Connectivity Increases Enable Digital Learning

September 22, 2017: Volume 24, Number 19

Ninety-four percent of school districts nationwide are ready for digital learning as they now meet the minimum Internet bandwidth 100 kilobits per second per student goal set by the Federal Communications Commission in 2014, according to 2017 State of the States, a September report from the EducationSuperHighway.

Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, told EER that the rise in the percentage of school districts ready for digital learning, from 30% in 2013 to 94% now, is unlocking opportunities for teachers to innovate in their classrooms in a variety of ways.

Students are getting access to content and choices they never had before, Marwell said, giving the examples of a wider variety of courses and options like virtual field trips. Also, teachers are getting information they need to personalize instruction and to make their teaching more effective.

More collaborative learning is occurring as students posting work on class wikis get feedback from peers as well as instructors and collaboration occurs across schools. Marwell also sees increased engagement by students as technology is integrated into the learning process.

Among the other highlights from the report are:

▪ 97% of schools have the fiber optic connections needed to deliver high-speed broadband, up from 71% in 2013.


            ▪ 88% of schools report having sufficient wifi, up from 25% in 2013.


▪ 78% decline in the cost of Internet access for schools between 2013 and 2017, from $22 per Mbps to $4.90 per Mbps.


How to Finish the Job

Marwell said he sees incredible progress made since 2013, but also is focused on what is needed to finish the job. Those efforts will include leveraging price transparency to bring affordable bandwidth to students who do not have it, connecting school districts to service providers that meet national benchmark prices and increasing the investment by lagging school districts.

“We learned the affordability of broadband is probably the single most important thing in terms of making sure that schools can get the broadband they need today and in the future,” Marwell said.

Marwell is optimistic that broadband will be extended to the remaining students because all that is required is for their schools to get a similar deal to what peer districts have gotten. He sees increased sharing of information and partnering through consortia and said the involvement of governors and state departments of education and 2014 changes to E-Rate that made data about who is buying what from whom at what price publically available have been catalysts. The data from E-Rate is shared on websites of organizations like the EducationSuperHighway and is being widely accessed.

Marwell is concerned about how to get fiber connections to the remaining 2,000 school without it. Almost 80% of those schools are rural, where installing fiber is difficult and expensive, he said.

Two years remain for schools to access the more than $2.3 billion in funding available through E-Rate for schools to apply for support for projects to bring connectivity to their classrooms, but bureaucracy does sometime get in the way at the FCC, according to Marwell. When applications for funding are denied or delayed that discourages other applicants, he said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai offered alternative approaches to the 2014 modernization that raised concern among some advocates for school connectivity. Pai now says fiber to rural communities and approving administration of E-Rate are key objectives. Marwell said many are on pins and needles about Pai will do, believing wholesale changes are not in the best interests of applicants.

On the plus side, a total of 45 governors have committed to upgrading their schools for the 21st century. Governors have allocated nearly $200 million in state matching funds for special construction to help connect the hardest-to-reach-schools.



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