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Digital Inclusion

EXCLUSIVE: An Array of FCC Partners on ConnectED Program Strive for Digital Education

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WASHINGTON, October 13, 2014 – As technology permeates society, students are growing more comfortable with learning in the technology medium. Whether it’s organizing tables in Microsoft’s Excel, learning design software, or computer programming, there are increasingly fewer excuses to avoid technology. Tech giants like Microsoft, Autodesk, Apple and Prezi are embracing this rapid evolution and helping educators improve digital readiness in the U.S.

The mechanism by which they’re doing this is the White House’s ConnectED initiative, announced in June 2013, and which aims to complement and enhance the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program. While E-Rate subsidizes schools’ costs for telecom and internet service, ConnectED extends to giving students the tools to adopt 21st century skills free of charge.

Moving Beyond The Textbook

“There’s only so much you can learn from a textbook,” Rebecca Wong said. Beyond pure academia, there’s an entire realm of skills for students to seize. Designing – whether it be movies, skyscrapers, or automobiles – is just one skill Autodesk is promoting.

The 3D design software company has dedicated $250 million to secondary schools in 2014, with plans to continue support in the future. Currently, it has offered software to 3, 300 schools, Wong said. All it takes to start using the software is a quick online registration online.

“Our mission is to help inspire students and empower teachers to imagine, create and design a better world,” Wong said. “When you think about the 21st century skills that these students are gonna need in order to succeed in the real world…we really think that the design thinking can play a very strategic role in helping to unlock those problem solving skills, creativity, collaboration, and communications [skills].”

By granting students free access to professional design software, Autodesk helps students become industry-ready.

“It’s ultimately a commitment to both education and the next generation of America,” Wong added. “It’s a commitment also to our customers. [They] tell us it’s really hard these days to recruit employees who are fresh from school who have the necessary skills to hit the ground running when they hit the work force. By doing this, it’s an extension of our commitment to our customers…that these students will ultimately be professional designers in the industry.”

Fostering Long-Term Partners In The Tech Industry

Safari Books Online shares a similar philosophy. The digital library company committed to help its parent company, O’Reilly Media, distribute roughly 2, 000 online books and training videos on computer technology topics to “every student in the country,” said Safari CEO Andrew Savikas.

Although Safari normally serves professional and corporate interests, Savikas said there are massive benefits to exposing students to his company’s content and brand as they advance in their education.

After all, some of the internet’s greatest phenomenon like Tumblr and Facebook were started by innovators who hadn’t even left school yet, thanks to access to programming tools at an early age. Imagine then, Savikas said, what students could do with professional resources in their hands.

“We benefit by having a lot of technology companies, a lot of energy, and enthusiasm in growth of the technology sector,” Savikas said. “And certainly, helping to spread and foster that among students really helps us to foster the next generation of companies and customers that we look forward to serving ten to 20 years from now.”

To date, Safari has launched a pilot program where students can sign up to participate. A larger rollout to all high school students across the country is scheduled for either late August or early September. By January 2015,  Savikas said he hopes all K-12 students will be served. Currently, U.S. law requires users of the software to verify they are above age 13, meaning that privacy concerns need to be considered.

The goal is for students to be able to log onto Safari’s website and access the entire catalogue of books and videos with just a few clicks.

While Safari’s commitment to ConnectED lasts two years, Savikas expressed confidence that support will be revisited and refined in the future.

More Immersive Classrooms

Even classroom lectures benefit from technology. At Montera Middle School in Oakland, California, Prezi ran a case study by offering teachers its cloud-based presentation software.

“One of the most valuable lessons I’ve taught this year, I actually taught through the Prezi platform,” said Courtney Connelly, a Montera teacher in Prezi’s case study video. “It was a comparison of classical, medieval and renaissance art, and it was this beautiful moment where [the students were] arguing with each other about ‘hey no, it’s classical – but no, it’s not because of the emotion on the face.”

Students became more engaged, Connelly said, adding that it’s a sign that classrooms need to catch up with the vast technological knowledge that digital natives have already acquired.

Prezi’s software allows teachers to present lectures on a virtual canvas with stimulating visuals. A zooming user interface allows navigation through information with ease.

Prezi’s commitment covers $100 million worth of four-year EDU Pro licenses – the highest tier of software available for educators – that are being given to Title I high schools for free.

Cost Savings On The Cloud

Like Autodesk, Prezi’s software offerings are cloud-based, freeing schools from the reliance on sophisticated hardware.

“For schools on a limited IT budget, the fact that they have access to free software is a huge chunk off their IT budget that they can spend on other things,” Wong said. “That wasn’t possible before.”

Geographic information software company Esri also committed $1 billion to making its advanced mapping software, running on cloud infrastructure provided by Amazon Web Services, available for free to more than 100, 000 elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S.

In May 2014, Esri President Jack Dangermond said in a statement: “Geographic Information System technology gives students powerful tools for understanding our planet, and teaches them to become problem solvers…preparing [them] for further education and expanding career opportunities in fields that can help and better manage our world, build better lives for more people, and design a better future.”

Making Tech More Than Just An Elective

Acquainting students with technology is especially important since the future economy will be “fueled by creators and innovators” in the digital realm, said Marissa Hopkins, a spokeswoman for Adobe.

“Adobe believes that creativity cannot just be an elective – where some youth get to be creative after school or because their school can afford to purchase technology tools – but that instead, creativity is the future for all young people. That’s why we’re supporting ConnectED – to increase access to creativity for all.”

Adobe is making its $300 million contribution to Title I qualified schools by donating creative tools like Adobe Photoshop Elements and multimedia software like Adobe Premiere Elements. It will also provide eLearning tools like Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate.

The application process for teachers, schools and students began in early June, and Adobe has since been reviewing them on a rolling basis. The ConnectED commitment will continue for five years or until 15, 000 schools are served, with plans to continue support in the future via Adobe’s own Education Exchange and Youth Voices programs.

No Software Without Hardware

In June, Apple opened up its applications for iPads, MacBooks, and technical training to “schools with a high percentage of students in lunch assistance programs.” Apple has committed $100 million to the program.

Likewise, Microsoft has a $1 billion commitment to serve students with both hardware and software. It has thus far partnered with multiple hardware companies to bring tablets and laptops to schools including the Lenovo ThinkPad, ASUS Transformer Book T100, Acer Travelmate TMB113-E, and the Toshiba Satelite NB15t.

Windows 8.1 Pro and Office 365 ProPlus will also be made available for free to schools that apply, on top of Microsoft IT Academy training to familiarize students and teachers with technology.

Serving The Unserved

Together with Verizon, will lend wireless tablets, as well as hands-on learning tools to every Native American student in ten school-related dormitories on reservations across the West and Midwest of the U.S. Verizon will deploy broadband infrastructure to provide robust wireless connectivity.

The telecom company’s total commitment numbers at $100 million over the course of several years, as does Sprint’s, which seeks to bring free wireless service to 50,000 low-income high school students over the next four years.

There’s precedence for technology fostering higher academic achievement. An evaluation study conducted in January by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization that serves educators, found that schools with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (a professional development program for teachers) that integrated mobile technology experienced much more positive results than others.

Students and teachers from 24 elementary, middle, and high schools participated. The control group included schools without mobile technology as well as schools with mobile technology that did not participate in any systematic, professional development program focused on using technology effectively to teach students.

Among other things, teachers in the VILS program reported that 35 percent of their students showed higher scores on classroom assessments; 32 percent showed increased engagement in the classroom; and 62 percent demonstrated increased proficiency with mobile devices.” Sixty percent of teachers also reported that they were providing more one-on-one assistance to students by using their mobile devices and 47 percent said they were spending less time on lectures to the entire class.

Free Of Charge

With all the free hardware, software, and educational tools being offered to schools, one could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the motive and end goal of these tech companies.

There really isn’t a catch, Wong said. The contributions by each of the ten ConnectED partners are a steadfast dedication to the next generation of innovators and customers.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “It’s free.”

Or as Ashley Whitlatch, Global Education Relations at Prezi, puts it: “we’re giving away tools to educators that are able to utilize them to improve education. Why would that ever be a bad thing?”

 

Digital Inclusion

W. Antoni Sinkfield: To Succeed in 21st Century, Communities Need to Get Connected Now

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community and understand its problems.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Reverend W. Antoni Sinkfield, Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary.

One of the primary responsibilities of being a faith leader is to listen to your community, understand its problems, and provide support in challenging times. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been hard not to notice that my parishioners, and folks across the country, are divided into two groups: those with access to the internet, and those without.

In 2022, digital inclusion is still something we strive for in poor and rural areas throughout America. The lack of reliable internet access is an enormous disadvantage to so many people in all facets of their lives.

To fully participate in today’s society, all people, no matter who they are and no matter where they live, must have access to the internet. Think of the remote learning every child had to experience when schools were closed, and the challenges that families faced when they didn’t have access to a quality connection.

It’s a question of plain fairness.

Politicians have been talking for decades about bringing high-speed internet access to everyone, however many families continue to be left behind. More than 42 million people across the country lack affordable, reliable broadband connections, and as many as 120 million people who cannot get online are stuck with slow service that does not allow them to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer.

People of color are disproportionately affected by lack of broadband access

Lack of broadband disproportionately affects communities of color, as well: 35 percent of Americans of Latino descent and 29 percent of African-Americans do not have a broadband connection at home.

Every person in rural towns, urban neighborhoods, and tribal communities needs and deserves equal and full economic and educational opportunities. Studies show that students without home access to the internet are less likely to attend college and face a digital skills gap equivalent to three years’ worth of schooling. Small businesses, which are the cornerstone of rural and urban communities alike, need broadband to reach their customers and provide the service they expect.

Simply put, having access to the internet in every community is vital to its ability to succeed in the 21st century.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to take major steps toward a solution. Last year, Congress passed President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $65 billion to expand broadband access and affordability. It is essential that we use this money to connect as many unserved and underserved communities as we can – and as quickly as we can.

Different places need different options to bridge the digital divide

As we bridge the digital divide, we must listen to those who have been left behind and make sure that we deploy solutions that fit their needs. Different places need different options – so it’s important that all voices are heard, and the technology that works best for the community is made readily available.

All people need access to broadband to learn, work, shop, pay bills, and get efficient healthcare.

When I talk to my parishioners, they speak about how much of their lives have transitioned online and are frustrated about not having reliable access. They do not care about the nuances of how we bring broadband to everyone. They just want to have it now – and understandably so.

This means that we must explore all solutions possible to provide high-speed broadband with the connection and support they need, when they need it, regardless of where they live.

Now is the time to meet those struggling where they are, stop dreaming about bridging the divide, and just get it done. Our government has a rare opportunity to fix an enormous problem, using money already approved for the purpose. Let’s make sure they do so in a manner that works for the communities they’re trying to help.

Rev. W. Antoni Sinkfield, Ph.D., serves as Associate Dean for Community Life at Wesley Theological Seminary, and is an ordained Itinerate Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Digital Literacy, Outreach as Important as Physical Infrastructure, Panel Hears

Digital literacy gap and lack of outreach are part of the digital divide.

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Screenshot of National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer at TLC event in 2019

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2022 – Broadband advocates argued Thursday that outreach and digital literacy are as important as infrastructure and are necessary to close the digital divide.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer explained during a Protocol event Thursday that the government’s considerations need to extend beyond the deployment of physical broadband infrastructure and should be equally focused on addressing digital literacy and adoption efforts in underserved and unserved communities.

Siefer listed several pitfalls that are often overlooked and only broaden the digital divide. Among them, she listed fees tied to digital literacy, such as securing devices to access the internet and the tech support necessary to make them usable.

Additionally, she addressed the lack of trust that exists between historically underserved or unserved communities.

“We have to understand the reasons that folks would not take free internet,” Siefer said about previous adoption programs. “I think we learned that lesson again and again at the height of the pandemic when lots of folks were trying to solve the affordability issues [by] paying for community members’ internet, and community members were saying ‘no,’ and they just walk away because free internet sounds like a scam.”

She said that those running programs designed to help these communities have to consider the unique issues facing each community and then evaluate who the communities trust and how best to get information to them.

“There may be device issues, there may be privacy and security concerns, or maybe other digital skills/needs that a person has,” Siefer said. “So, we have to address all of their needs. Because if we think we’re only going to fix it by addressing one we’re not going to get to the results that we want to get to.”

NTIA head explains broadband infrastructure process

In separate remarks at the event, National Telecommunications and Information Administration Administrator Alan Davidson outlined a roadmap for states to follow to receive federal funding allocated as part of the Commerce agency’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, which will distribute $42.5 billion from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Davidson explained that in order for states to receive the funding they have been allotted, they must provide plans that lay out how they will handle their grant making procedures, and that plan must be approved by the NTIA. “[The NTIA] has been given the authority to approve the initial plans that states put together,” Davidson said. “Only [on the initial plan] has been approved does the first tranche of money go out.”

This first portion of funding will only amount to 20 percent of the total sum the state can get. Following this dispersion of the initial 20 percent, states would have to submit a final plan and have it approved by the NTIA before the following 80 percent will be dispersed.

“We will have a lot of oversight to make sure that states are following through on the requirements of the statute and are meeting the requirements,” Davidson added. “There will also be a lot of grant program oversight to make sure that the money is being spent wisely – to make sure that the sub-grantees who get the money are actually following through on their commitments.”

“We know that we are going to have to partner with [states] and also offer them help,” Davidson said. “Different states are in really different situations. “We know that we are going to have to partner with them and support them – that is going to be a key part of what we do here in the federal government.”

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Digital Inclusion

Digital Divide Impacting Access to Justice, Conference Hears

Some lawyers say their clients are having a difficult time getting access to the legal system without connectivity.

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Screenshot of Olivia Sideman at the 2022 Bipartisan Tech Conference on Tuesday

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2022 – A public defender from California said Tuesday that clients of lawyers are being disadvantaged by the lack of connectivity.

At the 2022 Bipartisan Tech Conference hosted by Next Century Cities, Olivia Sideman said her clients were at a disadvantage if they did not have an adequate connection or if they lacked digital literacy, meaning they did not know how to use technology to communicate, learn, find information, etc.

Sideman stated that the digital divide can mean that some clients cannot contact their lawyer, make mandatory virtual court appearances, or participate in court-issued online classes that will lessen their sentence. In other cases, while clients can complete courses, they often struggle to print out the certificate.

Tuesday’s panel event included discussion about a recently published report with a panel of various guests that played a part in the creation of the report. The report, titled “Cut Off From the Courthouse: How the Digital Divide Impacts Access to Justice and Civic Engagement,” concluded that remote hearings should be optional, that the digital divide exacerbates criminal justice inequalities the system is trying to eliminate, and that mobile internet service and devices are inadequate.

The report then offered its own recommendations, aided by experts like Sideman, such as partnering with community organizations, supporting local solutions, and investing in adoption as well as access.

In the report, Sideman said the digital divide is “another way in which our clients’ rights are overlooked by the court, another way in which this entire system tramples on our clients rights…These sorts of experiences undermine faith in the justice system and civic institutions.”

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