Monday, March 02, 2009

Access and Community

Reader Knaus on Snow Days:

Great cartoon. Raises lots of questions though. Do all your students have computer and internet access at home?

We're a 1:1 computing school, so I do have the benefit of knowing that at least all of my students have a computer.

With regard to access, I see this as no different than when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore and our teacher gave us a 'video-project'. My family certainly didn't have a video camera and neither did many of my friends. But, there were always a few kids in each class whose families owned one, and so we'd get together and do projects together. Making the best of what you have goes a long way.

So whether it's everybody going over to Billy's house one afternoon to do a school project online, or whether it's meeting up at the public library to use the Internet, the means are there.

The rest is motivation. And I see, through ongoing and authentic use of the Internet in the classroom, something related to that coming through: more of a sense of community among the members of the class.

And that is why I see blogs as having such potential for great change in education: because they make the students responsible both to themselves and to the community. They put the student in a place where his or her work can be seen by whomever you give access to (including parents, administrators, other students, fellow teachers of the student...) and, more importantly, they create a situation where the community only benefits through the sustained participation of each individual in the class. Motivated by a skillful teacher, the student develops a real sense of responsibility towards their blog. It becomes a public face of their educational experience. It becomes an identity thing.

By and large, I see students willing to step up to this challenge. And they will meet together to overcome individual technological deficiencies. They will rendezvous at the library to sustain their part in this community. They will take responsibility for their work if they believe that it actually means something to the larger community.

Sounds like I'm getting ready to throw down some ideas combining blogging with project-based-learning, doesn't it? (All in due time...)

With regard to their own educations, the sense of personal responsibility and self-direction is what is fundamentally at the heart of a sustained and motivational community. It all feeds itself. It's the best of the 'Net in microcosm. And I'd argue it's the way in which individuals and communities will grow in the 21st century.


  1. Um...that was well stated and I agree 100%. I think there are 2 issues. First, getting to the one-to-one situation. That would be sweet for so many reasons.

    The other issue is access. And I agree with you that motivation is the key. Whether it's spending $3 on a hot chocolate at the coffee shop, walking a half mile to the library or wandering your neighborhood for an open network, students will find access given they have the motivation.

    Thanks for your insights.

  2. As we are planning on going one-to-one this year, we have discussed this issue as not all of our students have internet access. Students should have the opportunity in class to download the information they need and use the laptops at home for the applications and working with the information. As I am very close to paperless right now and my students cannot yet take their laptops home, sometimes you just need to be really flexible.

  3. What about the kids who have to sell all they own to buy food? Who can't wander the neighborhood or hike to the library because they work all day or take care of relatives? Some kids have the motivation, but their first allegiance is to the immediate needs of their families. Spending all day at the library or internet cafe is a luxury. The digital divide goes into the root of what we believe about the responsibilities of our society. It isn't just about giving everyone laptops (although I would take that, too!) but looking at quality of life issues. Maslow's hierarchy...we want students to be thoughtful and innovative, lets make sure they have sufficient health care and real living wages...


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