Tag Archives: technology

Should the Internet be a Public Good?

In a recent New York Times piece, a high school student in Donna, Texas, named Perla describes how she rides the school bus an extra three hours a day because she needs the bus’s wi-fi connection to do homework. Another set of siblings, Isabella and Tony, stand outside their school at 7 pm just to access its wi-fi hot spot and download their math homework on their phone.

The story comes on the heels of a new Rutgers University report that found that while 9 in 10 lower-income families can access the internet in some way, a quarter can only connect by smartphone, and half of those with a connection say it is too slow for reliable use.

In short, American internet service is falling behind. Americans pay too much, and average connections are sluggish when compared with speeds in many European of Asian countries. Huge swaths of rural America are locked out of any broadband access, and low-income kids without a reliable connection at home are struggling to benefit from a full education. Competition among providers is slim. Six in 10 Americans have either one choice or no choice in broadband providers.

Thinking about the internet like a public utility is a shift in how we have historically treated internet access, as well as how we think about what kids really need to access equal education.

Does it have to be this way? The short answer is no. But thinking about the internet as something everyone should have—like a public utility—is a shift in how we have historically treated internet access, as well as how we think about what kids really need to access equal education.

Going back almost 100 years, the country thought of access to communications tools very differently. In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Telecommunications Act, which broke up monopolies and regulated companies that provided telephone lines, which the government saw as critical to the nation’s growth and prosperity

When the internet era arose, providers faced very little regulation, even as the web began to occupy the same importance in American life as phones once did. Last year, the FCC adopted “net neutrality” regulations that allowed it to regulate broadband a little more like a utility. For example, the new rules stop providers from purposely slowing down speeds or charging companies like Netflix to use internet “fast lanes” for their content. In a vote next month, the FCC will decide whether to reform its Lifeline program, which would expand a phone subsidy program to include broadband access for low-income Americans.

Still, the new net neutrality regulations don’t mirror the rules for telephone lines, which are still considered a public utility. The FCC won’t regulate broadband rates or enforce quality or availability standards. While cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., have created high-speed, municipal-owned fiber networks (Comcast tried to sue), many Americans are left with only one option, and it is often financially out of reach.

“We treated the telephone industry like a utility and people don’t seem to be surprised by that,” Susan Crawford, author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the New Gilded Age,” told TIME magazine. “High-speed internet access plays the same role in American life. It’s just that these guys have succeeded in making us think that it’s a luxury.”

The “these guys” Crawford is referring to are Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, which doled out $44 million to lobby Congress in 2015 alone. But ask any student standing on the street at night just trying to download his or her math homework: the internet isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessary part of day-to-day life in 2016.

In today’s schools, the internet is critical for researching and in some cases completing homework. But the Rutgers University report found kids without internet access at home were also less likely to look up topics they are interested in—a world on knowledge they could tap into every evening. The report also found that 42 percent of lower-income families without home access said cost is the biggest barrier. And internet prices are up more than 21 percent since two years ago, reaching and average of $47 per month—the price of a tank of gas, an electric bill, or a unexpected parking ticket. For many Americans, an added monthly expense of around $40 is too much on a tight budget.

One of the most telling examples of how lack of home internet access exacerbates inequality comes from a district superintendent in Texas, who told the New York Times teachers try to accommodate students without access, but at the same time the district can’t “hold back on our use of technology in the classrooms” because it has to prepare children for the world awaiting them.

The United States shouldn’t be faced with this choice—hold back basic technology in classrooms, or leave kids without access behind. But without rethinking our philosophy on internet access, that choice holds us all back from realizing the full potential of the internet, and the full potential of today’s children.

Teens and Technology: The Uneven Playing Field Persists

Welcome back to our new STEAM series. For the next two weeks, we are deconstructing the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math with posts that explore each subject in a new light. 

For nearly a century, private Waldorf Schools around the country have subscribed to a teaching method that focuses on physical activity and creative, hands-on learning. But the schools, which many Silicon Valley tech executives send their kids to, made headlines in 2011 for their strict belief in not using any technology—no screens, no internet—from kindergarten to middle school. At thousands of dollars a year, it’s a privilege to be disconnected from tech.

Meanwhile, being disconnected is a major hurdle for under-resourced public schools, whose slower internet speeds can prevent teachers from doing the same basic activities as schools with fast speeds, even in neighboring districts. Only 14 percent of low-income schools meet internet speed goals set by ConnectEd, a federal initiative aimed at increasing broadband internet access. That is compared to 39 percent of affluent schools.

Like much else in society, access and use of technology and the opportunities that come with it fall along race, class, and gender lines. It’s why when educators push for greater technology integration in education, equity has to be central to any effort in order for tech to propel, not hinder, a more equal shot at a STEAM career.

When educators push for greater technology integration in education, equity has to be central to any effort in order for tech to propel, not hinder, a more equal shot at a STEAM career.

For example, how teachers use edtech is shaped by what resources are available to them. But teachers in low-income schools tend to have less support. Among teachers in highest income areas, Pew research found that 70 percent said their school gave them good support for incorporating technology into their teaching, compared with only half the teachers in lowest income areas. That means while there might be two identical iPads in two different classrooms with equal internet speeds, the type of support and ongoing professional development a teacher receives could mean that the learning experiences students have with those iPads is drastically different.

Young people’s experiences with technology on an individual level also differ greatly, though discussions about technology rarely take in the full breadth and diversity of how young people use it. Last winter, a 19-year-old named Andrew wrote a blog post titled “A Teenager’s View on Social Media, Written by an Actual Teen” that gained traction in tech and media circles.

People working in the tech industry forwarded the story to danah boyd, author and principal researcher at Microsoft Research, who has researched and written extensively about teen technology use. Though she didn’t fault Andrew for voicing his perspective, she thought that as a white male college student, his thoughts on social media shouldn’t be considered a single stand-in for how 16 million teens use tech.

“Let me put this bluntly: teens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography and cultural background,” boyd wrote. She added that listening to only one group of teens’ perspective on technology is a problem because it shapes what the tech industry builds and invests in and what “gets legitimized by institutions of power.” For example, by only reading Andrew’s post, a reader would miss how many teens, especially teens of color, are harnessing social media as a tool for social activism.

Of course, there are many great programs designed to keep young people of color and low-income teens at the center of all their technology opportunities. Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. is an afterschool program at Woodland Hills Academy outside of Pittsburgh and a pop-up program throughout Allegheny County. It aims to empower young women, predominantly young women of color, with hands-on STEAM learning, introducing them to STEM careers through five core units, including one called Thoughts & Bots that introduces girls to robotics.

Nationally, Black Girls Code introduces girls and young women to basic programming skills in languages like Scratch and Ruby on Rails. At its recent hackathon in New York City, the winning team of teenage girls created an app that let students share notes and homework after being absent.

“If the minority presence in leadership roles doesn’t soon reflect the general population or the online population, it will be time for Net boosters to ask themselves why what was supposed be a democratizing influence didn’t work out that way,” wrote Catherine Yang, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek . . . in the year 1999.

Well, 16 years later, it didn’t work out that way. But with a greater focus on technology that keeps equity as a central goal, not just as an add-on, there’s a chance to make greater progress for today’s kids in the next 16 years.

Do Digital Tools Belong in Preschool?

In a preschool classroom in Washington, Pennsylvania, about a half hour south of Pittsburgh, a group of 2-year-old children are taking pictures of a tree using their school’s digital camera. The child holding the camera has been designated the “photographer of the day” by his teacher, Jill Fulton. This particular photo session is part of a year-long project to document how the tree is changing through the seasons.

“We have a VTech toddler friendly camera. So they can’t break it,” Fulton says. “They have full range of it. I get a lot of pictures of trees and grass. They are like little paparazzi.”

Fulton, who is a teacher in the toddler room at Just Us Kids, a care provider that serves children from infancy to age 12, says using the digital camera helps kids explore the natural world around them and observe the changing seasons. But, she says, her students love the toy cameras they have in the play area inside their classroom just as much. The toy cameras also help kids learn about their environment, though in different ways—through imagination and make-believe.

A young photographer at Just us Kids. Photo/Jill Fulton.

Early childhood professionals have long been cautious about introducing digital technologies into early childhood classrooms, fearing that screen media will displace time kids should be spending playing, digging in the dirt, or interacting with peers and adults—the kinds of hands-on engagement that research shows best promotes learning for kids of this age.

But some early childhood educators are starting to feel differently. Educators here in Pittsburgh may be on the cutting edge of using the newest technology with the youngest learners in ways that are developmentally appropriate for 2 t0 5-year-olds.  Educators aren’t simply sticking students alone in front of a screen to play around with the latest apps. Rather, they are, as Fred Rogers once said, “putting the children first,” thinking creatively about how to incorporate today’s technology in ways that match young children’s unique developmental needs.

“If Maria Montessori were alive today, the tools we would see in early childhood classrooms would look very different,” says Michelle Figlar who heads up PAEYC, Pittsburgh’s chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the leading advocacy group for early childhood educators. “We think that digital tools absolutely fit into that environment in the same way building blocks and water tables and sand tables do.”

Figlar tells educators to always keep their goals front and center and remember not to get blinded by technology’s “bells & whistles.” “Technology is always just a tool to help us get there,” she says.

From 1968 to 2001, Pittsburgh was home to Fred Rogers, who filmed his pioneering TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the city, using the technology of his day to promote learning in the early years. Today, the Fred Rogers Center and NAEYC are helping early childhood professionals imagine new possibilities for their classrooms that include today’s latest interactive technology.

In 2012, the Fred Rogers Center partnered with NAEYC to release a position statement on using technology and interactive media in early childhood programs.

“We believe that when used appropriately, technology and interactive media have tremendous potential to nurture early learning and development,” -Rita Catalano, the Fred Rogers Center.
“We believe that when used appropriately, technology and interactive media have tremendous potential to nurture early learning and development,” says Rita Catalano, executive director of the Fred Rogers Center. The position statement therefore included some important caveats. Namely, it recommends limiting passive screen time (such as TV) for children ages 2–5, and avoiding it entirely for children under age 2. And they warn that if technology is provided without guidance and education, “usage can be inappropriate and/or interfere with learning and development.”

The Rogers Center is drawing on child development research to help professionals and parents define quality media experiences for young children. They see potential in interactive touch screen media, and have compiled examples for how to use technology tools and interactive media in age-appropriate, intentional ways.

Technology, for example, can help add insights to a hands-on experience. PAEYC’s Michelle Figlar says a colleague once described a group of 3-year-olds working in the block corner, building houses modeled on their own. Their teacher used the iPad to show the children pictures of their actual houses using Google map’s street view, zooming out to show the children their street and neighborhood. The experience, she said, was a perfect example of an optimal use of an iPad in an early childhood classroom.

“It brings it to where the children are. It’s intentional. It’s totally integrated. ‘I can see where my house is, what it looks like, and I can show my friends.’ It’s social studies. In this instance, the iPad helped to make a real life experience tangible for the children.”

The Fred Rogers Center is also working to support teachers with professional development programs and their Early Learning Environment (Ele), a web-based support system designed to offer resources and guidance in early literacy and digital media literacy to under-resourced parents, family childcare providers, and early childhood educators.

Jill Fulton is one of hundreds of educators who have attended workshops led by the center this year. She says she’s not a techie in other areas of her life, but the professional development sessions have really helped open her eyes to how to use technology appropriately with 2-year-olds.

For example, Fulton displays photos and video from her classroom each day in a digital frame so parents and children can look at them together at the end of the school day. A similar project, Message from Me, adapts existing technologies like email, digital cameras, and microphones, to enhance parent-child communication about what happens during the school day. Kiosks placed in classrooms enable children ages 3 to 5 to record their daily experiences and send them to their parents. The project is a partnership between the CREATE Lab, the Children’s School of Carnegie Mellon University, and PAEYC.

“The technology is great,” says Figlar. “But the goal of the project—to increase communication among parents, teachers and young children and improve language development—is what’s primary.

Especially in very low-income neighborhoods, where we know from the research that learning vocabulary is very important—that is a beautiful way of using technology.”

Photo/Brian Cohen

Pittsburgh is home to a growing cadre of design professionals, artists, and technologists who are creating partnerships with educators to design better technology for kids.

“It’s always about the children and everyone puts them first,” Figlar says. “They are not just looking to make the next best app they can make money off of. It’s a very reciprocal relationship.”

PAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center are also both working with organizations like Common Sense Media, and with librarians and museum educators in Pittsburgh to make sure that children have developmentally appropriate learning experiences across their community.

A lot of families come to the library to have access to a computer, according to Mary Beth Parks, the coordinator of children’s services at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. So librarians have an important role to play in helping families and educators use computers and other digital tools in ways that promote learning and literacy. At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh librarians are incorporating iPads into storytime, making developmentally appropriate iPad apps like interactive books and educational games available to children and caregivers.  Parks says this way of using technology is important because it not only “provides access to technology but also models instructional methods and techniques that can be used by the child’s first teacher—their parent or caregiver.”

Similarly, partnerships with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh are helping to make sure young children in the region have plenty of opportunities to experiment with technology in a hands-on way. The museum’s innovative MAKESHOP is an exhibit space where kids and adults can experiment with physical materials and digital tools. Hands-on play with technology, the museum’s director Jane Werner says, is important to help children begin to grasp at a young age that they can be creators, not just consumers, and that technology is something they can have control over.

The museum hosts classroom visits and two Pittsburgh Public School Head Start classes in the museum itself.

Werner concurs that the partnerships that take place on behalf of children in the region are unique.  “We tend not to get territorial,” she told me last spring. “There’s so much work to be done, we all realize it, and we all work together.” Fred Rogers would be proud.

Parents and Teachers Join Forces to Teach Tech Safety

With kids being digital natives and having access to anything over the Internet, there is an obvious need to teach them safety when it comes to going online. Washington Post journalist, Valerie Strauss underlines the importance of a collaboration between parents and teachers in this quest for safe online experiences in her article.

1. Encourage parent leadership, within the PTA, PTO or other parent communities at your school to begin the discussion about safe and responsible online use by students at school and at home.  Gather an advisory group to determine how to get started.  Invite an expert guest speaker to kick things off.  Thankfully, there are many free, reputable resources available to parent communities through organizations such as Common Sense Media and through PTO Today’s Internet Safety Night program (sponsored by my organization, Trend Micro). Make it clear that it is an on-going dialogue versus a one-time event, as technology is constantly changing.

2. Communicate regularly to parent communities about how you are using technology in the classrooms, at each grade level, and how you ensure kids are learning to be savvy online citizens at the same time.  Make it part of open-house and parent-teacher nights.

3. Be clear with parents on how appropriate technology use is enforced through the school’s Code of Conduct and Acceptable Use Policies (AUP), which students (or parents) typically have to review and sign at the beginning of each school year.  Parents should understand what constitutes a transgression of the policy, how it will be handled, and how/if it will be reflected on your child’s school record.  It should also be clear how personal technology can or cannot be used on school grounds.

4. Be creative with ways to help parents and their kids use technology together.  Ultimately, schools and parents should not limit the discussion to being safe and responsible with technology. We want kids to also be successful users of it.  Find ways to use technology with families or encourage them to use it together through school-driven activities, events, fund-raisers, or other projects.  Have families research their genealogy together. Establish a blog contest or raise awareness or funds for a school activity using social media.  Or encourage family engagement in programs like the ‘What’s Your Story?’ campaign (sponsored by companies like Facebook, Trend Micro, Twitter, and Yahoo!) a program specifically designed to get youth, schools, and families talking about matters concerning the safe and responsible use of technology.

5. Recognize the positive use of technology in your schools through a formal or informal but public way.  Parents can be invited to be part of such a program, or at least encourage the right behavior with their kids at home.  Awards or acknowledgement can be given to individual students or groups of students, classrooms, or even families.  You can do this through a yearly or monthly “call out” in the school newsletter, website, or at a live school event.  If possible, showcase the activity that is being acknowledged (If it’s a blog, link to it in your online communications).

To read more about teaching safe Internet practices to kids, or to learn more about why the connection between teacher and parent is so significant, check out the full article!

Must We Choose Between Education and Innovation?

Aran Levasseur, writer for MindShift, raises a significant question that often goes unspoken- “Does Our Current Education System Support Innovation?” He subsequently breaks this down into smaller questions, and attacks them one at a time in his online article.

We can’t just buy iPads (or any device), add water, and hope that strategy will usher schools to the leading edge of 21st century education. Technology, by itself, isn’t curative. Human agency shapes the path.

In light of this dynamic, two critical questions need to be asked and provisionally answered when integrating technology into education. The first question, while obvious at first glance, isn’t always fully articulated: “What are the educational goals of technology integration?” The second question is equally important and often more elusive: “Do the current systems and processes support the integrative and innovative goals?”

Furthering the discussion on the current education systems, Aran brings up an important point, that of tradition. Many education institutions are set in their ways, refusing to adapt and change. As the remainder of the article points out, there is a slow, often potholed, path to creating change- but it is possible.

Because integration and innovation with technology can be so disruptive to established systems, innovation is more likely to take root if it is grown on the margins. The margin can be a small percentage of class time that’s carved out each week for experimentation, or it can be a technology incubator designed to function beyond the conventional boundaries of school systems.

Wherever the appropriate margin is identified for technological innovation, the climate within the margin needs to be such that teachers and students are supported in exploring the edges of uncertainty. This is critical because uncertainty and experimentation are perceived as a waste of time within the current model because there is curriculum that needs to be covered and tests that need to be taken within a prescribed schedule. One can’t begin to have more time and space for innovating in class unless one loosens the reigns on traditional objectives and creates more flexibility and leverage within classrooms and schools.

To read  Aran Levasseur’s entire article on innovation in education, visit the MindShift website.