Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wifi on a Bus

An email went around yesterday and everyone loved the concept in the hyperlink from the New York Times. I even liked it at first. It is about a school district and bus 92. Bus 92 is a wifi enabled bus that allows students to access the Internet from every seat. Like I said, many of the colleagues, friends and acquaintances I respect thought the concept in this article was cool, and so did I. Something came over me. I felt the need to offer a different perspective.

I am going to offer a different perspective. I love the fact that when I go to the Pediatrician's office and they have signs on the TVs that say "do not touch" as Barney or Elmo blare away. What's funny is the American Pediatric Society says that television for children under two years of age is not, lack of a better term, "a good idea." The problem is Doctors and Nurses in the Pediatrician's Office do not want kids crying away and they want them to be distracted.

My wife and I still limit our children to 1 hour a day of "screen time." This is becoming trickier with my son getting into James Patterson books on an iPod Touch. Although the one hour a day of screen time rule is not hard and fast, we try our best to stick to it.

I get a bit concerned when we have a society when children can't easily entertain themselves without an electronic device. It may be hypocritical for me to be saying this, especially for anyone who knows me. I tend to use my phone for emailing, book reading, fact checking and other forms of communication. Even I have suggested lessons on iPods for bus trips for students.

More and more the environments for face to face conversations are diminishing. This may be good or bad. I, just two weeks ago, told a group of 60 college students at an event called Backpack to Briefcase that students sitting in their seats, in the near future, may be interviewing for jobs in environments like Second Life. In an age where libraries, music stores, books stores, movie theaters and other things become, in a way, things of the past. So too are the face to face conversation places and the opportunities for this spontaneous conversations to happen. Time, technology and inappropriate uses of technology are huge contributors to the demise of the face to face spontaneous conversations. Yesterday, I saw two young ladies discuss whether Dracula was immortal. They compared and contrasted Dracula from Bram Stoker's time to what they have read in modern times with the Twilight series. I had to say to myself "I get it. This is what the library is for" and the stereotype of the "shushing" long skirted librarian and the chain around her glasses is antithetical to what a real "learning space" like a library should be.

Kids should not hit each other or make fun of people on the bus. I was both a culprit and a victim of this type of behavior. I also believe that a technology bus should not be so infiltrated with technology that meaningful "Dracula" type conversations don't happen.

The 21st Century skill of communication is critical and it is the number one way we tell people we are credible, ethical and competent. We primarily do this by articulating it orally. Also, our speech, the content of what we say and how we convey our ideas is the number one way we "promote our brand." I see younger generations losing some of their abilities to be articulate and I am sure not having a great way to assess oral presentation or communication on a state examination may be a contributing factor.

I just hope for a day that it becomes clear that the goal of technology is upper level thought and not placating the masses.


David said...

Hi Rick:

I thought that wifi on the bus was a pretty cool idea. I still do. Sort of like wifi they now have on planes for adults...

I'm not worried about face to face communication in schools. I see it everyday and it's quite alive. Providing wireless doesn't mean that they have to use it. But it does offer resources for those who wish to or need to use it.

If interviewing in Second Life is something that kids will do as you suggest, perhaps a shifting notion of what it means to be articulate is what we should consider. Perhaps developing those communicative skills in a different medium is indeed justified, and even essential.

Thanks for the post.

Gary said...

My nephews have had a long school bus commute (45 minutes) since kindergarten. They also have Nintendo DS systems (plus iPods, etc...) The first thing to note is that they have NEVER lost their expensive electronics, even when taking them to and from school. Take that 1:1 critics and worry-warts. As Seymour Papert used to say, I lose my mittens, but I never lose my laptop.

My nephew also used to bring a bag full of books for his fellow school bus-riders. He was a 7 year-old book mobile on a bus.

The most interesting thing is that one of the kids on the bus has a copy of Metroid (I think that's it) for his DS. It allows other kids to play wirelessly, but with not as much functionality as if you have the cartridge in your own DS.

So, the kids have created an elaborate schedule for sharing the cartridge to and from school.

This behavior, creativity and good citizenship is 1000% better than what their school does to them with no recess, silent lunch, busy work, test-prep and Accelerated Reader.

Don't worry about "screen time" harming a kid's interest in reading. Worry about the prophylactic effect school has on a love of books. BOTH of my videogame playing, computer in the bedroom, iPod listening nephews were readers BEFORE they got to school.

School greeted that skill with several years worth of ridiculous phonics instruction and reduced reading to a multiple-choice comprehension gameshow courtesy of "Accelerated Reader." Given the time constraints imposed on youngsters by school, the only reading my nephews now do is books their school owns the Acclerated Reading test for. Otherwise, their reading "doesn't count."

By 4th or 5th grade, the kids also realized that in order to pass the test, score points and win the praise of a teacher, you only need to read the first chapter of a book and then take the G-D Accelerated Reader test.

Thank you school for destroying literacy.

I am an enormous fan of television. All TV - good stuff, bad stuff, TV for information and TV for recreation. I had HBO 36 years ago and watched TONS of TV as a kid. I still do. I'm OK.

My own kids wouldn't know mich about the world if they relied on school. I often remark that everything my middle daughter knows, she learned from The Simpsons.

I've been thinking about sending Sasha and Malia Obama a television. Someone needs to protect them from their parents' educational theories. When their father isn't advocating standardized testing, merit pay, homework and limiting "screen time," he sends his daughters to a school that does none of the above.
So, in conclusion... TV and video games better than basal texts and Accelerated Reader.

ItIsIRick said...

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog. I think wifi on a bus is cool as well. I have not traveled on a plane that has had wifi, but I am sure the conversation environment is different. I still maintain that bus 92 mentioned in the New York Times article was providing wifi to keep kids occupied and not for their, what I believe, right to information by providing them access to the Internet. A right, I believe, that is a bill of right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Gary said...

BTW: I'm a big fan of this bus with Wifi:

Don said...

I commented on your comments on my blog. Thanks for stopping by. I'm a fan of mindfulness and wifi on a bus is not mindful and might even be mindless. Having been a bus driver at one point in my work career however I can appreciate what the driver or his employer might have been thinking and that might have been a way to keep the students occupied and sitting in their seats to get them to school safely.

ItIsIRick said...

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog. Your words are always thought provoking.

I too have heard many school administrators say that students will loose their laptops if they get to take them home as part of a 1 to 1 computing initiative. I do not believe that is true. Not trusting students is having low expectations for them and does not teach them responsibility. I mentioned above that my ten year old son has taken to reading James Patterson novels on an iPod Touch using the Kindle app. Basically, we do not own the iPod and my son wanted to take it with him so he could read while waiting for his turn at piano lessons. When he asked me if he could take it, I asked him how much money he had, because if he lost it he would have to pay for it. My point came across....

ItIsIRick said...

...Both of my children walk to school. They tell me about dogs they pet and former child care workers that they wave to on their way. We do take long car rides. On those car rides, my children love to listen to Radio Lab, which is out of WNYC in New York City. We listen to a lot of NPR and of course both children like to play games on an iPhone. My wife and I let them play on my iPhone all the while counting toward their allotted hour of screen time. Much of this car time is spent by me asking questions like "What if we did not have any bones? Could we still live?" The last trip I took with the kids, which was to a gymnastic meet 2 1/2 hours away, I asked all the people in the car a question from the book I'm reading. The question was, "If someone was born with no senses, would they have thoughts?" All of these questions spur on a lot of conversation. Long family car rides are much different than a bus ride with acquaintances with students that attend your same school. I get that.
My son does bring things to school. He brings his Bakugan and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, which have quite a bit of reading on them. The honest truth is, my wife and I cannot keep Preston in books. At his school, they have turned Accelerated Reader in a competition. Students earn points throughout the entire school year to win rewards. It should not be this way, but my son loves it. He is very competitive and reads more books because of the Accelerated Reader points. This is working great for my son but I know it is not working great for all kids. Basically, my son is already a reader so I see this Accelerated Reader competition as a good way for kids who already read to be rewarded for what they are already doing well. For kids who have difficulty reading, this Accelerated Reader competition is just salt in the wound.
I'm not real worried about my children and their reading and how screen time could effect their reading ability. I am a bit more concerned about my children being able to be articulate. My son's favorite words, when asked what he did at school, is "stuff." When I ask him where his homework is or his house key, he says, "somewhere." Conversation is an art. For someone to be good at it, which I know I could improve, you need to practice. You need to practice on the bus, the plane, the bowling alley, soccer field and yes, at school. We both would agree that school is the number one place were talking is the biggest offense. I do not go through one day of work without talking and collaborating with someone.
We are adults and I have no problems with grown-ups on a plane choosing to ignore each other by being on laptops. Many people are now traveling during the day and working on their plane ride, which gives people more time with their families. Many issues in education, and our society in general, are gray areas and working people getting more time to spend with their families is not a battle I'm going to fight. Wifi on a school bus is still a gray area but one I will offer an alternate opinion.
I just believe that conversation opportunities are diminishing. I remember you said that one of your colleagues at Pepperdine stated that his or her on-line class should not be like a"cocktail party." You disagreed and stated that you, meaning your colleague, must not go to cocktail parties with very smart people. A cocktail party is exactly what an on-line class should be like. I think planes and buses, although no where near a cocktail party, could be a place where cocktail party type conversations could and should happen.