Monday, December 22, 2008

tt4t_068 Bandwidth and Always Connected Learning

It’s Monday, December 22nd, 2008 and welcome to episode 68 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Final exams are now over at EIU and all that is left is for faculty to grade the final exams and the record the grades into the Banner system. Once the grades are posted students will have access to them online.

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At EIU we utilize technology a lot from the everyday use of classroom technologies, to online support and course offerings, to administrative uses for registration and students accessing grades online. In our college face-to-face and online components are routinely mixed to take advantage of the best of each approach for course delivery and learning. Many of our courses are hybrids that take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Many K-12 schools are increasingly using online systems like Moodle to stretch the walls of the classroom and are also making learning a 24x7 operation. More work is needed in planning and implementing online systems that will increasingly need additional support staff at the K-12 level. With Web 2.0 technologies schools are in a different position than they were only a decade ago and many free tools exist that make possible new delivery methods. All of these services rely upon network bandwidth as the common thread that holds the key to accessing online services.

School management systems are increasingly being hosted off-site by third-party vendors that provide support on a cost per pupil basis. This has the benefit of experts managing online systems but has the limitation of being only as good as the bandwidth provided by the schools Internet connection. If the Internet is down many Web 2.0 services and off-site school management systems become useless. Bandwidth is becoming the lifeblood of both businesses and schools as the march to cloud computing continues. Unfortunately many schools are not keeping up with necessary bandwidth to meet these expanding support roles for online school services.

I have mentioned before on TechTalk4Teachers that we are about to venture into the next step in the evolution of technology use in schools that I call “always connected” computing. This past year has witnessed the rise of the netbook as a low-cost device that is finally becoming affordable for parents of school-aged children to purchase on a broader scale. There have been many one-to-one laptop initiatives over the past twenty years but until recently all have been very costly and few have addressed the needed refresh in equipment every four to five years and even fewer have expanded the program to every grade level in a school district. Lower cost devices may help change this situation in the near future.

Last week, to my knowledge, Radio Shack became the first American vendor to offer a $99 netbook, that is if you are willing to also purchase a two-year data subscription plan from AT&T. I have provided a link to the Radio Shack website in the show notes if you are interested in learning more about this offer.

Radio Shack $99 Acer Aspire One netbook offer:

While this is a good first step I am worried about a developing future digital divide that I am seeing increasing evidence of. I live in rural Illinois and have had a lot of experience with digital divide issues in our schools. While we have finally reached that magical $100 laptop goal that began with the dream of the one-laptop-per-child (OLPC) initiative we are beginning to create a TERRIBLE model for the future in terms of wireless Internet access. With the increasing success of web 2.0 companies and cloud computing we are beginning to get addicted to these “free” services with many not realizing the true future cost of such a model. For these services to continue to flourish it is all about the availability of reliable and low-cost BANDWIDTH to access services reliant upon the Internet.

Going back to the Radio Shack $99 netbook for a moment, the true total cost comes in the form of recurring monthly subscription payments of $60 per month, times 24 months, or $1440 plus the original $99 purchase price. So the true cost of the two year total becomes $1539, a little bit more than the $100 laptop dreamed of by the OLPC movement. It is going to take both a low-cost computing device AND a low-cost data access plan if we are to move forward with broad access to online services for educational use.

So, I propose that we educators also consider a new goal of the $100 per YEAR subscription plan for a high-speed Internet wireless access family plan with no bandwidth caps for personal/educational use. Yes I know that wireless providers need to make money to stay in business but by simply decreasing the cost of the current monthly subscription rates to more affordable levels I believe we would finally have a model that would allow the average family to afford the advantages of high-speed wireless access for a true anytime and anywhere learning model. Wireless carriers could make up the current revenue difference through increased subscriptions since they would be more affordable and thus have more customers.

I know this can be done, we have the technology! Let’s not create yet another digital divide in the form of the wireless Internet access haves and have nots.

If the above model does not work there is another alternative that could possibly provide FREE wireless access for Americans. What is needed now is the political will to make it happen. With all the billions of dollars floating around in the form of government bail-outs investing in a FREE anytime and anywhere learning infrastructure is a true investment in the future of America that will pay dividends for future generations much like the TVA did for electricity.

With the coming switch to digital TV in February 2009 many companies have already locked in by purchasing parts of the frequency spectrum from the US government. But there is another alternative, Google and others are currently working on the possible use of white space in the 700Mhz frequency range.

The term “white space” is used to describe the unused portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that is currently going unused and is unlicensed by the FCC. There is a huge battle going on right now that few Americans are aware of, yet this battle will impact every American in the future that uses wireless Internet.

We now have a chance to provide a low-cost alternative to current costly data subscription plans. I have provided some links in the show notes that gives some hope for future white space use for free public use if you would like to learn more.

You can help by becoming educated about this topic and raising this important issue to others when you have the opportunity to do so. Talk with your legislators as this is an opportunity for our government to take a lead role in providing a digital infrastructure for public benefit rather than corporate interests.

Please do not let bandwidth become the next digital divide issue when we now have a chance to level the playing field. If we do this right it could change the future of education in America as we know it but we need voices to let others know about this opportunity. Please learn more and help raise awareness to others about this promising opportunity.

Free the Airwaves

Google White Space article

FCC votes to free white space on November 4, 2008

Google’s reaction to the FCC vote:

Technology Pick of the Week

My technology pick of week this week is a new beta plug-in for users of PowerPoint 2007 and Slide Share users. Slide Share is an online Web 2.0 tool that allows you to upload PowerPoint-like presentations and easily share them with others. You can also embed the Slide Share hosted presentations into blogs and other websites.

In the past you had to save your PowerPoint file and then open a browser and sign into your slide share account, then you had to manually add your PowerPoint files to your slide share account to be converted. All of this was disjointed and a bit of a cumbersome effort.

Publishing your PowerPoint slides to the cloud:

Download Office 2007 Beta Plug-in from here:

SlideShare Presents Your Newest Social App: PowerPoint

Slide Share

With the new Slide Share and PowerPoint 2007 integration it is now possible to send your PowerPoint slides directly to the cloud in an integrated fashion to Slide Share. The benefit of this is that your PowerPoint files can now be shared easily with the world and can all be managed right from within Microsoft PowerPoint 2007.

In addition you get the ability for users of the content to add comments and thus take the firsts step of making isolated PowerPoint creation morph into a more social approach. This plug-in allows for a much more natural workflow and you also get the added benefit of seeing presentation statistics of how many people have viewed or downloaded your shared presentations. If you are a Slide Share user you may want to check out this new plug-in for PowerPoint 2007 to make your life a little easier.

That wraps it up for episode 68 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 an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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