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Datacasting Helping Bridge Education Gap Where Broadband Is Limited

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Screenshot from the webinar

February 23, 2021—During the COVID-19 pandemic, television broadcasting stations have implemented datacasting technology to assist in the distance learning that many American children now face, though issues persist.

Datacasting refers to the practice of using radiofrequency spectrum currently occupied by broadcast television, instead of using typical broadband connections over fiber or other wireless transmissions, to replicate internet features.

These services only allow for downloading homework, tests, and learning material that their instructors send to them, but they may be unable to submit homework or tests via the same process.

Mark Newman, executive director of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations, was a panelist at America’s Public Television Stations 2021 Public Media Summit Monday. He acknowledged that though datacasting is not a new technology, it has played a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide during the pandemic.

“Our motivation was simple: to do our part to make sure kids didn’t fall behind in school,” Newman said.

He outlined how, at the Indiana Department of Education’s request, IPBS was able to deploy a rapid response program designed to allow TV stations to deploy scheduled content that linked students to learning resources published by PBS Learning Media. This was an attempt to replicate the classroom learning experience, providing students lesson plans with goals and objectives.

Newman explained that data casting techniques would be able to be extended beyond the pandemic and assist families without or with limited broadband access. He said this vision is what contributed to IPBS being awarded $6.7 million in CARES Act funding. Newman added that datacasting could be an affordable component to closing the digital divide, as it only costs a fraction of what broadband services cost.

Datacasting for download, limited broadband for upload

Madeleine Noland is also a proponent of data casting. Noland is the president of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and though she recognizes the promise in datacasting, she also pointed out that it falls short of broadband in some crucial areas.

Noland noted that at its best, datacasting is paired with limited broadband capabilities. In this scenario, though a family might not have high speed internet access, they would ideally have at least a limited ability to upload a student’s homework.

With no access to broadband at home, students would still be able to receive their classwork, but would likely be required to travel to a secondary location with access to broadband to upload their assignments.

Noland unpacked what she described as a likely situation where multiple students in the same household can download large quantities of data via their set-top-box or other hardware, and then upload their assignments at a library with broadband access.

Even though this is less ideal than the convenience of high-speed internet from within the home, this cost-effective method of schooling children is far better than simply losing a year of school.

“My hope is that the leadership that [Mark Newman] is showing is strong—contagious,” Noland said. “I hope that we will find lots of others who are getting on the bandwagon and coming up with their own new ways to use the system and bring value to 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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