In this months Broadly Speaking, we talk wireless with Dr. Stephanie Snyder, Senior Business Development Manager at Symbol Technologies. She was the administrator of information technology at Smithtown High School in Smithtown, New York and has more than 30 years of experience in the school system. Dr. Snyder completed her Ph.D. thesis on computer integration.
T.H.E.: What kinds of applications do you think there are for wireless technology in education today?
Dr. Snyder: I began dealing with wireless systems about four years ago. At that time I worked in education as a computer operations facilitator, so I was able to do research with teachers as I worked with them. What I found from years of working with teachers was that there was almost a resentment to being tethered to a dynamic that the IT person might have come up with. I find there is often a lack of connection between the person who puts in the technology and the practitioner who puts it to use. What Ive seen wireless technology do is to really un-tether the teacher from the wires and let them determine the dynamic of the classroom.
T.H.E.: How have you seen wireless in use?
Dr. Snyder: As an example, the first year we worked with wireless technology in the school district I was in, we decided to do a pilot program. We had teams of sixth grade teachers.
At that time we really couldnt afford laptops for every student, so we put computers on carts. By using wireless technology, we made them mobile. We came to the conclusion that we would give 12 computers to a group of five teachers. The thinking was that the teachers know what they want to do in a classroom. If they wanted to do cooperative learning one day and needed five computers, they could roll in five computers. Teams could get together and do interdisciplinary units, so you could have 24 computers with wireless connections in one room. Teachers could get their kids on the Web where they could do research, raise questions and find their own answers.
What I saw in all this was that it was making students and teachers more productive. They set the agenda of where that technology was to go and how they were going to use it.
T.H.E.: Why do you think a school should invest in wireless technology?
Dr. Snyder: You have to bring technology to the point of instruction. Its important to un-tether classrooms from wires and cabling and offer mobility. When you do that, you are truly empowering the students and teachers to set their own learning dynamic.
T.H.E.: So what would you say to a school that asks why they should invest in wireless technology now, rather than five years from now when it may be cheaper?
Dr. Snyder: First of all, when you look at wireless technology, I dont think you can say it will be so much cheaper in the future. Wireless technology kind of sits on top of your present infrastructure. What I would be looking at, and what I hope educators are looking at, is the answer to the question What supports my educational philosophy? You can look at any of the research and any trends now, and we know that we have to personalize learning more. We know we have to create learning communities and not teaching communities. We know that kids have different learning styles. If you want to address those things, you have to put technology in the hands of kids and teachers. That means mobility.
Now, as far as its being more expensive, think of a principal walking down a hall and seeing five, ten or even fifteen computers on one floor not being used because they were attached to the wall and the teacher hasnt figured out what to do with them. Well, with wireless, you could easily take those fifteen computers and give them to a teacher who only had four and really needed more. The mobility given by wireless allows for that kind of flexibility and therefore makes better use of the money spent. It supports the interactive classroom.
The other thing is that we now have devices that can be used to track students in an unobtrusive way. We have handheld wireless devices we can use to check a students schedule in the middle of the hall. If an administrator is walking down the hall and sees a student wandering around, which unfortunately happens quite a bit, they can now use a handheld device, wirelessly connected to the network, to check the students schedule and see where they belong. By taking that network and extending it to the hall, you give immediacy of data to teachers and administrators. Now, even a physical education teacher out on the soccer field can check a students emergency medical data immediately. The applications are limitless.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.