Wired Versus Wireless, section 3 of 3

Author’s conclusions:

Laptops and a wireless network provide the most access and flexibility for learners. For renovation projects, particularly in cities with high labor costs, laptops and a wireless network will be more economical as well. For new construction, a hard-wired network with desktop computers is currently the most economical installation, and affords greater bandwidth for large multi-media files.
       Data on the future costs and bandwidth capabilities for wireless networks is inconclusive. Prakash Nair feels confident that within two or three years, both the bandwidth capabilities and costs of wireless systems will make desktop systems unappealing. Glenn Meeks disagrees, stating that there is no technology on the horizon that will allow wireless networks to accommodate comparable bandwidth.
       Glenn indicates that computers are a useful tool at the elementary level. Prakash proposes that laptops are provided for all students at the fifth grade level and beyond. My own opinion is that computers be de-emphasized or left out altogether from elementary education. Research from numerous sources (see Jane Healy’s "Failure to Connect"*) indicate that computers for children under ten year of age are more likely to do harm than good. My own experience bears this out. I recently attended a student display at my daughter’s elementary school. The preponderance of computer-generated graphics was astonishing but sad; there was sameness about it all. A small minority created their own graphics – crude, colorful images - displaying creativity unmatched by the computer-generated materials. Let young children learn to use their hands, eyes and voices - there is time enough for “professionalism” in later grades.
       Both Glenn and Prakash assume that a fully accessible central network is critical in schools. I question this assumption. School is an ideal place for collaborative learning, social interaction and face-to face involvement with teachers. Continual access to a local network or the Internet are not necessary, and potentially at cross purposes with the interactive potential of the school environment. Utilizing laptops, middle and high school learners can connect to the Internet at home and on a part-time basis in school. A limited number of students can connect to a local network for presentations and file sharing at any given time. Students can charge their laptops at home or in a library carol. Two hours of laptop use a day in school is sufficient for a balanced learning program A limited number of charging stations in classrooms can accommodate the exceptions. This approach would eliminate many of the costs associated with electrical and network wiring.
        Constant access to hi bandwidth connections for transmission of multi-media files is not critical. Word processing, spreadsheets, and most graphics can be handled effectively with laptops. Full motion video and processing of large, hi-resolution files can be handled by a limited number of “mission critical” desktop computers.
        Glenn’s reference to a computer commons area sounds a lot like a computer lab – described by Prakash and others as an obsolete concept. The academic “house,” with a common resource area, surrounded by a group of classrooms for related age groups has merit, but designing it for 25 – 30 computers seems short-sighted. A school building will likely be around for 40 years or more, but the integration of computers in curriculum will surely go through radical changes in the next ten years. A better model for a commons area is a flexible project space, with electrical power for computers and other equipment, flat tables for projects, a sink, small library and space for group meetings.

Contributor Contacts:

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Technology Group of Cary, N.C., which helps educational organizations with technological planning and implementation. Visit the Meeks web site at www.meeksgeeks.com or contact Glenn at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

Prakash Nair is President Elect of Urban Educational Facilities for the 21st Century, an organization committed to the development of urban educational facilities that provide the best possible learning environment for children. Visit the UEF website at www.designshare.com/uef.htm or contact Prakash at PrakashN@notesys.com.

Randall Fielding is an award-winning architect and planner, a contributing editor to School Construction News, and the editor of Design Share. He can be reached at: fielding@designshare.com. 

Additional On-line Research:
The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
Hot Topic: "Technology Integration," with abstracts and links to 21 full-text resources.

Suggested Reading:

* "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds, for Better and Worse," by Jane Healy, PH.D.
       “Most children will choose an entertaining visual task over a more taxing linguistic one.” 
“Unless we get the emotional brain involved, higher-level thinking and problem-solving will be short-circuited.” 
       “Newer technologies emphasize rapid processing of visual symbols (e.g. icons, film strips) and de-emphasize traditional verbal learning (e.g., expository writing, text reading) and the linear, analytic thought process that accompanies it.” Sequential argument, reflection and “making pictures in your mind” are diminished in favor of immediate experience. It is easier to convey emotional tone with visual images than with text but more difficult to deal with abstract verbal reasoning, such as analyzing the difference between a republic and a democracy.” book link

"Growing Up Digital, The Rise of the Net Generation," by Don Tapscott.
     "Their shift from broadcast to interactive is the cornerstone of the Net-Generation.  They want to be users - not just viewers or listeners."
    "Innovation is a hallmark of N-Gen culture.   Innovation, rather than traditional factors such as economies of scale, access to raw materials, productivity, and the cost of labor, determines success in the new economy."
    "In a recent survey I conducted of business leaders, 95.7 percent indicated that knowledge management was more important than to their success than business process reengineering ...  Knowledge sharing is at the heart of this challenge." book link

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