Jan 07

20080115-9Gg9Yie1Ydbb1Ew3Dgfsmuah3There was a great deal of excitement amongst educators who can see the potential of technology in helping 21C learners upon the announcement of the new Labor government policy of giving students from years 9-12 access to computers. From March, schools will be invited to apply for up to $1 million each to buy computer and technology equipment for students and classrooms. However, it has emerged there is a gaping hole in this policy and that is to do with access.

Access to the Education Revolution

Access means the students will be able to use the ultraportable provided and connect with the 21C online world they spend much of their free time in. The all-pervasive Internet folks. And yes - it is easy to see the peril and expense and react with fear to this proposition - however there is a simple and cheap solution to the problem - a little known community wireless network solution called Meraki.

In a nutshell here is what it could do:

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  • provide home access for the students to the school network and Internet connection with filters via wireless on their ultraportable
  • works across many kilometres and is only dependent on the number of wireless repeater nodes nearby - as students usually live within 15km of a school coverage will be inclusive
  • $49 buys the transmitter receiver which automatically configures itself to the school work
  • 1024-bit wireless encryption signal (uncrackable)
  • every time a student adds a Meraki repater/booster unit, it not only brings access into their residence, but it also strengthens the network for others
  • powerful backend system which handles the heavy lifting of network analysis, user management, filtering and upgrades behind the scene
  • simple administration tool with tiered access policies, ability to perform live tests and explore sophisticated usage analysis, or view simple overviews
  • allow students to collaborate outside school in person on each others hubs or over the network

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Kevin Rudd’s other promise of access speed of up to 100mbps to schools will provide a significant network link for the school community to access. There may need to be a shut-down time to ensure students get some sleep :-) but in general the benefits of access when coupled with an ultraportable are profound. The basis for the need for access to the safe, moderated school network with the student’s own machine is based in sound pedagogy.Working with teachers across the State in the last year and conversations with educators utilising technology effectively in their classrooms has led me to believe that Connectivism is the learning approach best suited to adapt to this increasingly pervasive access we now encounter. Including technology and connection making as learning activities begins to move learning theories into a digital age. We as teachers even :-) , can no longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need for our practice. We derive our competence from forming connections which is achieved via access. Simply because it allows students to generate meaning, inquiry and higher order thinking skills to fully engage with the the times in which we live……

Large scale deployments of Meraki

Meraki has focused on changing the economics of access since its beginning as a MIT Ph.D. research project that provided wireless access to postgraduate students. Using their research, Meraki got its start at a low-income housing community in the US. News about Meraki’s products spread by word of mouth into over 25 countries around the world. Every day, new Meraki networks bring access to locations ranging from urban apartment complexes in London to villages in India. Large scale WiFi projects have been plagued by poor and unreliable coverage, but Meraki is different.

The more students connected the stronger the network gets

Meraki’s intelligent mesh routing means every repeater you add extends the reach of the network and makes the mesh more reliable by adding additional links. Field-tested by real-world customers who successfully cover dense apartment communities through entire cities, Meraki’s networking platform provides high quality service to thousands of simultaneous users without missing a beat. Every Meraki system works out of the box, without requiring sophisticated site-surveys or command-line setup - all parents and students need to install the device is a power point.

How this fits with the 9-12 policy?

Rudd’s policy of machine access for students from years 9-12 is commendable. The litmus test of the education revolution will be in how students are given access to the 21C world of the Internet. Access to the Internet as their Personal Learning Environment will be paramount. Trying to get an ultraportable into all of these students’ hands will be difficult and no doubt there will be occasions where conservative gargoyles will use the simple tool of fear to block a road to international competitiveness in this arena. But in time access is certainly where we are heading - I hope Australia learns to lead here rather than be forced to follow.

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