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Expert Opinion: Building the Gigabit State in Southern Illinois

CARBONDALE, Illinois, June 2, 2011 – Boiled down to its bare essentials, a major research university like Southern Illinois University here needs three things to prosper: good students, great faculty, and world-class internet bandwidth.

The only major research university in the southern half of Illinois, SIU has the first two out of three. But according to John Koropchak, a professor of chemistry and Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean at the university, the availability of bandwidth for SIU maxes out at 380 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Guidelines by the National Science Foundation call for bandwidth availability to be 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to 2.5 Gbps. That’s up to seven times the bandwidth currently available.

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CARBONDALE, Illinois, June 2, 2011 – Boiled down to its bare essentials, a major research university like Southern Illinois University here needs three things to prosper: good students, great faculty, and world-class internet bandwidth.

The only major research university in the southern half of Illinois, SIU has the first two out of three. But according to John Koropchak, a professor of chemistry and Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean at the university, the availability of bandwidth for SIU maxes out at 380 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Guidelines by the National Science Foundation call for bandwidth availability to be 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to 2.5 Gbps. That’s up to seven times the bandwidth currently available.

Fortunately for SIU, greater bandwidth is coming to the Southern Illinois region, and throughout Illinois.

Today, June 2, 2011, beginning at 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT, the Illinois Broadband Summit will convene here to address these bandwidth needs – and to plan broadband’s impact for the economic, educational and health care needs of the State. Video streaming of this significant event, which includes both a morning and an afternoon component, is available for FREE at http://broadbandillinois.org/events.html.

The Illinois Broadband Deployment Council

As part of the broadband stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, about $244 million in federal funds are flowing into the State from the U.S. Departments of Commerce (through NTIA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Coupled with private sector and State investments, about $353 million in funds is coming to Illinois. For more information, see http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects.

One the advantages that Illinois experienced in this national competition for federal stimulus dollars was the ground-laying work of Governor Pat Quinn’s Broadband Deployment Council. The council began in the middle of the last decade as a way to assemble, mobilize and promote a range of broadband initiatives. It is now seeing a flowering of possibilities with broadband investments.

At 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT, the first half of the Illinois Broadband Summit will begin with a Broadband Deployment Council Meeting.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, who hails from Carbondale, will offer video greetings. Under the theme of “Educational Advancement Made Possible by Broadband,” she will be followed by State Schools Superintendant Christopher Koch, who will discuss broadband’s role and impact upon distance learning.

Telemedicine and higher education will be discussed at 12 noon ET/11 a.m. CT, on a panel that includes Dr. Koropchak discussing SIU’s bandwidth needs, and others.

Fiberizing the Illinois Coal Belt

To Glenn Poshard, the President of SIU, the new broadband stimulus projects will bring water to a desert – and could be culmination of a longtime vision for incentivizing faster internet availability and broadband use in the region.

Dr. Poshard will lay out some of this quest near the beginning of the afternoon session at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT. He has been tireless in seeking ways to bring stakeholders together. In the early days, many economic development efforts sought a future for a changed regional economy. It was one in which the former stable of coal production had been severely diminished.

SIU was then instrumental in the formation of ConnectSI, an economic development organization focused on internet access in the lower 20 counties of the State. This project in turn bequeathed the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, which also recognized by the name of its web site, or Broadbandillinois.org. PCI is now the State Broadband Initiative entity for Illinois. Kathy Lively, Executive Director of ConnectSI, and Vice Chairman of PCI, will recount her role in this process at 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT.

Responding to the Gigabit Challenge

Among the most significant broadband investments coming to Illinois right now are those of Clearwave Communication, http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects/Clearwave.html, and Shawnee Telephone, at http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects/Shawnee-Telephone.html.

Clearwave project is a $45.4 million dollar comprehensive project installing 740.4 miles of 96 count fiber optic cable providing network coverage in 23 counties in Southern Illinois.  Of these counties, 20 of them are considered economically distressed, with smaller populations ranging from 1,000 to 20,000.  The Clearwave project will directly connect 232 community anchor institutions, including 111 K-12 schools, 9 community colleges, 60 hospitals and health care facilities, 28 Public Service Facilities, 23 libraries – and Southern Illinois University.

Shawnee Telephone Project is an $8.4 million dollar last mile project, also in Southern Illinois. As with Clearwave, Shawnee is a private company. It will provide fiber broadband access to over 2,100 households, 420 businesses and 27 anchor institutions. Currently, in Shawnee’s project area, no households in the region have access to broadband service at speeds better than 5Mbps – and 40 percent of the households don’t have broadband at all. This fiber-to-home network will blow those speeds out to 100 Mbps.

Representatives from Clearwave and Shawnee will discuss their projects – and their fast pace of deploying fiber investments – during the afternoon portion of the program. The afternoon is built around the theme of positing Illinois communities for success, and showing a model for rural regions around the country.

But as successful at Clearwave and Shawnee appear to be on track to being, these two broadband providers won’t be enough to satiate desert-like broadband conditions throughout the State, and our nation.

In fact, under the vision for connecting community anchor institutions articulated by the Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Strickling of NTIA, even basic anchor tenants like public libraries and K-12 schools need at least 1 Gbps to chart an effective future course.

In the afternoon portion of today’s program, Graham Richard, who was instrumental in bringing private-sector fiber investment to Fort Wayne, will offer a challenge to all of us.

To get where we need to be as a State and a nation, we need to think as a gigabit state and gigabit nation. How are we going to get there? To find out, tune it to broadbandillinois.org/events.html at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT.

This Expert Opinion originally appeared on Broadband Illinois, at http://broadbandillinois.org/news/32. “On Broadband” is the column written by Drew Clark, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois.

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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