What, no WiFi?

Aren't you glad you have WiFi? Don't you wish everybody did? (To paraphrase a soap commercial)

So I finally returned from the world's hottest vacation to a beautiful, dry, sunny New England day. Phew! I did so, however, with a few stops along the way. One of these stops was in a little town in South Carolina called Walterboro. I don't know how many people live there, but I believe that its sole purpose is to hold motels for hapless travelers moving up and down the eastern seaboard on their way to and from DisneyWorld.

Walterboro does indeed have a lot of hotels, motels, and inns.  By the time we reached this charming little town, we were done for and were desperate to find someplace with a pool that was still open and cheap rooms.  The first inn we pulled into certainly met these requirements and I was about to check in when my 14 year old asked, "Do they have WiFi?"  I stopped in my tracks.  The looming signs around us for all of the other hotels advertised "Free Hi-Speed Internet Access" or "WiFi in Your Room".  All our motel boasted on its sign was "Free HBO".  Uh-Oh. 

The truck stop we just passed advertised a WiFi hotspot.  The countless RV parks we passed advertised WiFi (or at least "Hi-Speed Internet!!").  Certain that this was just an oversight, I walked up to the front desk and asked, "Do you have Internet access in your rooms?"  With a blush of shame, the southern belle behind the desk replied, "No, but we have a free breakfast buffet for y'all!"  Suffice to say, we chose a motel just up the road with a pool, HBO, free breakfast, AND in-room WiFi. 

I had emails to send and blogs to post.  I needed to check my online banking to see just how much money to transfer from my retirement to cover everything we'd spent at Disney.  The kids had WiFi-enabled handheld games (my oldest had his laptop, too).  My kids and I weren't about to spend 10 hours on the road and then spend an entire night Net-free.  Even my wife, technophobe that she is, wasn't pleased that I couldn't check the above-mentioned financial plight online.

So what does this have to with Ed Tech?  Obviously, I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I'm sure I've just alienated my three readers from South Carolina (which really is a lovely state with almost ubiquitous WiFi).  However, the point is that it's incredibly easy and cheap to set up a WiFi hotspot.  Sure, you can be quite sophisticated with security, authentication, encryption, etc.  In fact, you probably should be since your students already are.  At the most basic level, though, all it takes is a $40 router plugged into your network and, voila!, you have a hotspot. 

Even if you don't live in Maine and provide all of your students with laptops, many of your students and teachers will have laptops, handhelds, or VoIP products that can make use of WiFi.  This is one upgrade that you can easily fit into your budget with an immediate "New and Improved Factor" for your users and is also one that can be easily expanded in the years to come.  Many of you already have WiFi implentations in your buildings, but a remarkable number of you still don't.  If you're in the latter group, start with one in the teacher's lounge and invite teachers to bring in their laptops.  Start small and experiment with security, range, etc.  At $30-$40 a piece, it's easy to expand once you understand the security issues and network traffic associated with the access points.

If we can expect WiFi in Walterboro, SC, we can certainly expect it in our schools.  As more and more people (both students and teachers) buy laptops, WiFi becomes a powerful tool for accessing and sharing information quickly and conveniently.  Besides, as you know if you read my blog, I'm always in favor of things that cheaply and easily satisfy my inner geek and my users. 

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