Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why BYOT part 4: Exercising the Preferential Option

In preparation for this last and final post dissecting our decision to go BYOT, i am struck by how much I saved the best for last.

JESUIT CONTEXT SETTING: Like last time, it is important to understand that the decisions we make at Brebeuf Jesuit are made from a context of a mid-sized highly academic and Catholic school. One hallmark of Catholic education that is taught to our students and hopefully lived by our institutions is the “preferential option for the poor”. In practice, the IT department interprets it this way: When making a decision, all things being equal, choose that option which most benefits those who are most in need. When things are not equal, consider preferencing those most in need anyway. :)

For a number of years, this was the element that kept us from opening up our wireless network to student devices. Simply, why should we spend the money on security, protocols, etc. to open up the wireless to further advantage students who already have technology rather than working to provide technology to those who don’t?

What changed? Why BYOT?

1. Wireless/Security infrastructure has changed a lot in the last few years:
The cost of wireless infrastructure, security, stability, etc. has dramatically changed. there are products now that scale linear without the need for an expensive back end controller; SSIDs can be secured with different security profiles without the need for separate firewalls, etc.
2. The cost and productivity of mobile devices has changed a lot in the last few years:
I had a trustee ask me why i laugh every time they ask me for a 5yr technology plan. I point out that 5 years ago there were not iPads, android was a sci-fi term, and chrome had little to do with technology outside of wheel rims. Beyond the advent of new or greatly improved mobile systems, the cost of full or mid-productivity machines has dropped to the point that a great majority of our students carry something in their backpack or pocket that outstrips the capacity of computers that are good enough to be in service.

So, the first element of the decision from a “preferential option” standpoint was that technological progress and market forces created an environment where the cost of opening up was not made at sacrifice of access of the lesser advantaged students. In parallel, enough students have access to their own technology that it becomes fiscally advantageous to focus our efforts on the “have-nots” in the technological landscape.
And at that point, the entire BYOT philosophy makes sense. See, the pedagogical advantages (see parts 1 and 2) apply universally:
  • If we make the claim that there is an inherent value in CHOICE. that the ability access, evaluate, and use at a meta level is educationally valuable, then it is educationally valuable for all students, whether they come from families that can afford to make that choice or not.
  • If we make the claim that students should be able to make a responsible decsion (in consultation with their family) about what the best product is for them to accomplish day-to-day tasks of curation, consumption, creation and communication, than that claim applies to all students, regardless of location on the poverty line.

Again, our context helps to drive this decision. We see an inherent benefit and an educational advantage in giving students solid access and choice in end user products. We focus our efforts on providing clear signal and strong access to tools for all students. In our ideal world, we use our remaining funds in two ways: first, to provide access to specialized tools that go beyond the expectations of the typical BYOT device; second, we work to provide the same environment and advantage of choice to our most needy students that are naturally experienced by our well-off students.

Ultimately, while we are fulfilling our obligation of the “preferential option” mandated by our school’s mission, we end up benefiting all of our students: We can raise the minimum expectation past the one-size-fits-all-in-a-budget netbook solution. We create an environment where choice, critical thinking, and problem solving is built-in to the learning process at a global level. We can provide access to technology that is specialized or otherwise unavailable through specific labs, software, and equipment loan/checkout.

and, in classic debate tradition, it is for all of these reasons that Brebeuf Jesuit urges a BYOT environment.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On research and educational philosophy...

The Wikipedia Dilemma

Phenomenal post and an issue we have been assessing for years. Information literacy is a key to digital citizenship.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why BYOT (Part III of fourish) -- Scoping out the Breadth of the Digital Divide

Techs &Teachers, Together at #HECC
  • It has been a really busy couple of weeks at the school and in the Brebeuf IT department.
  • Student wireless went fully live with only a few hiccups
  • @40ishoracle and I presented a BYOT workshop at the Hoosier Educational Computer Coordinators conference...complete with zhu zhu pets!
  • We had another phenomenal open house and tech petting zoo -- parents seem excited about the model
  • We finished a few major writing projects and started drafting a few more.
For the record, SIRI does not know ZHU

So, we have addressed the general benefit to students (although after talking about it and witnessing it, i could list a few more) and we have covered the transformation that is enabled in the IT Cave. Today we will focus on one of the two extremes of the digital divide: the haves (i’ll save the have-nots for Monday since @40ishoracle is already TLDRing me).

NOTE: this division is a gross generalization,but it serves the discussion

First, a little Jesuit speak (just a little, I promise), guiding principles of Jesuit education really come into play here. One is Context. Going as far back as St. Ignatius of Loyola (the first Jesuit), the order has placed a high level of emphasis on taking students (or believers, or sinners) where they are and challenging them in ways that will bring them closer to God. Because the background and experiences of each person varies, the particular challenges and new experiences that will bring one toward God also varies. This awareness of context is one part of the Jesuit concept of cura personalis.
Ok, back to BYOT.
The Haves: an exploration of context

We were watching a presentation on a school that had made the plunge to iPads while discussing a crippled little android device that was so locked down it makes the Kindle Fire look like a full production machine. Two students were working on scanning projects (full IBM lenovo desktops with two HP Scanjet scanners) of decades of paper photos while two more students were adjusting the wires on an infrared emitter that would be used to detect hand motion across a 40” screen (our student built multi-touch to display the alumni photos being scanned).

One of the students, an iPad user, begins bemoaning the iPad school philosophy. His argument essentially boiled down to one of context: as a high end user (one who writes his own iPad Apps) he felt that a school that would bar him from using his high-end machine was missing out on an opportunity to let him work at a level for which he was ready.

As we began to explore this idea of context, it expanded out from the high-end users. A family with a desktop computer in the living room is in a much better position to have an iPad or GalaxyTab as a during-the-day device that is used for looking up information, communicating, and drafting papers. The iPad becomes much less appealing as a default primary device when that will be the only machine in the household to use to add footnotes to a fifteen page research paper. Conversely, we have one sending school which bought all netbooks which were resoundingly despised by every eighth grader coming to visit our school. The reason? by and large, each student had outgrown the processing and ability of the device.
Families have different contexts. 
So do our students. 
Taken with a Nintendo 3DS
If we claim take the students where they are, then we must accept that we are not the ones who can necessarily best determine what they need. Our obligation is to help them understand their context and how that context will mesh with the educational environment -- hence the tech petting zoos -->

A video substitute for the "shiny, pretty" - The Secret of NIMH "Sparkly" Scene

This is excellent to watch:
- when anyone complains about needing an upgraded machine for aesthetic reasons
- when you have the kids on an on-call night (love you @wishbabydoc)
- whenever someone is discussing the design features of the lower-case "i"
- when you need to talk about the bad drugs (watch the eyes)