Friday, October 17, 2008

tt4t_059 The Next Big Thing: Persistent Network Computing – Always Connected

It’s Friday, October 17th, 2008 and welcome to episode 59 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. I have been predicting for some time now that we are about to see a game changer in the way we and our students are using technology. Having been around through the evolution of the personal computer we are finally beginning to see some of the long awaited promises that I imagined when I first began my professional career many years ago.

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The computing devices of today have evolved from solitary units built for dedicated tasks like playing “pong” back in the day to a multipurpose machine now capable of easily connecting to a network of networks known as the Internet. What is most promising is the recent availability of always connected computing. I have waited and waited for an affordable wireless connection to the Internet and over the past couple of years we are finally seeing the fruits of telecommunication companies efforts in building out 3G wireless networks through companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Moble, and many others.

Now for around $60 per month I can purchase a subscription to a wireless Internet carrier that will provide me with a USB wireless modem capable of connecting any laptop or desktop computer to the Internet. The only catch is that many plans require a one or two year contract and many are limited to a predetermined bandwidth cap. In the case of Verizon this cap is at 5GB of usage per month for one of the plans before charging additional usage fees. There is also a 50MB plan but this limit would quickly be reached by anyone using the Internet for anything other than just casual use. You always want to be aware of various data plans restrictions and make sure not to go over your usage limits otherwise additional charges will apply that can be quite costly.

Now for me $60 per month is still a little bit high for basic Internet access but that is about as cheap as I can find for this part of rural Illinois. For those in larger cities I would be interested in hearing what rates you are able to get for Internet access either wired or wireless. I recently saw a television ad for high-speed Internet wireless access in a larger city for $14.95 a month and wish that were available where I live but alas it is not. High rates are still a problem for many rural families in this part of the State of Illinois. We still face digital divide issues because this price is unaffordable for many families that do not have the disposable income to purchase such a data plan. Signing a one or two year agreement is still a large commitment for many and the 5GB usage cap may not be enough capacity for a family so you need to be careful not to exceed monthly limits for fear of additional charges.

Yes a $60 per month subscription for a broadband data plan is expensive but I am hopeful that this cost will come down given time and enough competition. Looking at the bright side of things it really is amazing that an average consumer can have the option of using this broadband service and having Internet access on their laptop regardless of location (that is within the broadband coverage area). For the Verizon network this covers much of the United States.

In my opinion, if the telcos are smart they will reduce this price point so that those with a family may have the option to purchase additional data subscriptions for other family members at a reduced rate similar to how they currently tier cell phone pricing where each additional unit has a substantially reduced price. Having multiple family members using the same data plan as structured will quickly reach the 5GB bandwidth limit of many current plans.

I have posted before my thoughts about my disapproval of data carriers capping bandwidth usage and I still think this is a dangerous trend that will stifle innovation and provide for a more costly model to consumers. I understand from the data carrier perspective that they are selling a service and they want to protect themselves from users who may abuse the system. This capped model is also in direct conflict with content providers that want consumers to download purchased content in the form of audio and video that can consume massive amounts of bandwidth. It will be interesting to see the compromises reached in the coming years between these two competing philosophies. Many have not thought about the consequences of downloading a TV show from the Internet that may only cost $1.99 to purchase but forget that they will also be charged bit by bit for the download on top of the original purchase price, so be careful if you are on a capped plan with limits.

OK, so how does this tie in with education? Well get ready for a tidal wave of devices entering schools that will completely bypass the schools network and any filtering that currently exists on the schools network. Some of the newer cell phone devices have already started to sneak into schools and many already have web browsing capability. Many cell phones are not really that functional for web browsing because of the small form factor but new form factors are entering the market and small laptops are now becoming readily available and affordable. Some schools have admirably worked on Acceptable Use Policies to update their AUP to the cell phone era in what I call AUP 2.0 but not many have thought about the new need for an AUP 3.0 revision where students bring their own personal computing devices complete with their own personal always on connection to the Internet.

Don’t believe me? Yesterday was the First Birthday of the eee PC netbook that started a new revolution in low-cost laptop devices. The amount of innovation that has occurred in over the past year has been breathtaking. To be fair I do give credit to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative and the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) movement that have also heavily influenced this new form factor but the big news is new low-cost devices.

Happy Birthday eee PC

This month many of the next generation eee PC models and other netbook models from other manufacturers will be sold that have a built-in wireless modem capable of broadband Internet access. In Europe some cell phone companies have already started subsidizing the cost of broadband capable laptops when a consumer purchases a data plan. I have not seen this subsidy in the United States yet but I believe it is coming soon if it is not already being offered in some parts of the U.S. Cell phone manufacturers have had cell phones subsidized for years and now low-cost netbooks are within the price range for subsidies. I have even heard of rumors where a data carrier might even be considering giving away a netbook free of charge in exchange for a 2 year data plan subscription. To that end ASUS has just announced a new sub $300 netbook that has built-in 3G wireless. If you would like to learn more about this new low-cost netbook a link is provided in the show notes to the new 901A model. Things are changing.

Sub $300 eee PC 901A Model

With all of these changes how are educators going to react to this new reality? Will we have students check their laptops at the classroom door like some currently do with cell phones? How can we develop Acceptable Use Policies and at the same time take advantage of some of the incredible benefits a low-cost always connected to the Internet laptop may have for education? How can teachers giving lessons possibly compete for the attention of students if the students have Internet access on their own laptops in school? Just a few questions to ponder because as usual the technology is not standing still and new innovations will require new solutions for education in the 21st Century.

Today many college professors face this question regularly when students bring laptops to lectures where free wireless is readily available. This does change the atmosphere in the classroom. There are times when the phrase “screens down” is needed to gain attention of the students so that a focused lesson can occur, and you thought students texting in class was distracting, ah those were the good old days. This new invasion of technologies has been happening over time particularly on college campuses and will increasingly occur at the K-12 level with the increasing affordability of netbooks and wireless data plans.

So in the coming years many teachers will face the choice of integrating the new affordable technologies or banning them. I hope the choice is toward integration and that the technologies are used where appropriate and used with new pedagogies that structure lessons to benefit from the power that technologically-assisted learning can offer. Students are regularly using these technologies outside the classroom and they can have a role in the classroom as well. Welcome to the 21st Century!

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week

For my Technology Pick of the Week this week I would like to select a new Web 2.0 service that was highlighted on the FreeTech4Teachers blog earlier this month and is currently a free service that is similar to slide share. The name of this service is Slide Six.

Slide Six reminds me a lot of Power Point Producer and has the capability of providing an online PowerPoint-like presentation with voice-overs and/or a video all available from the web.

Slide Six

About Slide Six

Best of all the Slide Six site provides you with an embed code if you would like to add your slide six presentation to your website or blog. To see an example of an embedded Slide Six presentation visit the FreeTech4Teachers blog entry for October 14th. A link is provided in the show notes to the FreeTech4Teachers blog entry about the Slide Six service.

As a reminder the K12Online Conference 2008 is still ongoing so I highly recommend and encourage you to visit this free professional development conference if you have not already done so. Please visit the site to learn more.

K12 Online Confernce 2008

K12 Online Conference Schedule:

That wraps it up for episode 59 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send and email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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