Monday, May 07, 2012

The Power of Access

Have you seen the cell phone commercials where the co-workers  are “one up’ing” each other by the speed of the information they are getting to their data phones?  Being in the “know” or up to date is an expectation in the 21st Century.  Access is critical to “knowing” and the more conveniently available and faster the access the better.

Access is an interesting word with many different levels of significance. At a basic human need level, access to water, food, and transportation shaped where early settlements took hold. On a more complex level, access to information has and continues to shape governance and opportunity.   Access to information through print technologies and now the internet has provided transparency and opportunities to be heard. In the past, power controlled information.  In today’s world, information flows much more freely via websites, YouTube, twittering, blogs, wikis and so on.

Occasionally people deny the significance of the internet for information under the claim that it is not trustworthy; anyone can post anything.  While this is true, with 21st Century research skills and critical thought one can effectively cross check information and decipher the good from the bad; we need to hone these skills not control the information itself.

At Bismarck Public Schools we have the benefit of “access” to many of the things that matter for success in teaching and learning.  I would like to take a minute to highlight the technology related access we have that gives us power for learning.

  • The Highway/The Internet: The highway to information in the 21st Century is the Internet. With a multi-gig pipeline to the world, access at BPS is truly world class.  A 10 Mb file transfer today (the size of one high resolution photo shot on the typical house-hold digital camera) happens in less than a minute vs 15 years ago when it would take about 45 minutes.

  • Jumping on the Highway/Teacher Access: Teachers at BPS have laptops that afford them access that is not confined to a room or a cabled port.  This access allows us to think, discuss, research, and create anywhere/anytime.
  • Jumping on the Highway/Student Access: Student access is also changing to where students spend their time – from computer labs to classrooms to home.  To move from access as an event to transparent access, BPS has been working with several grades/subjects.  Pilot participants in 5th, 6th, and 9th grade have a 2 to 1 ratio of netbooks in their classroom providing access to content and the ability to produce and share their own work.  High School English students have one-to-one access to netbooks for research and writing, making this process much more fluid with the tools and information right at hand. One big win for access has been the implementation of Google Apps for Education.  This has bridged the divide for student work, giving them a workspace that is accessible from just about any internet connected device at any location and at any time.  Since the rollout at the beginning of the school year over 4,240 students in grades 4-6 have activated their accounts.

  • Navigating/Access to Support: The internet has lots of information but it can’t replace the localized support, encouragement, and connections.  Building capacity to use the tools available and leverage the internet is the goal behind the BIMS (Building Integration Mentors).  BIMs have logged over 1000 hours of support from Q&A to Lattes to classroom support.  Through the support of the BIMs there were 139 Latte opportunities this year and 27 people have been awarded graduate credit for their Latte learning efforts.

I believe we have and provide good “access.” We will continue to strive for technology access that is fluid and flawless.  We look forward to continued collaborative work to leverage this access by getting really good at taking the access to the next level of synthesis, construction, collaboration, production, innovation, and communication.