All Articles Education Q-and-A: Giving students and educators better access to digital learning

Q-and-A: Giving students and educators better access to digital learning

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During Connected Educator Month, SmartBlog on Education has been bringing you expert views on a variety of topics, including how to be a connected educator, how to develop connected students and ideas for using online professional networks to enhance student engagement.

Most of the ideas we’ve shared with you this month depend on access to the Internet, yet many schools nationwide are operating with Internet access that may not fully open the door for students and educators to take part in digital learning opportunities during the school day.

While an estimated 99% of schools have been connected to the Internet since about 2004, many have been operating with about as much bandwidth as a typical family of four, says Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.

“An estimated 80% of schools do not have enough bandwidth for students and educators to realize the full promise of digital learning,” Marwell told SmartBrief’s senior education editor, Melissa Greenwood, in a recent interview. Here’s a look at how this organization hopes to bring change to America’s schools.

EducationSuperHighway is giving a test Sept. 10 , but not the paper-and-pencil kind. Tell us more about this.

On September 10th, we will launch the National School Broadband Test in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education to take an inventory of the state of Internet access in America’s K-12 schools. Our objective is to collect 1 million responses (10 per school) on the actual performance of the Internet in our classrooms and school libraries.

Teachers, librarians, technology coordinators, administrators and students will go to, enter the name of their school and press “Go.” It’s that simple, and it takes less than a minute.

We will measure the actual Internet experience, and the school will receive information saying something like, “Given the amount of Internet access you have available, these are the types of digital learning activities you can do.”

What will your organization do with the data?

The information gathered will be aggregated and used to raise awareness of the need to upgrade the Internet access in our schools as a prerequisite to digital learning. It will help guide the allocation of $2.5 billion in annual funding for school Internet access upgrades.

We will also present the information immediately to the individual who took the test. The school district will receive aggregate information for all the schools in their area, and each state department of education will receive aggregate data for all the schools within their state. We will also make available to the public a snapshot of the Internet access across our nation’s schools.

How will the data inform future decision making?

The federal government has a program called the E-Rate program, which provides $2.5 billion per year to help schools upgrade their broadband infrastructure. We believe that without knowledge of the actual experience in schools, you can’t make informed decisions about how to best allocate the funds. So we will share this data with policymakers. It also will give us the ability to see which schools are in most need of upgrading.

EducationSuperHighway will then provide technical expertise to help schools design, procure and deploy the infrastructure necessary for more than 100 megabytes of Internet access. We will also work with schools to aggregate their purchasing so they can take advantage of volume pricing. Schools today spend an estimated $1.5 billion on Internet access, which probably makes them the largest Internet customer in the country. Yet, schools are not getting the best access or pricing. Through collective purchasing, we can maximize the impact of this funding to help every school in America deploy 100MB+ broadband infrastructure so our students will be able to take advantage of the promise of digital learning.