Education and the National Broadband Plan

On August 20, the Federal Communications Commission hosted a discussion on identifying the potential impact of increased broadband access on education outcomes and how broadband policies can help improve those outcomes. The National Broadband Plan workshop included panels on: 1) Innovation, Research and Development, 2) Viewpoints from Media and Society, and 3) the Future of the E-rate. The FCC is seeking ways in which broadband can impact education at the early childhood, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels in a cost-effective manner.

Steve Midgley heads the FCC's efforts around education and the National Broadband Plan and he organized the first panel. He said the FCC is trying to identify exemplers, best theories of work, ways for government to support these efforts and data, research and evidence of effectiveness. Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation at the Department of Education, led off the first panel. He said his office is looking for ways to foster innovation that can be adopted on a broad scale. He talked at length about improving educational outcomes framing that by saying one-third of children do not graduate from high school and many more graduate but are not college ready because they do not have access to courses to prepare them. He noted that there's no data available to identify effective teachers or methodology for turning troubled schools around.

Shelton spoke at length about the power of data to transform education -- to create transparency and improve accountability. The goal in evaluation, he said, is to find out how well teachers have done in improving the skills of their students. Data, he said, will help when looking for patterns of what works and does not work. Broadband and education technology, Shelton said, can provide access to high-quality teachers in schools where they are not available, improve instruction and help personalize education. He noted that there's technology to help us find the songs we'll like given the songs we already like, but there's no complement for finding the right instruction based where a student is already at.

Joel Smith, Vice Provost & CIO at Carnegie Mellon University, presented on the Online Learning Initiative (OLI), which created 12 web-based colleges courses which
provide the complete enactment of instruction online. OLI has four principles:

  • Course design is guided by results from the learning sciences
  • Course creation is done by a team rather than a single person
  • Virtual learning environments are instrumented to continuously gather data about student learning outcomes
  • Rich feedback data is used for continuous improvement

The course design was guided by learning science principles:

Goal directed feedback and targeted practice enhance learning
Meaningful engagement creates robust learning

The results include:

  • OLI students completed course in half a semester, meeting half as often during that time
  • OLI students showed significantly greater learning gains (on the national standard "CAOS" test for statistics knowledge)
  • No significant difference between OLI and traditional students in follow-up measures of knowledge retention given a semester later

Kumar Garg, a Policy Analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke about the potential for education. He said we're at a point where we're preparing kids for jobs that do not yet exist that will use technology that hasn't been invented to solve problems that we haven't realized yet. Students today, he said, are power communicators and we should learn to harness their habits to drive learning.

Broadband and education technology, he said expand the capacity for online learning and can facilitate portals that allow parents to be more engaged in learning. These portals, he suggested, could be the next generation of today's parent-teacher conference, but will offer parents more access to assessment data. He spoke about open educational resources, digital tutors, personalized and game-based learning.

For the second panel, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Susan Tave Zelman made a presentation on Public Service Media and education. Using a puzzle metaphor, she spoke about how effective teachers and leaders, data systems, standards and assessments and struggling schools fit together. Todd A. Hitchcock, a Vice President at Pearson Learning Solutions, relayed the message from his company: "Broadband and persistent access to the web is a must if we are to transform education. If schools are to embrace rich media content and innovate to allow students to learn anywhere, anytime, they must provide for enough bandwidth to support video, audio and live instruction online. To allow for this with multiple concurrent users, they must have broadband access. We support the educational value of having persistent high bandwidth Internet access to improve educational outcomes and leverage the advantages of web delivered programs into schools."

Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer of the Calcasieu Parish School System in Lake Charles, Louisiana began the panel on the future of the E-rate. She proposed changes in the E-rate program to help schools meet their growing bandwidth needs:

1. Raise the current annual cap on program which has not risen since it was launch in the 1990s.

  • She estimated that there is at least $1.7 billion per year in requested funds that the program can't cover because of the cap
  • Moreover, many schools and libraries have stopped applying for funds
  • She predicted support for internal connections will soon be lost at current funding levels
  • She estimated average demand to be approximately $4 billion

2. Altering E-rate rules to allow community use after school hours for educational purposes

  • This change could allow access to classes for the working poor

Tom Greaves presented on why schools need broadband:

  • Personalization, he said, is the "Holy Grail" for education
  • Personalization requires digital content
  • To be effective, digital content must be available everywhere
  • To accomplish this:
  • Every student needs a device
  • Always connected to the Internet
  • WiFi in schools and homes
  • Cellular data or WiMAX elsewhere

Greaves srgued that there's actually economic advantage to providing broadband to every school. Technology-transformed schools are revenue positive at the state level

  • Cost avoidance
  • Cost savings
  • Increased in tax revenues

His recommendations are that the National Broadband Plan include:

  • Increasing E-rate to $6B/year, indexed for inflation
  • Add support for student device wireless broadband, with usage caps
  • Reallocate other federal funds
  • Provide tax incentives
  • Allow new 2.5Ghz spectrum licenses in uncovered areas
  • Allow schools to use increased power for 3.65Ghz nomadic use
  • Encourage Smartphone changes that would address school usage concerns

By Kevin Taglang.