“If you can do this in the snowy wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, we can do this all across America.” ~quotes by President Barack Obama
Today I’ve been thinking about the word “connected.” I often get frustrated because I want to use the Internet at home to research lesson plan ideas, facebook with friends, update a blog post, or tweet with innovative teachers around the country. Where I live, however, in the small farming community of Skandia, Michigan, we do not have wireless Internet access. I’m left feeling disconnected.
Last Thursday, President Barack Obama made a stop in our community at Northern Michigan University to discuss his plan to “win the future” by expanding wireless coverage to 98 percent of Americans. Obama wants to invest in transportation and communication networks that move goods and information as fast as possible. As someone who does not have wireless access, I was very interested in learning the details, not just for myself, but for my children and for my students.
When I heard that Obama would speak to our community, I hoped to see him in person and perhaps even take my daughters to see a president in office. Instead, the event was invitation only, with many of those invitations going to NMU students who have served in a leadership capacity. Amy’s husband Mike received a ticket because of his military service. He got a close-up view, sitting fourth row, center! Meanwhile, Amy and I watched Obama’s speech live with our students from our classrooms.
First, Obama joked with the crowd about how his staff had it out for him because not long after his Bears lost in the Superbowl, he was sent to a town with a bunch of Packers fans. However, the president soon got on the topic of our country’s economic future. Obama chose Northern Michigan University as the location for this speech because he sees it as a leader in technology initiatives. For more than a decade NMU has issued a new laptop to every incoming student, and WiFi stretched across campus.
“But if you lived off-campus, like most students and teachers here, you were largely out of luck. Broadband was often too expensive to afford,” Obama said. Then I’m pretty sure he looked right through the camera, directly to me in my sixth hour English 10 class, and added, “And if you lived a bit further out of town, you were completely out of luck, because broadband providers, they often won’t build networks where it’s not profitable, just like they wouldn’t build electric lines where it wasn’t profitable.” Ah, yes, and I’m still waiting for that connection.
Obama continued by explaining how NMU tried something new, and partnered with various companies to build a high-speed, next generation wireless network.
“Today, this is one of America’s most connected universities,” Obama added.
Ms. Christy Sener, who is student teaching in my classroom, makes good use of NMU’s WiMAX capabilities. Although our high school is 30 miles away from NMU, she is able to access the wireless network from her laptop. She uses her NMU laptop to take attendance, check school e-mail, etc. This is the first time a student teacher has been able to get that access while in my classroom, and it is has helped her to connect in many ways.
I was proud to hear Obama mention in his speech one of our Upper Peninsula Writing Project colleagues, Joe Lubig, an assistant professor of education at NMU. Joe was able to show Obama some online learning opportunities for students in our area. The president participated in a demonstration of the distance learning and WiMAX technology used at Northern by speaking with high school students from Negaunee and middle school students from Powell Township. The president joked that he was getting beamed around, just like in Star Trek. Our Upper Peninsula Writing Project colleague Helen Grossman was thrilled to have her chemistry students in Negaunee speak with the President of the United States. What an honor!
Also, the president talked about how someday we might use those technologies in place of getting to school on snow days. We get over 200 inches of snow
here a year, so sometimes travel is dangerous. Of course, even teachers love one or two snow days…we might not want to do away with those entirely!
Now, I know that not everyone is thrilled with Obama’s plans for the wireless initiative, especially with the debt that our country faces. Obama has proposed freezing annual domestic spending for the next five years. I, for one, am worried that the National Writing Project and other worthwhile educational programs will lose their funding because they are lumped in as “earmarks.”
Others may not want government control over our wireless access. Despite anyone’s stance on Obama’s plan or their political affiliations, it was quite exciting for our small Upper Peninsula community have the president stop by to praise what we are doing here.
I am a proponent of digital literacy in the classroom and in preparing our students for the technologies and innovations of the future. If every student can get wireless access at home (and every teacher as well!) then I want to learn more about this plan. I am ready to get connected.
For more slices of life visit Two Writing Teachers.
- The President on the National Wireless Initiative: “We’re Going to Have to Up Our Game, Marquette” (whitehouse.gov)
- Obama to shine spotlight on web-savvy Mich. town (seattletimes.nwsource.com)