October 24, 2020 — Allen Pratt, executive director of the National Rural Education Association, called for delivering universal home broadband access to assist in online learning initiatives during an interview for C-SPAN’s The Communicators series, a weekly series examining the people and events shaping telecommunications policy.
During the conversation with Education Week reporter Alyson Klein, Pratt said closing the digital divide is “going to take federal, state, regional, and local help” and further, that the initiative must “be driven by federal dollars.”
The NREA “is the voice of rural schools and communities across the country,” said Pratt, adding that since the beginning of the pandemic, the association’s work has been primarily focused on connecting isolated students to digital resources.
Pratt attributed the ongoing issue of rural students lacking digital tools and know-how to both affordability constraints and an overall lack of access to internet infrastructure. While the reported numbers vary, the Federal Communications Commission reports that 2.6 million rural students currently lack broadband access.
According to Pratt, the NREA advocates for any policies aiming to flexibly assist in overcoming connectivity issues or further education funding. Some of the associations recent efforts have included advocating for broadband funding through the FCC’s E-Rate program, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, and the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which allocates $4 billion to the FCC for broadband deployment.
There has been innovation across the board in connecting unconnected students in rural communities over the past 5 months, but the NREA believes that there is much more to be done to ensure every student has home broadband access.
The director of the Broadband Association of North Dakota, David Crothers, also joined the virtual session to explain how the state of North Dakota has successfully deployed reliable internet connections to nearly all of its students.
According to Crothers, rural electric and telephone cooperatives have an important role to play. In the state of North Dakota, many cooperatives have begun to offer broadband services, evolving to “meet the needs of people they serve.”
“Virtually everyone has access,” said Crothers, saying that “the state has not chipped in any money.”
In closing, Pratt said that he believes the new education ‘normal’ is here to stay, and that coronavirus will change education for the long run.
“We’re learning now more than ever that we don’t have to be in school for 5 days a week,” said Pratt. “Each region should be different and fit their approach to the needs of their teachers and students.”
“I do not think the virtual, hybrid approach will leave,” he said. “I think we’re never going to be back to the 5-day education week.”
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.
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.
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
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.
Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning
Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.
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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