Monday, February 25, 2008

The Apple Express base station as teacher's friend

So, Michele is caught in a late winter snowstorm in New Jersey when she's meant to be flying up to do a session in a course we teach by distance. There is no way she can make it on time, but the participants are all assembled and will be ready to roll. This is a course where we encourage everyone to bring laptops and we just set up a wireless network with an Apple Airport Express base station and folk can be online getting resources as they work in teams to complete hands on research tasks. (The Express weighs next to nothing, fits in your pocket and we never travel without one.) Part of the unstated message of these courses – and one we always hope folk will pick up on – is that wireless pedagogy has a lot going for it when it comes to situated learning, and that if it works for participants in these courses then it might be worth trying in their own classrooms if they don't already have it (and notwithstanding the sorts of impediments that education administrations still widely impose on classroom internet access).

Eventually there is a flight and Michele arrives late at the venue to find everyone heads down and going for it on their work, all nicely online and getting whatever is needed. It turns out that one of the participants had gone out some weeks earlier and bought a base station and, moreover, had brought it with him to class. He'd set it up and things were flyng along as per usual. Michele thanks him and they have a brief chat about the virtues of portable wireless networking.

It turns out that a short time ago someone from the local school board had objected to the amount of time the students in our friend's (J) classroom had been spending online and had used their authority to get all the cables removed from J's classroom. Undeterred, J had simply begun using the base station and class sets of laptops. The principal was sympathetic to the use of the internet for legitimate teaching and learning purposes and, feeling bad about the situation, had brought the cables back, but they were not needed. Shortly afterwards the Superintendent of J's school district was talking to J and said he'd been given a quote for setting up wireless capacity in a school, and mentioned a very sizable sum of money. The Superintendent, knowing J knew a bit about such things,asked what J thought of the quote. “Well”, says J, it's a lot of money. I can do the same thing for around $130 a classroom if it has an Ethernet connection.”

This is the kind of story that makes us super happy. The classes are always their own reward, but when the hidden curriculum goes home in this kind of way it really adds a powerful reinforcer to eveything else.

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