State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) just released the a report on broadband access and education, Broadband Imperative III Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success. Minnesota is a featured case study,
A look at State support…
From a state level, agencies such as the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provide funding through grant opportunities and aid programs to help communities, schools, and public libraries achieve high speed broadband access. The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology (MnIT) provides a backbone network (leased, not state owned) throughout the state to deliver connectivity to cities, counties, public schools and libraries in various areas of Minnesota.
Minnesota provides state funding directly to the district for external broadband connections and directly to the regional networks. Through regional partnerships, the median cost of broadband (per mbps) in Minnesota schools has dropped 84% from $15 in 2015 to $2.35 in 2018. While cost has decreased, the amount of bandwidth necessary for students to participate in digital learning has increased. In the same period of time, the median bandwidth speeds available on a per student basis has increased almost four fold from 226kbps to 890kbps. Minnesota currently provides limited state funding for connectivity on buses and previously provided one-time grants that could be used to obtain hotspot devices for students to use off campus. Minnesota does not provide funding for internal wireless connections.
Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. … Most school districts rely on the federal E-rate program to afford high speed broadband, so they use the corresponding competitive bid process either independently to choose a regional network or the regional network completes a competitive bid process through E-rate for the regional broadband network as a wide area network for all members. The networks are coordinated by a cooperative or nonprofit education agency that provides services to the K-12 education system. Minnesota estimates that 50% – 74% of districts participate in a regional network.
They highlight programs and projects such as Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC)’s recent upgrade from a microwave network to fiber. They also look at remote music classes through MacPhail Center for Music and of course they mention redesigned Minnesota snow days. And they talk about off campus access…
In Minnesota, other state agencies, libraries, community-based groups and the state broadband commission work together to coordinate efforts to support student access to off campus connectivity. The state is promoting strategies, both formally and informally, for access to affordable out-of-school broadband for students, especially in low-income and rural areas through legislated funding; promotion of discount/ free options; community partnerships; connecting anchor institutions; and Wi-Fi on buses. Off campus access strategies are driven by availability and affordability in rural areas; minimum broadband standards, such as speed, safety and security, as well as limited service options for consumers. Specifically, through efforts by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the Office of Broadband development, statutory goals were put in place calling for all homes and businesses to have access to broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload by 2022 and that by 2026 all homes and businesses would have access to broadband service of at least 100 Mbps download and 20Mbps upload from at least one provider. To help incentivize the deployment of broadband in rural areas, the state funded grant programs and projects that offer new or upgraded broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Grant programs have totaled $85.6 million to date and $500,000 was awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots available to students without adequate broadband access at home. The grant programs were administered by the Office of Broadband Development and funding for the programs has been consistently supported by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Grants have also been awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots for students without adequate broadband access at home.
And future plans…
Minnesota’s regional broadband networks will continue to seek cost-effective broadband solutions for all Minnesota school districts by leveraging state and federal funding initiatives and local partnerships with an eye toward always providing the bandwidth that districts need to fully participate in digital learning and utilize digital resources. Additionally, the regional networks will continue to expand enterprise level services designed to share resources that are expensive for smaller, often rural, districts to afford on their own. Services that will improve network and data security, provide access to online resources, bring educational opportunities directly to the schools and improve administrative procedures within districts.
The report also include a series of recommendations…
Technology and Pedagogical Approaches
Districts and schools are in different stages when considering access to and the utilization of digital tools. The integration of technology for learning is a unique journey that each school or district may embark upon differently. Leaders must focus on academic goals and leverage technology to support student learning experiences in preparation for college and/or careers in the digital age.
Digital Access and Equity
Addressing digital equity for all students continues to be a challenge and stakeholders must ensure that we consider equitable student access to broadband and devices both on and off campus. Every child, regardless of background, race or economic status deserves equitable access to personalized, student-centered learning experiences to prepare for life and work in the global economy.
Planning Infrastructure for the Future
Schools and districts should strategically plan for reliable, high speed networks to support sustained, seamless access to the internet for the implementation of administrative tools, the Internet of things and teaching and learning activities, without disruption. Districts should consider the recommended peak utilization bandwidth capacity goals and WAN implementation considerations as a guide and then plan according to their current and future needs as they move to teaching and learning environments that mimic the corporate structure.
Building Networks for the Future
In order to create sustainable, robust and reliable networks, administrators and technology leaders must look at the level of digital learning implementation and the administrative and security services relying on the network. Additionally, education organizations must implement the most effective security practices to protect their communities.
Policies and Funding Federal: The federal government should continue to expand federal funding options to support:
(a) state, regional and district broadband networks,
(b) districts and schools increasing bandwidth capacity to and throughout each campus, (c) communities in providing access points at anchor institutions, such as libraries and community centers. State: As schools increase digital learning opportunities, states need to demonstrate leadership to support high-speed broadband connectivity by leveraging policies, networks and purchasing options to support increased broadband access in schools.