The International Society for Technology in Education Conference (ISTE 2013) in San Antonio has now drawn to a close. Here’s a report on three significant closing day sessions, as well some short takes. If you misssed them, here are earlier reports from ISTE Day 1 and Day 2.
FCC Commissioner On The ConnectED Initiative
How important is providing bandwidth to schools? Speaking at ISTE 2013, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel(1) drew an analogy to the role of classroom blackboard over the last hundred years. The blackboard is less important now, if not gone entirely, and with it the joy of clapping together erasers. But, in its time the blackboard was the vital medium for learning and collaborating; a shared platform for knowledge. Attempting to teach today without sufficient networking bandwidth is akin to teaching without a blackboard 40 years ago.
The context for Commissioner Rosenworcel’s talk at ISTE was the new ConnectED (pronounced “connect – Ed”, as in short for Edward) initiative unveiled earlier this month by President Obama in Mooresville, NC. The goal of the ConnectED initiative is to have 99% of American students connected to broadband Internet within five years.
The FCC E-Rate program has been the vehicle for spreading Internet access to US classrooms across the country. When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed, only 14% of public schools and libraries had Internet access. Now that number is up to 95%. But there is strong demand for twice the level of current E-Rate funding. With the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and associated online assessments coming, the system will be severely stressed even further.
(Here in a San Antonio hotel room, I’m experiencing first-hand the drawbacks of insufficient bandwidth. It has taken literally twice as long to write this blog at a computer attached to the Internet by a slow, non-broadband connection, compared to what it normally takes with a high speed connection.)
The ConnectED initiative is not just about getting schools and libraries connected, it is also about global competitiveness. Not surprisingly, jobs tend to migrate to locations where the labor force has strong digital skills. The growth of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) related jobs is three times faster than all other fields. Today only 5% of US high schools teach AP computer science. Teaching these subjects is difficult or impossible at near dial-up speeds.
A 2011 FCC study indicated that 80% of schools and libraries do not believe their broadband needs are being met. A recent Harris survey found that 50% of E-Rate schools are operating at network speeds of 3Mbits/second or less, which is not fast enough to accommodate high definition streaming video, let alone the most innovative teaching tools. Compare this situation to South Korea, where 100% of the schools are broadband-connected. In Uruguay not only are all primary and secondary schools are broadband-connected, but every student has a free laptop computer.
Enter E-Rate 2.0
The new E-Rate program protects what we’ve already built, and ramps up from there. This will take more funding. When the current E-Rate budget was set back in 1998, gasoline was $1.00 per gallon and dial-up networking was the norm. Rosenworcel maps out a four-part E-Rate 2.0 program.
- Set capacity goals. According to a Project Tomorrow survey, only 15% of schools have the bandwidth they need. E-Rate 2.0 will meet and beat the President’s challenge, providing 100Mb / thousand students by 2015 and 1 Gb / thousand students by the end of the decade.
- Provide better data collection. It’s hard to present a case to Congress with only qualitative data, like “teachers feel the Internet access speeds are too slow”. E-Rate 2.0 forms will collect quantitative capacity and needs information.
- Foster new public/private partnerships. These can be especially productive for joint R&D, device cooperatives, and training.
- Provide a simpler process for applicants, especially for small and rural schools. Enable both multi-year applications and consortia applications.
- Rosenworcel calls this one an addendum: Provide a means to foster broadband to the home. One-third of Americans don’t have this now. History shows that broadband in the classroom encourages broadband in the home. A study of broadband penetration in Portugal shows the likelihood of broadband adoption in the home increases by 20% when it is provided to the school. There are economic benefits in this regard also: the cost of broadband to homes is lower if it is already running to the local schools. The Wall Street Journal reported on students who hang at McDonald’s to get the Internet access they need to complete their school assignments; and parents drive their kids where they can pick-up a WiFi signal and work from their car. The “School Spots” program is being implemented within E-Rate to enable schools to keep their doors open after normal hours to address this issue.
Getting E-Rate 2.0 off the ground will start with rulemaking by the end of the summer. The goal is to have E-Rate 2.0 in place six months from now, so that it is fully operational by school year 2015.(1) Jessica Rosenworcel is one of five FCC commissioners. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party. As of this writing, June 27, 2013, there are only three commissioners. The other two commissioners are Ajit Pai and Mignon Clyburn, who was appointed acting chairwoman by President Obama last month. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is currently holding hearings to consider the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. President Obama will be nominating a Republican to the other open commissioner position.
America’s Got Tablets:
“Techbook Hardware Smackdown: Compare, Contrast NextGen Tablets. Be surprised!”
The tablet world has come a long way since the iPad took K-12 education by storm. Apple’s tablet is still the most popular for K-12, but an army of competitors has made strong inroads by taking advantage of the iPad’s lack of specialized features for education. Hall Davidson and Erica White set up in the ISTE conference auditorium to report on their testing of the range of tablets for education.
This session started with a dramatic race between two audience volunteers to see who could turn on an assortment of four tablets and then go back and turn them all off; demonstrating just how unintuitive tablets can sometimes be.
Here are some of the tablets tested: Nexus 7 and 10″, Kindle Fire, iPad 2 and mini, Samsung Chromebook, Microsoft Surface, Samsung Galaxy, Sony with Jellybean operating system, and Ematic. The testing for the devices included editing Google Docs, performing a range of Wikipedia actions, taking online PARCC and SBAC common core assessments, and previewing textbooks – which can be done at Discoveryeducation.com.
Whereas last year there was one dominant winner, this year was quite different. The consensus is that given the right dongle, apps, and a how-to YouTube video, it’s now a level playing field. The testers’ personal favorites were the Samsung Galaxy and the Surface, which uniquely has the full functionality of a laptop. A poll of the audience showed a lingering preference for the iPad, which currently has the most apps for education.
See the full presentation.
Digital Citizenship Birds of a Feather at ISTE 2013
An enthusiastic group of ISTE attendees led by Jason Ohler (@jasonohler), author of Taming the Beast, and Mike Ribble (@digcitizen), author of Digital Citizenship in Schools, kicked off a new Digital Citizenship Birds of a Feather (BOF). The ultimate goal of the group is to create a Digital Citizenship Special Interest Group (SIG). Under ISTE rules there is a two-year incubation period before a BOF can become a SIG.
The group brainstormed on potential Digital Citizenship goals and projects. These include: providing a forum for exchanging best practices, working with teacher colleges to insure that teachers are well-prepared for digital citizenship programs; creating a digital citizenship massive open online course (MOOC); and providing a better understanding of the role of testing in digital citizenship.
Three Short Takes
- Online Communities of Practice was the topic of one of the final ISTE 2013 sessions. The presenter discussed the upcoming Connected Educator Month, which will not be held in August this year, based on the experience of last year; and Epic-Ed, a collaborative site where over 2,000 educators share their expertise and get access to resources for strengthening their ability to plan, implement, and sustain technology-enabled learning initiatives.
- The impression from ISTE 2013 is that the Cisco assimilation of Meraki is well underway. Last year at ISTE 2012, Meraki gave out hundreds of cute green ghost logos. This year, while there was still some green in the booth, there was no sign of any green ghost logos, not even on their signage.
- Why do women at ISTE seem to outnumber men by about 3 to 1? Just asking.