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The long reach of social media


Earlier this week, I received this amazing e-mail right out of the blue...

Dear Doug,

My name is Giulia _____ and I just come back home from my holidays. I've been in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

During my vacation in cambodia, to be more precise in Siem Reap, I met a really kind taxi driver called Vong Hoy. He spoke english and he told me how he was tryng to improve his life to garantee a better life to his wife and daughters.

One night I was in my hotel and browsing on internet I've typed his name (the name I read on the taxi during the days I was there: Vong Hoy) and I found your blog and your article.

I asked to the receptionist to print your article, and the day I left Siem Reap I gave it to Hoy.
He was so happy and grateful that when I was leaving I turn back my head and he was sitting in his car reading the article about him and his country. He remembers you and he told me that before the taxi he drove the tuc tuc and the motorbike.

I don't know if you care about him, but from your article I suppose that he was a good 'friend' in Siem Reap, I also hope that you will appreciate the fact that he is ok.

I don't wont to waste your time. Best regards,

Five years ago and 8,000 miles away. And one e-mail closes the gap.

How do we ever justify not giving students practice and skills in using the social media that shrinks our world, positively connects people, and begins conversations that lead to inter-cultural understandings. 

Still blocking Facebook in your school?



The dying role of cable television in schools

Our local cable television company in the past month has encrypted its digital signals. Each receiver now needs a special decoder in order to see a picture. To honor its charter with the city -  that states it must provide each school with free basic cable service - the company provided each school one decoder box. 

So now we have one television in each school media center that can get cable TV. And nobody, so far, has complained* although I expect a few teachers who liked taking in a ball game while grading papers while at school might miss a channel or two.

Does anyone in your school use cable television? 

My sense is that the cable company is hastening its well-deserved demise. Already rarely utilized, cable television programming will go unwatched by this generation of students. Teachers will continue to move to streaming video via YouTube or commercial content providers. 

*Actually, one administrator is adamant about getting cable back to his office. I am sure there is a serious educational purpose.


BFTP: Broadband

Original post July 18, 2009. This issue is as relevant and frustrating (or more so) than 5 years ago... Sigh.

Johnson’s Law of Network Capacity: You can’t be too thin, too rich or have too much bandwidth.


2014 (Map source)

The map above shows the availability of broadband Internet access in the area where my house (the X or box if you are a stalker) is located.  On this map, provided by ConnectMinnesota, pink indicates high speed Internet service provided either through a wired or wireless connection.

Five years ago I attended a public meeting of a "task force" that has been charged by our governor to make recommendations concerning broadband distribution in Minnesota - how much should be provided, who should provide it, and how can it be made affordable. And just how important is good Internet access to the economic development of an area anyway. Several intriguing questions were raised:

  • Is broadband an essential utility (think electricity, clean water, etc) or a market service (cable television, cell phone service)?
  • How do you define broadband in terms of capacity?
  • Traditionally people have accepted lower upload than download speeds. Is Web 2.0 changing this?
  • Should the government subsidize broadband access in areas where population densities are too low for commercial providers to supply it profitably?

I am no policy-wonk so I have little to say about these issues 5 years ago. My testimony, unsolicited, lasted about three minutes with the only point being that Internet bandwidth needs by schools are set to balloon - and very soon. And I was right. 

And these issues and a similar task force are still with Minnesotans today.

Just a little historical perspective... Our district first established a (SLIP) Internet connection and created a wide area network in early 1994 with 2400 bit "hang-up" modems on regular dedicated telephone lines. 2.4KPS speeds were fine since we had only a few users and text-only Internet interface. Our WAN in 2014 runs at 300MPS and our district's connection to the cloud is 1 Gig, up from 300 mps last year. (COSN recommends 100MPS per 1000 users.) With judicious caching and packet-shaping we've never gotten a lot of complaints about Internet speed from our 10,0000 or so users. We do have "rush hours" like everyone else.

But I am growing concerned about even the short-term adequacy of our pipe to the cloud for a number of reasons:

  • We are seeing increasing state requirements for more online testing, shorter testing windows, and tests that are media-rich.
  • We are increasingly using ASPs (Application Service Providers). Our school website, library catalog, medial content, and data warehousing/mining solution run on servers outside our WAN. The use of GoogleApps for Education by both staff and students has skyrocketed.
  • Video and audio conferencing tools like Skype are so simple and specialized equipment-free that more teachers are using them.
  • Use of multi-media resources like YouTube, TeacherTube, TED, and iTunes are the rise.
  • Our textbook series are nearly all supplemented by online resources - again, many media-rich.
  • The one-two punch of affordable student devices and cloud-computing will drive up bandwidth needs. What happens when every kid starts using GoogleDocs all the time?

Yes, I know file compression schemes are getting better, but I'll be there is some corollary to Moore's Law that predicts bandwidth needs of individuals/organizations. There are two worries schools should have: does one's region have the infrastructure build to double or triple the broadband speeds when needed? And, if available, can your institution afford the increased capacity even with E-rate?