi projects have been plagued by poor and unreliable coverage, Meraki seems to be different - even if it is using 801.2b/g and not the new ‘n’ standard.
Meraki comes with a suite of monitoring tools such as shown in the graphic below that would be valuable for school administrators.
I like their choice of name too:
Meraki (may-rah-kee) is a Greek word that means doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing.
In some sectors the knee-jerk reaction to this suggestion will be to disregard this as a way of schools being able to exert influence in the family home. On the other hand others may thinks this is great if the students access only the content in the walled gardens that surround school content. But 21C kids need access to their own personal learning environment (PLE) which is the internet. While we teachers would have ridden miles to get to the local library. These kids will travel metres to the nearest open wireless network. We need to remember how fast the nature of access is changing and to approach the opportunities with a educative view rather than a legislative one - an organic one in fact. Real nature is not green. It is out of control. Our technological world has become so intricate and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own.
I could go on but this would be another post on open-source and why it is the backbone of the flat-world we now live in. So, I leave this thought process here for the moment and value some input from others to see if this is a viable possibility.