As we progress in our work on the national broadband plan as it relates to education, we are focusing on evaluating three key gap areas: connectivity required for schools and applications, the ecosystem necessary for broadband to advance progress in education, and the incentives that need to be aligned to realize the potential of broadband.
Thanks to E-rate
, virtually all of our schools and libraries are connected. The most recent statistics put the number at approximately 94% connected instructional rooms (classrooms and similar). While ostensibly good news, the key questions are what is the level of connectivity in these classrooms and is it sufficient to meet the needs of students mastering 21st
century skills. There is evidence of significant increases in teachers’ use of the Internet for classroom-related work (in 2007 nearly half of teachers report using the Web for preparation compared with fewer than a third in 2005), yet more than half of teachers report dissatisfaction with connection speed for their current usage, which involves predominantly low-bandwidth tasks. Imagine the level of dissatisfaction when their usage needs require greater bandwidth. According to CIOs in school districts across the country, projected bandwidth needs are projected to grow five times current levels by 2013. How can the E-Rate program best support the learning objectives of our schools and teachers?
However necessary it is, connectivity isn’t the only thing that matters. There is a lot lacking in terms of pervasive and effective use of technology in our classrooms today – the broadband ecosystem is weak in multiple dimensions. This is due, in large part, to a lack of innovation in the field. For example, we need better, smarter applications to support the ecosystem related to broadband in education. The questions we are exploring include how to bring the kind of innovation from other sectors into education. As Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation at the US Department of Education, noted in our August workshop, something is wrong with our priorities when we have a “Genius” functionality for music selection on our I-Pods that uses a complex algorithm to predict what we would like to hear next and we don’t have anything nearly that sophisticated to anticipate what skills a student lacks and what specific application or content might be both effective for and compelling to him. Imagine a world of personalized, just-in-time learning enabled by broadband.
Finally, the education community needs better aligned incentives to realize the potential of broadband in schools. As an incentive investment program, E-rate has proven very effective. Yet there are potential changes in rules and regulation, investment strategies, and standards development that could have an equally significant impact. Imagine a world where all education content and devices use common, interoperable standards to securely share content and instructional data. The effect could be aggregation of once-fragmented demand of individual classrooms and schools. How many new entrepreneurs could enter the education market? How many of those entrepreneurs might be teachers or former teachers? What would this mean for the education outcomes of the next generation of American students?
Through broadband as a platform we can help bring sufficient connectivity, standards and appropriate incentives to permit innovation. We can also expand the rewards for creativity, engagement and personalized learning. While there are no silver bullets, these strategies should help create greater educational opportunities available to all students.