Technology Rant

Okay. Here it is.  Another technology rant – I’ll just add mine to the many that already choke the cyberworld.

The initiating question is this:  why can’t anything be simple?  What is wrong with simple? Is it not possible that a person could invent something that can be characterized as both technologically advanced and simple?

Bah! (This needs to be said with a growl, in the back of the throat, very much in the likes of “bah humbug”. Nothing too smooth here will do.)

So my class has an awesome opportunity to have a chat with Larry Kwong, the first person to break the colour barrier as a player for the NHL. The man is 90 years old, has first hand experience on the wrong side of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act (a bit of deleterious Canadian history), and is active on  …. Skype!  He’s a skyper. A hyper skyper – very fluent, chatting with his buddies all the time via a simple camera and microphone.

My students have been studying Canadian history, have been examining the influence of immigration on Canadian culture, have been honing their skills at deconstructing media, and are reading Steven Galloway’s, “Finnie Walsh“. Okay, seriously!  Hockey, immigration, Canadian culture and history, media …. and Larry Kwong is willing to spend an hour chatting with them!  What kind of freakish alignment of all the universal signs is that??

Larry Kwong, with the New York Rangers.

Larry Kwong, with the New York Rangers.

(Check out this to learn more!)

All I need to do is set up an interview time and Skype away, right? Easy peasy. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Until I tried to actually do it.

It turns out that Skype takes up crazy amounts of bandwidth, something school divisions across Saskatchewan don’t have much of. There are a few activities which are frowned upon because of this limitation: streaming videos live, checking out webcams, creating and running video media, and …. Skype. At least during school hours.  You know, when the students are in school. During school hours any activity that uses up too much bandwidth threatens the other internet users – or at least creates problems in how smoothly (quickly? easily? fluently?) the internet can be accessed by all users on that network at once.

There are, I know, a myriad of tangled reasons and explanations for this frustration which I will not get into.  I don’t know how.  It makes almost no sense to me.  But it doesn’t matter if I can explain it or not.  The result is that I am sitting here with a golden carrot (read: Mr. Kwong) just outside of my grasp if only I could Skype him into my classroom! The man is 90 years old and skyping like a champion and I am trying to prepare the next generation of technology users for life in the 21st century and can’t even access the silly program in my classroom, let alone use it!!

So, I think, perhaps I don’t need to disembowel the school division network.  Perhaps I can use a 3G network, or the newest LTE network? This should solve all my problems. I shouldn’t need to worry about bandwidth, my students can interview Mr. Kwong and learn first hand about his experiences, and technology can save the day!  Yay for simple solutions!!

Except for one tiny little cable.  The cables that connect our Smartboards to phones are all Apple products.  My phone is Samsung.  But my intern has the newest iPhone so this should be no problem.  Nope. Apple has conveniently changed all their cables so that none of the old ones work on the new phones!  Of course they did that.  Because they like to complicate matters.  And because simple things, like reusing a cable, wouldn’t make them more money!

Oh, if only you could dial into my inner howling right now….

So, I have a hunt on for a cable that will connect the newest iPhone to a Smartboard – I’m counting on one showing up in the next 36 hours. But should this cable be more elusive than, say, bandwidth availability, then I’m going to have to scale back to …. a phone call.

Yup.  A phone call. We can chat with astronaut Chris Hadfield while he floats around in the outer atmosphere but I’m going to have my students call Mr. Kwong in Calgary on the phone.

When I was in grade seven or eight a small group of us were fortunate enough to be included in an enrichment project.  We studied cool things and solved crazy puzzles and read epic poetry.  One of the most memorable experiences was when we got to interview Pierre Berton about a) his book “The Secret World of Og” (still far and away one of my most favourite ever ever ever!), and b) what his private thoughts were on “Star Wars” (which my mother wouldn’t let me go see because I can’t remember why but I do remember being quite bitter about the unfairness of it all!). The interview was carefully planned and prepped – we researched the man; we read his book; we prepared intelligent and meaningful questions; we arrived appropriately early for working ourselves into a nervous frenzy…. It was awesome. Definitely one of the highlights of my elementary school career.  But it was a phone call. Mind you, at that time, that was pretty darn amazing!  A remarkable opportunity!

And now, here we are, all these technological inventions later, and it’s looking like the very best we can do is …. a phone call.

I confess to being a little (read: ginormously!) disappointed. I wasn’t expecting a hologram or anything.  Just the ability to use a camera and microphone so my students could interact with an influential and cool guy in the province next door. Simple!!

Is that too much to ask?

5 thoughts on “Technology Rant

    • I did!! It was awesome. He loved “Star Wars” and we spent as much time talking about the characters and the storyline as we did about anything else. More than that, the conversation with Pierre Berton signified my first glimpse into the idea that famous people who do awesome things are normal people …. that normal people can do awesome things. And this is why students should be Skyping with people who are normal but have done awesome things. It’s inspirational and brings a very real hope that maybe each of us, maybe even I, can do something important with my normal little life.

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I think often, organizations put the funds into creating a mission-oriented IT infrastructure, then don’t support it adequately by maintaining it, upgrading it and providing adequate and relevant IT support. Soooooooo frustrating!

    • Totally frustrating. I understand completely the problem – as always it’s a making priorities for spending issue. We have access to such awesome things for kids to do – and they do them all the time at home or on their personal devices – but they can’t do them at school. Little wonder they sometimes tune out. They have to wait to get away from the limitations of the school internet network to get back to doing what the rest of the world is doing. We, teachers, are supposed to make school engaging, fun, relevant, preparation for the nearly unpredictable technological future, but we can’t even Skype! It’s beyond frustrating and feels very like a “make hay without straw or water” scenario.

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