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Broadband for Education Talked Up

Following is a post from guest blogger Paul Hyland, the chief technology officer for Education Week:

In the run-up to the release of the National Broadband Plan on March 17, many organizations are holding forums to discuss the ideas and recommendations that are likely to be in the plan, such as how broadband can be used to improve the use of technology in schools.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an event yesterday featuring FCC Broadband Strategy Director Blair Levin and the National Purpose team.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the FCC to submit a National Broadband Plan to Congress, which, among other things, is directed to advance solutions to national priorities, and education is one of the six priorities identified through this process.

FCC Education Director Steve Midgley started his portion of the presentation by showing examples of the positive impact broadband technology could have on education, such as personalizing instruction and offering higher quality online learning.

Unfortunately, he said there are significant barriers to widespread adoption of broadband and the advantages it can offer. There is insufficient connectivity to schools and community colleges; online learning content, courses, and systems are limited in scope and capabilities; and classroom use and integration of student data could be better.

The E-Rate program is the one education area where the FCC clearly has the authority to make the necessary changes itself. The recommended changes include increasing the flexibility and bandwidth of the program, allowing off-hours and community use, and supporting pilot programs in areas like wireless connectivity, library technology use, and community college access.

He added that there are parts of the E-rate program where efficiency could help, for example, by streamlining the application process and improving data collection. They also recommend indexing the program budget cap to economic inflation.

Other recommendations fall outside the FCC's jurisdictional boundaries, but are clearly in line with the goals of the Department of Education and other current administration initiatives, according to FCC officials. In order to boost the availability of digital content for education, the recommendations suggest increasing the supply of government content through standards development and increased digitization; as well as by providing incentives for publishers, and simplifying the copyright regime to encourage more contributions. Digital literacy skills should be standardized and integrated across the curriculum, and online learning solutions should be encouraged by streamlining the regulatory process across state lines and investing in technology research and development.

The final set of recommendations center around the adoption of electronic educational records, and increasing their application throughout the education system, all the way down to the classroom level. The government needs to develop standards for financial data transparency to increase accountability and citizen involvement, and should create an online RFP broadcast service to increase market information, improve efficiency and reduce cost.

Download a PDF of yesterday's presentation here.

The National Broadband Plan will be released next Wednesday, and you will be able to find further coverage of it on edweek.org and in this blog.

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