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Pre-Pandemic Survey of Internet Use by Commerce Department’s NTIA Finds Almost All College Students Online

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Photo of Rafi Goldberg from Serve Public

November 28, 2020 – The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and its Broadband USA program continues to track data about broadband usage, as well as provide resources surrounding state broadband initiatives.

The agency recently released initial results from its latest internet use survey. Although the data comes from November of 2019, before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it provides important baseline information about how prepared Americans were to work and learn online, including the fact that the elderly, those in rural areas and those with manual jobs were least likely to use the internet, while the experience of almost all college students makes online classes very likely.

According to the survey, about one third of Americans used the internet to work remotely, and a little less than a third used the internet to complete job trainings or take online classes. “That represents about 20 percent of Internet users ages 15 or older,” According to a blog post by Rafi Goldberg, policy analyst in the NTIA”s Office of Policy Analysis and Development. The agency had released some of the results in June 2020.

Past NTIA surveys have shown disparities in teleworking by race: there were less teleworkers reported to be African American or Hispanic. This trend was consistent in 2019.

“Part of this gap is due to lower rates of Internet use among African American and Hispanic employees, but Internet users in these groups were also less likely to telework,” said Goldberg.

There was a 10 percent difference in telework when looking at population density, with 32 percent teleworking in urban areas. However, people in rural areas were generally less likely to telework compared to those in urban areas, despite those in rural areas still using the internet.

Workers in professional fields, including scientific, legal, and finance fields were the most likely to telework, the NTIA reports. Indeed, more than half of those employees said they worked remotely in 2019.

At the other end of the spectrum were those who worked in transportation, agriculture, food preparation, manufacturing, and other fields where employees were both less likely to report teleworking. In these fields, they were more likely than most to say they did not use the internet at all.

People ages 15-24 were more likely to take online classes than those 65 and older.

“For example, 30 percent of internet users between the ages of 15 and 24 reported taking online classes or job training in 2019, compared with just 6 percent of those 65 and older,” said Goldberg.

Since the NTIA first started asking users if they took online classes, the number of Americans taking online classes has increased from 4 percent in 2004 to 20 percent in 2019.

For Americans with an internet connection, there was little racial difference in who did or did not take online classes. Internet-using college students who took online classes with some college experience, or a college degree, comprised 22 or 27 percent respectively of college students who used the internet. Those holding or lacking a high school diploma comprised 10 or 14 percent respectively of high school students using the internet.

Of internet-using college students, 53 percent reported to have participated in online classes or job training. Of this demographic, 60 percent of part-time students took online classes, compared with 50 percent of their full-time counterparts.

One final conclusion from this pre-pandemic survey: “In addition, 88 percent of all college students were Internet users, which is a significantly higher adoption rate than the country overall.”

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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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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