Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Wireless, wireless everywhere...

One of the features of our project at Vermont Academy is ubiquitous wireless networking. I will be addressing several aspects of this in forthcoming posts, among them security and availability, why we would do this when we wouldn't wire to the pillow, and implications for classes. This will probably be a topic for some time to come, actually, as we don't even pretend to have most of these issues solved yet. You may even find me contradicting myself over time as my thinking and our practice evolve.

One issue I just want to raise at this point is that we, a "college prep" school, are in the business of preparing students for success in college. I think we need to consider this a much broader issue than just ensuring that our students have an adequate academic background with proper subject matter breadth and depth. They need a large number of skills that support their educational efforts. Vermont Academy has a good learning skills department where many of these issues are addressed for students with identified needs. However a valedictorian of a graduating class a few years ago commented that one area he wished we had better prepared him was by teaching him how to take notes!

For a Tablet PC project to really succeed, these adjunct issues need to be addressed, or at least on the table for discussion. Most, if not all, of them are non-technical but they can be make or break issues for some students or faculty. If, for example, we teach our students how to take notes in a way that makes their notes more meaningful come review time and with keywords written strategically to facilitate searching for materials and with clarity that facilitates sharing notes with others when the need arises, we will help them to be more successful students and the Tablet PC will have become a critical component of that success. The skills could be applied with paper and pen, but the Tablet will be something that makes those notes even more useful to them.

But I digress. (That's what I get for writing this at midnight.)

The Miami Herald published an article today discussing the problems seen on college campuses that have implemented widespread wireless networking. You can read it here. Registration is required, but there is no charge. In a nutshell, the kids are doing what kids do on the Internet, but they are doing it in class to the detriment of themselves, their class neighbors, and even the professor's ability to concentrate.

This is one of those areas where "college prep" means teaching a skill or a self-discipline required for success, not just a strictly academic subject matter. Whether this is really our job has been a subject of some debate at our faculty meetings, but since I'm writing the blog, my point of view is the one you get to hear. Throwing out kids into that environment (and given recent trends most of our students will face this in 2-3 years) without preparing them to handle it is like giving them the car keys without teaching them to drive. You are planning for some of them to have accidents, perhaps fatal to their academic careers. We in the high schools must have a plan to teach our students how and when to shut down the browser/IM client/online RPG/whatever.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. The hidden curriculum of life skills is very much present in high school and often overlooked by many.

    Note taking is one of those things that everyone assumes (incorrectly) students can do -- after all, they are in high school!

    As for ubiquitious wireless, I'm firmly in the camp of the law professor who basically said something like "...if they want to dig their own hole and jump into it...." It's one of the hidden jobs of high school to give students the chance to make and learn from mistakes that won't cause permanent harm, yet do cause enough trauma for them to learn. Cell phones and text messaging are good examples of situations where lots of learning takes place -- especially when the first bill comes B-).

    I look forward to more posts here!