I recently returned from a trip to northeast Florida where I did some work with the St. Johns and Clay County schools - really nice people who arranged to have the temperatures there high enough to thaw this Minnesotan out. The Clay County dinner was exciting since I got to speak about the importance of school libraries and their impact on student achievement not just librarians, but to administrators, department chairs, and school board members as well. It's always fun to be able to preach those not already in the choir. We need to do more of that as a profession. I'm pretty sure we've already convinced ourselves that we are important.
I took my Garmin GPS to use in the rental car again on this trip. I've nicknamed its female voice Sacagawea and she did a fair job of getting me where I needed to go. I ask her to guide me to the following locations:
- My hotel in St Augustine
- Clay County High School in Green Cove Springs
- A school office building in St Augustine
- The downtown public library in Jacksonville
- The Jacksonville airport
Of the five locations, Sacagawea was unerring on three of them, and I could have relied on her exclusively. One, Clay County High School, was located on a state highway and Sacagawea has problems with addresses on highways and roads and I never could get her to even admit there was such an address. Going to the St Augustine school address, she routed me a couple blocks west, a few blocks north, and then a couple blocks back east right onto the same street I started on. It didn't look like the scenic route and I don't give Sacagawea credit for having a sense of humor so I have no idea what that was all about. In downtown Jacksonville, the taller buildings made getting a satellite signal difficult.
As much as she is really handy when she works, I don't think I will be relying on Sacagawea alone anytime soon. Only getting three out of five trips right is not nearly good enough. I'll continue packing my MapQuest directions and consulting the cheesy map from the rental car company. Which leads me to ask the bigger question: Just how reliable does a technology have to be before one is willing to rely on it?
In an earlier posting, I suggested teachers demand that any technology they use work 99% of the time. Is that an overly high expectation? Analog telephone systems brag about 5 nines reliability - pick up the handset and there is a 99.999% chance the thing will be working. That means out of an entire year, the phone system is down less than nine hours.
Before a teacher ventures into the lab, how reliable does it need to be? Is a 90% uptime acceptable? Over a two week period and ten classes, if things aren't working one of the class periods will a teacher still use it? I don't know.
I thought our district had been heading toward that 99% network/Internet reliability mark with the network being down less than 90 hours throughout the year. Then the "denial of service" attacks started last week and have been overwhelming our firewall ever since. We still have Internet connectivity, but is seems about 1/10th as fast as normal. Teachers are already saying, "the network can't be trusted." How much ground will we lose on this one?
I am packing Sacagawea for my trip to the ISTE board meeting in Santa Fe this weekend. But I'll also make sure I have a road map. I am only willing to trust Sacagawea's artificial intelligence so far. After all, the operative word in "artificial intelligence" is artificial.