During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama briefly mentioned that he wants every school to have Internet access.
“I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach in every classroom and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks,” he said.
Behind the scenes, officials at the Education Department – specifically, the Office of Educational Technology – have been scrambling to roll out large-scale, national resources that teachers and students in rural and urban areas can easily use. These will become key features of the administration’s focus on ed tech initiatives.
“In this administration, there has been an incredible focus, from the president all the way down, to putting the necessary precursors in place so that a digital transformation can happen,” Joseph South, deputy director of OET, told FedScoop. “There is now real money for connectivity. It’s now conceivable economically that every district in the country could have high-speed broadband to the classroom.”
Obama announced the ConnectED initiative about two years ago, pledging to have fast broadband running in 99 percent of schools across the nation by 2018. The government has more than $2 billion in private-sector commitments, and another $2 billion from E-rate funding from the Federal Communications Commission.
Schools have until March 26 to apply for a piece of the E-rate funds, which will go toward expanding internal Wi-Fi networks in schools.
In November, OET officials released a
guide, “Future Ready Schools: Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning,” for schools to build their own tech hubs.
The report explains what kind of Internet connections can be used – fiber, cable, broadband, satellite – how to install them, and how to find low-cost Internet services.
One of the motivations for the guide, South said, is to make information widely available in districts that may be lagging behind high-tech communities.
“If you take a step back and think of technology as a driver for equity, that’s really not the way the conversation always runs,” he said. “But technology is an incredibly powerful tool for equity. It provides resources that may otherwise be unavailable in a small rural district. It provides access to expertise that you couldn’t get otherwise.”
Officials and selected panelists will also host a series of Google Hangouts to discuss aspects of the guide – the first chat will be held Feb. 3 from 3 to 4 p.m. The link can be accessed
A series of Future Ready summits will then kick off in different states, with a Feb. 11 launch in North Carolina, where teachers and administrators can brainstorm how to integrate technology into their curricula.
“We’re trying to change the direction and approach for education technology in the field, but also do a little rethinking of how government works,” said Richard Culatta, director of OET. “We use technology to interact directly with stakeholders in a way that a lot of other people don’t.”
Obama’s vision that every school has high-speed broadband faces several stumbling blocks, chief among them legislation in several states that make building new online networks nearly impossible.
About 20 states have restrictions on creating municipal broadband networks because of deep opposition from Internet providers, according to a
recent article in ProPublica. Now, Obama is calling on the FCC to lift the restrictions.
South said the department will not waver from its goal of providing high-speed Internet in every classroom – and he wants schools to seamlessly transition into using technology every day so that it’s ingrained in student learning.
“What we want to see is the teaching transform in the powerful ways that technology enables it,” he said. “I want to see that it’s so present, it’s invisible.”