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Building a case for broadband

April 28, 2008

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes. That’s OK. Based on the responses I’ve gotten, I know at least a few folks have been paying attention. I am not knocking our current network here; but I am advocating for a completely different level of service as we move toward the next procurement. These documents are meant to support that view.

I just finished up a meeting with several district administrators and administrators from our local supporting technical college and a private university. In it I heard very clearly that all parties are ready to reinvent ourselves and our levels of communication and working together. How will we do this? Via technology and networking.

At one point in our meeting, the President of our technical college district asked me for my vision of what an ideal relationship should be. I described a vision in which students and communities were empowered to earn dual credit and leverage the power of the educational partnerships, while greater levels of access were provided to programming that enriches the communities that we all serve. To borrow from a recent “Speak Up National Net Day 2007” summary, “as one high school student in a recent focus group [stated,] his vision for the ultimate school is a school where the teachers and the principal actively seek and regularly include the ideas of students in discussions and planning for all aspects of education, not just about technology.”

Approaching this from the other side, students are probably less concerned with the networks that make this possible, and want to be more involved with the actual learning process happening over those networks. There is good data in the report talking about how students see themselves as content creators and network socialites, yet teachers still believe that technology best supports education through homework and testing ~ very low level use of classroom technology.

It is no secret that there is a digital divide in residential areas.

My home Internet connection is 15m/1m, up from 5m/384K just a couple of years ago. For most of Wisconsin, those speeds are incredible. A Twitter buddy of mine recently remarked on his connection through his cable company which was now pushing 24m/10m in a Western state. For those that follow NPR’s Andy Carvin (formerly the Director of EDS’s Digital Divide Network), he sent out a message today excited that in his new home in DC he would be connected to Verizon’s FIOS network – anticipated 50mb download speeds. Even our best connected neighborhoods are still quite a ways away from FIOS capabilities around here! (Another friend in Northern VA wrote to tell me he still has a 56K dial-up connection at home because no broadband exists where he lives. I know colleagues in Wisconsin who can relate.)

At some point, kids exhaust the RIAA’s objection to broadband by having downloaded every MP3 they care about, and yet they still need bandwidth. As the pipe gets larger, we go from being media consumers to becoming media producers. The evils of unsupervised media creation are the subject of plenty of other discussions so I won’t go into that here – but suffice to say – there is much we could do to help our students actively participate in all aspects of their own education when they are connected. So how do we connect them?

Last week I was fortunate enough to again attend another Internet2 Spring Member Meeting in Washington DC. I think an interesting note to make about this meeting is that several of us have been working together the past few years as media creators to produce a Wiki where we embed videos, slide presentations, links and more within a page that captures the “essence” of the learning that has happened during the conference. How I wish we could share that process with our students who could capture their own learning and interactions with one another in a similar way!

Needless to say, there were many excellent presentations. Some programs were recorded and are available for archived playback, if you will:

I would call to your attention especially the Wednesday general session:

Download the slides at:

and then forward into the program to approximately when Mr. Windhausen begins speaking: [Approximately 38 minutes into the video he is being introduced.]

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