Monday, August 22, 2005


Reader looking for wireless benefts / education

A reader of mine, Philip Copeland , is seeking some input on how an instructor might benefit from wireless technology in the classroom. Here is his question. Post your answers as a comment to this post.

My department chair has asked me to come up with reasons an instructor might benefit from wireless technology in the classroom. This is a precursor to paying for it out of departmental funds. It is a good question and one that I would like help in answering.

So many thoughts, so many questions:
- What resources are available on the (soon-to-be wireless) network?
- What kind of instruction is going on in the room?
- Do the participants have computers (portable or ...)

That should get us going.
Your department chair should also take a look at tablets. While everyone is focused on developing new technology for the student and teacher both having a computer, having what is available now is a small miracle...being able to deliver a powerpoint to a class of teenagers, get their input, add it in (like the old overheads) and then use wireless to link into the appropriate website -- oh geez! The industry has seemingly forgotten the gigantic market of the average classroom teacher. The current technology is light years ahead of what is currently available. And would make teachers' jobs soooooo very much easier and learning sooooo much more interactive. Students have computers at home (for the most part) -- and links can be emailed for follow-up assignments. The set-up can happen in the classroom.
thanks for the help, wnewquay. i teach music, conducting, choir, etc. the participants do NOT have computers, for the most part. the wired internet connection is about 25 feet away from where i stand in front of the class. I'd need a pretty long wire to hook into it. i'll list my brainstorming ideas on my blog as i develop them.
Hi Philip,

First: I hope you get your Wireless Internet Access.

Second: If I were your department chair, based on your current brainstorming, I would not approve your request.

This of course requires some explanation:

In your fourteen points, I see only two things clearly.
1. You want a wireless connection so you can cut the tether.
2. You (alone) would be the principle beneficiary.

Don't misunderstand me here. You have suggested several benefits of Internet access, but if you are the only one with a computer then you are the only one who benefits directly from the access and the mobility.

Let's focus on that one benefit that you have exposed for going wireless: Mobility.
In your several points, the only person being liberated is you.

I don't think you have demonstrated a compelling case that shows benefits to the institution or the students.

I won't go through all of this point by point as that would seem unkind.

I have a bit of experience with this and specifically, I use wireless connectivity with my Tablet PCs when doing lectures all the time. I do this at a wireless campus.

I have all of my resources materials available on the web and I use them during the lectures. Often the participants have access to the materials online because they have come equipped with their own portable computers. Other times I do the lectures in labs equipped with computers.

I tread the boards (walk the room) with my Tablet PC in hand calling up my materials and making annotations, and 'marking up' prepared diagrams. I also do diagrams 'on-the-fly' based on input from participants as we go along. I will even hand my Tablet PC to people and ask them to draw the next step, or circle the most relevant points, or highlight areas of concern. Everything that happens on my Tablet PC is mirrored on an overhead projector throughout the proceedings.

This is compelling, engaging involvement for everyone.

If anything memorable gets created, I will put that on the web immediately or shortly after the lecture.

I think that you recently got a Toshiba R15 Tablet PC. Congratulations.

You didn't mention the Tablet PC in your brainstorming, and I think you should. You did mention a notebook computer and this conjures up an image of you sitting or standing relatively stationary. That picture suggests that going wireless in your lecture room saves you several seconds of stringing a wire, but after that, the benefit stops.

Let me suggest a different focus in your campaign.

Proselytize for "untethered" teaching and learning. That is unfettered by old concepts of teaching and learning: Disclose benefits to
- the Students
- the Institution
- the Administration
- oh, and the Teachers

Then, tackle the barriers (lack of ubiquitous Internet access for example) and the ways to alleviate those. (for example, wireless connectivity).

You might suggest an ambitious plan and show a multi-stepped implementation plan that could be worked into the budget over a couple of years.

Here is some over-simplified generalizations:

Internet access -> good
Ubiquitous communication: peer to peer, student to professor -> good
Infrastructure costs to expand the wired network -> bad
Infrastructure costs to expand the network using wireless -- much less "bad"

With respect


Thanks for your post and attempt to help. You've given me a few more things to think about in developing the notion of mobility and I appreciate it.

The scene you are proposing is a good one and it supplies the missing element that I need to make the most compelling case: projection on to a screen for the students to see.

The classroom that I use isn't equipped with that capability and it needs to be. If it were, I could do all of the things that you mentioned.

I have been narrowly focused on the wireless connection, because the wireless signal is already in the room, I just don't have a way to access it. It is one of my frustrations with the university that I chose not to highlight in the original question: we are a wired campus but departmental funds must be used to enable the professors to benefit from it.

Your vision requires the onscreen projection of computer screen to students. That is a different issue; it isn't the one that I am addressing.

However, I think you are on the right track. For the students to benefit most from the professor being wireless, there needs to be a means of projection in the room to all the other students.
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