Wi-Fi Smuggeling

Quick, how many of you brought a television, VCR, DVD player, and/or computer from home to use in your classroom? Maybe you still do. Crafty teachers do all kinds of things to get equipment to help them do their job better even if it means spending their own money. One of the first DVD players I saw in the "wild" or outside a store was when a fellow teacher brought one in to show movie clips to her class. An announcement at a recent Tech Coach meeting about YouTube being throttled took me back to those times. Due to bandwidth restrictions, teachers will need to download YouTube videos at home then bring them to school. We have often discussed how our district's pipe of information is not as big as it should be and the YouTube announcement is another confirmation of this fact. Current economic conditions will not bring any relief to this problem soon. So what might happen? Teachers and students will start smuggling in their own Wi-Fi to use when school resources won't get the job done.

This is not as far fetched as one might think. Wireless carrier Sprint is selling the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot which takes a high-speed wireless signal and converts it to a WiFi Signal computers, book readers, gaming devices, iPods, or any device that needs a Wi-Fi signal can use. Sprint's device is not the only mobile hotspot on the market either. The wireless industry would like to become regular Internet service providers and are working hard toward this goal. At last year's South Carolina EDTech conference, AT&T gave a demonstration on using iPhones in a variety of classroom activities. As wireless speeds increase and costs decrease (one can dream) teachers and eventually students will start bringing their personal Wi-Fi connections with them. This will put districts in a tough spot as pressure will grow to allow students to bring their own computers if districts are not willing to participate in one-to-one initiatives. Many districts have practically given up the battle of preventing students from bringing cell phones to school due to parental pressures regarding security and convenience. Imagine the school board meeting where a parent complains his/or child's computer was taken away because it accessed a wireless signal while doing schoolwork. Will it be worth the fight?

I am not the first person to think on this either. The award-winning Teach Paperless blog highlighted the ability of Android's Froyo firmware upgrade to allow for tethering, if the wireless companies allow it. Michael Kaechele wrote about student-owned Wi-Fi in his blog. Kaechele's post raises some interesting questions:

  • Will this type of technology make cable connections obsolete?
  • Is paying to put Wi-Fi hotspots in school buildings also a waste of money?
  • Will schools allow students to use this technology or pay waste money on equipment to block the signals? Author's Note: It is illegal in the United States to block wireless signals.
  • Will this help end the filtering debates and make CIPA irrelevant?

While the above questions are excellent and need to be addressed soon. The wireless genie is out of the bottle and finding its way in devices such as the iPad, nook, Kindle, netbooks, and other devices schools desire. Do we continue to move forward or do we hold back? I would like to know your thoughts.