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A New Broadband Policy Agenda for Schools, Health and Library ‘Anchor Institutions’

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Photo of students using computers at the Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane University, used with permission from Tulane Public Relations.

January 22, 2021—The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition released its 2021 Policy Roadmap on Thursday—an agenda to promote open, affordable, high-quality broadband to anchor institutions—as these establishments are key to connecting the estimated 42 million Americans without internet access today. The report, released one day after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, makes nine broadband policy recommendations to the incoming administration.

Many at the SHLB Coalition see the presidential transition as a new opportunity to close existing broadband gaps, including Executive Director John Windhausen, who said “the Biden Administration gives us all a fresh opportunity to rectify the inequities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the ever-present digital divide.”

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, SHLB’s Communications Manager Alicja Johnson said SHLB and its strong community of allies share the same broadband goal: to make it far easier to enact change in broadband policy, at a time when all require its use.

The SHLB Coalition recognizes nine top priorities in the 2021 report. “Of the nine SHLB initiatives, each one feeds into the other,” said Johnson. “All are connected by the realization that people are increasingly aware of the need for broadband,” she added.

Underlying each recommendation is the need for reliable broadband “to-and-through” Community Anchor Institutions: nonprofit community organizations, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, community centers, higher education institutions, public housing facilities, and more, which facilitate greater use of broadband by vulnerable populations.

SHLB recommends the Biden administration consider policy to increase affordable residential broadband and adoption through CAIs, develop more accurate broadband maps that include CAIs, strengthen and broaden the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Program, increase funding for and streamline operations of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program, include higher education institutions in broadband access initiatives, reform the Universal Service Fund contribution mechanism, promote greater spectrum availability for CAIs, streamline pole attachments and rights-of-way access, and fund broadband infrastructure deployment “to-and-through” CAIs to residential consumers.

The SHLB Coalition report recognizes broadband as key to education

In point three of the nine initiatives, which calls for strengthening the FCC’s E-Rate Program, the SHLB Coalition urges the agency to practice making more accurate funding decisions.

School districts need ways to extend broadband to their students, including Wi-Fi and broadband capabilities on school buses backed with strong security to prevent cyberattacks. In the report, SHLB recommends allowing E-Rate funding to cover fiber broadband to help bridge connection gaps between students’ homes and schools.

Farmington Municipal Schools, a large public school district in northern New Mexico, has successfully deployed a Kajeet broadband system on its now Wi-Fi-equipped school buses. Many students in Farmington come from rural, farming families. Being able to work on homework on the school bus has allowed students to spend more time with family, helping around the home in the evenings.

SHLB’s report recognizes that it’s not just K-12 students who need broadband. Higher education institutions contain many students who have inadequate or no access to broadband beyond the college campus.

When the pandemic caused school campuses to shut down, many students had to stay in their apartments with nowhere else to go. College students often lack the money needed to pay for internet beyond standard utilities and depend heavily on campus-strength broadband.

Sometimes up to eight college students are cooped inside one small apartment unit. When considering the bandwidth requirements across an entire student housing unit, it is easy to see why broadband is such a basic need.

In priority five, SHLB states broadband policy should prioritize the inclusion of higher education institutions in broadband access initiatives, and that the Coalition wants to work with policymakers to implement COVID-19 relief legislation that provides funding to connect recipients of Pell grants and minority-serving institutions and their surrounding communities to broadband.

The Connecting Minority Communities Act, introduced by Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Senator Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, would create a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions, to expand access to broadband and digital opportunity in their communities.

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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