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Surveying Broadband Issues Faced by Students Under COVID-19, CoSN Offers Its Recommendations

The speed of the broadband service used was only one component of the issues students faced.

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Photo of Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium of School Networking, from Millennium Sustainable Education

May 8, 2021—The Consortium for School Networking recently published the “Student Home Connectivity Study,” which offered recommendations regarding distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CoSN collected data from thirteen school distracts representing rural, suburban, and urban communities, and approximately 750,000 K-12 students. The authors of the study divided their findings into four topics.

Broadband video connections as part of distance learning

The first such topic pertained to the ability of students to utilize video components of distance learning. Researchers noted that both asynchronous and synchronous videos were a mainstay in distance learning despite the high upload and download speed requirements necessary to sustain such a service.

According to the study, more than 85 percent of network traffic related to remote learning is just for video.

The study also noted that the use of video-intensive content is expected to continue to increase, and with it, the demand for faster, more reliable, broadband.

It can be demanding enough to have a single student both downloading and uploading video content at once, but researchers found that 70 percent of students live in households with at least one other student. Without sufficient download and upload speeds, students were unable to engage in distance learning uninterrupted.

Connectivity habits

The second topic reflected student behavior and habits when using broadband—namely, that students are highly mobile and rely on Wi-Fi to access distance learning services. Of the students surveyed, 92 percent used Wi-Fi rather than a wired connection. Now that students are no longer required to attend school in person, researchers observed that many would engage in class from public spaces, a classmate’s home, or even from a different city or state.

The study also noted that students are typically not using Wi-Fi on a single device, and that in addition to a laptop or desktop computer, many also had smartphones and tablets that competed for bandwidth.

Compounding the issue is that many of the students surveyed possessed services that could provide sufficient broadband speeds, but they were using outdated hardware that weakened their Wi-Fi connections. Additional factors such as router location and house construction also presented obstacles to Wi-Fi use.

Addressing underserved communities

The third category were issues related to community distance learning in underserved communities, particularly in rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission and legislators have recognized that, for some, the rural broadband experience can be similar to the broadband experience in the inner city.

The study indicated that even students living in areas about the average socioeconomic status did not automatically have access to sufficient broadband for distance learning.

Distance learning experience by quality of devices

The final topic juxtaposed students’ distance learning experience to the quality of the devices they had access to. Unsurprisingly, students with older devices or devices with limited memory or processing power often had a worse experience than students with newer and/or more powerful devices.

Processing speed, memory, CPU utilization, application limits, the quality of Wi-Fi antennae, and Wi-Fi access frequencies were all metrics that were considered when evaluating devices. The worse those items were, the worse the experience generally was for the students surveyed.

Recommended solutions

The researchers made several recommendations to address these topics. Some of the recommendations were about taking advantage of existing programs, like the Emergency Connectivity Fund, and leveraging state and federal funds to provide better services for students. Some of the services exampled were Wi-Fi hotspots on buses, at stadiums, and other public areas that students could access to do their classwork.

Other solutions involved working with ISPs to ensure that community needs are addressed in an affordable manner. One such example was ISPs providing free satellite internet to households unable to afford a broadband subscription. Researchers also suggested that local school districts establish CBRS and LTE broadband services to affordably transmit data packages to students.

The study also provided a list of criteria that school districts should consider if they decide to purchase and loan devices to students. They included obvious things such as Wi-Fi capability, but also included items that can be easily overlooked, such as an integrated webcam/microphone and a headphone port.

Even as the pandemic appears to be drawing to a close, distance learning will likely continue to play a significant role in how students learn for the foreseeable future.

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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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