Event Sep 24-25: Internet2 Third National Research Platform Workshop

It’s nice to see this happening in Minnesota this fall

Building on the success of last year’s Second National Research Platform (NRP) Workshop, the Third National Research Platform Workshop will be held in Minneapolis, Minn. on September 24-25, 2019 at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, the Depot. Organizations involved in 3NRP development are Internet2, Calit2/SDSC/UCSD/CITRIS, ESnet, CENIC, The Quilt, the Great Plains Network, and KINBER.

The NRP workshop (9/24-9/25) will be co-located with the NSF CC* and CICI PI workshop (9/23-9/25) and the Quilt meeting (9/25-9/26) with some shared sessions. View the Program Committee, and please see the 2019 NSF, NRP and The Quilt Co-Located Meetings home page for more information.

A Global Research Platform (GRP) Workshop will be held the week prior to the NRP workshop and it will focus on international Research Platform topics.

Plan to reserve your accommodations as soon as possible as lodging options that week will be limited in the Downtown Minneapolis area due to other citywide events.

Check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Fun news for Rock County Library patrons (as found on their Facebook Page)…

The Rock County Library now has wifi hotspots to check out! We have five Verizon hotspots available for Rock County library card holders 18 years or older with cards in good standing (fees at $5 or below) to check out.

The hotspots check out for two weeks, can connect up to 15 devices per hotspot, and will work anywhere in the United States with Verizon coverage.

Our partnership with the Blandin Foundation and Rock County’s involvement as a Blandin Broadband Community has made this possible.

State K-12 Broadband Leadership 2019: MN Case Study

A new report from SETDA  highlights the importance of state leadership and the various ways states strive to support districts and schools. Here are some of the fun facts from the report:

FCC 2018 Broadband Deployment Report reveals that only 69% of citizens in rural areas have access to both broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) and mobile services (LTE at speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) compared to 98% of citizens in urban areas.

Education Networks of America (ENA), based on its experience delivering connectivity to over 7,000 schools and libraries, continues to observe and projects into the future a bandwidth growth rate of 65% per year.

Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom report states that the primary barrier to internet access at home is affordability, especially for children from low-income families.

The report outlines various types of networks and partnerships in different states, pointing out that no two are really alike. Here is what they say about Minnesota

STATE K-12 BROADBAND LEADERSHIP

Minnesota’s constitution calls for citizens to have access to an equitable public education system. As is the case with many states, Minnesota has concentrations of population in both urban centers and large areas of rural communities. Broadband access provides students with a wide range of educational opportunities both within and outside of their communities, regardless of whether they live in a large city or a small rural township. In addition, state leadership recognizes the significance of broadband connectivity for promoting economic development, employment, and business growth. 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.

Since 1993, at the regional level, the Minnesota Education Technology Networks (METN), a cooperative of regional networks, provides regional network development, support and leadership to Minnesota school districts. METN member cooperatives provide network coordination, procurement, and other support to help school districts acquire and manage broadband networks for instruction and education management. METN has also provided limited cooperative purchasing opportunities.

STATE FUNDING

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.

STATEWIDE K-12 EDUCATION BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY

Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. The process for joining a regional network varies slightly by region, but generally school districts join any network that can provide them with broadband services. 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.

Highlight

In Summer of 2018, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC) completed a project to provide broadband services to approximately 50 sites, including schools, libraries and other government agencies. The newly awarded contract includes fiber-based Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity among the schools and libraries and the SWWC’s data centers, as well as managed routers providing a level of cybersecurity. The new network replaced microwave links that previously served all but two of it’s 30 member districts, with fiber connections providing higher speeds, better reliability and unlimited potential. This project helped close the broadband gap, reaching 99% of the state’s school districts meeting current goals for broadband connectivity.

POLICIES//GUIDANCE FOR DISTRICTS

Minnesota coordinates with other state organizations to coordinate on campus activity to ensure that all students in Minnesota have access to scalable infrastructure, high-speed affordable bandwidth, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi for digital learning. In addition, these organizations provide value added services such as network security, digital curriculum resources, network management, distance learning support, and other enterprise level services. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative adopted the widely recognized goals for connectivity put forth by groups such as SETDA and the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) and has provided guidance to districts in reaching those goals. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative and Minnesota’s Educational Technology Networks do not have specific policies for wireless connections but continue to work with districts to leverage federal E-rate dollars to ensure that districts can implement wireless connectivity within their buildings in a cost effective manner.

The robust regional networks in the state have allowed schools to implement 1:1 programs and utilize learning management systems for instructional programs. Teachers and students have become more adept at utilizing digital learning both on and off campus. In some parts of the state, severe cold, blizzards and heavy snow impact school schedules. It is not unusual to have five to ten or more days of school canceled due to weather conditions. In 2018, the state legislature passed legislation that allows districts to implement up to five e-learning days per year when school would otherwise not be in session due to unsafe weather conditions. During e-learning days, students access instructional materials online and teachers are accessible via telephone and online means to assist students with their activities. Minnesota’s high speed regional networks allow e-learning options for students.

DISTRICT IMPLEMENTATION

MacPhail Center for Music is a community-based music education non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The center operates an online school partnership program that utilizes video conferencing over high speed broadband networks to bring renowned MacPhail specialists into classrooms throughout the state. Music specialists provide live clinics, sectionals, concert prep, professional development and individual lessons for vocal and instrumental music. Regional networks, such as the Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN) and East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) and others have supported the participation of many schools in this program by providing equipment, training, technical and financial support. For example, students in Yellow Medicine East, MACCRAY, Braham and Hinckley-Finlayson rural districts (all districts of less than 1,000 students K-12) have received online group and private lessons from music professionals at the MacPhail Center.

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.

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.

MHTA STEM Scholarships – Applications are Currently Being Accepted

Lots of opportunities this week…

The application period for the MHTA Foundation 2019 scholarships has opened.

We will be announcing the 2019 STEM Scholarship winners at the Tekne Awards on Nov. 20, 2019.

You can find the list of 2018 STEM Scholars is here.

The scholarships are for Minnesota undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

These awards include $2,500 and $5,000 awards and can include internship opportunities at MHTA member companies. MHTF supports diversity in this application and award process.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Must be pursuing an undergraduate degree in a STEM field or in STEM teaching
  • Only students with sophomore through senior academic status in the current school year may apply. Sophomore status may include students who have achieved this status through advanced placement (AP) credit or post-secondary options (PSEO)s
  • Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited, Minnesota-based higher education institution.
  • Scholarships will be awarded in the fall term of 2018 and presented to recipients at MHTA’s Tekne Awards in November. Students must be enrolled at time of award.

Special Circumstances

  • In addition to traditional STEM fields, health science majors whose studies will NOT lead to participation in direct patient care are welcome to apply.
  • The scholarship is open to international students, but preference is given to students who intend to work in Minnesota after graduation.
  • Past scholarship winners are eligible to re-apply as long as they meet the rest of the requirements listed here.

Digital Days to replace snow days at schools? Mixed blessing

I have to admit that as I listened to this story on MPR in the car yesterday, my favorite 14 year old exclaimed that – nobody wants that! I pointed out that everyone loves the first snow day but we’re up to 7-8 days of snow and cold days at our house. Come summer, people, including students and teachers, are going to be ruing the day they didn’t go digital.

Minnesota Public Radio reports on schools that are shifting snow days to digital days…

Robbinsdale is among a growing number of Minnesota school districts embracing e-learning on days when the weather makes it too dangerous for students to get to school. It’s easier than ever thanks to improving technology — and a change in state law.

In a season where snow and cold weather have forced Minnesota schools to cancel as many as nine school days this year, the digital-days allowance has let Robbinsdale stick pretty closely to its original schedule and avoid extending classes into spring break, holidays or staff training time.

Jenkins said Robbinsdale began moving toward e-learning days a few years ago after hearing of a successful model built by the Farmington public schools.

In Robbinsdale, e-learning has some fans. Robbinsdale Middle School eighth-grader Tommy Resja said he’s had a pretty good experience with lessons at home when the weather’s bad.

And recognizes that there are places that this won’t work…

School officials, though, know it doesn’t work for everyone. The model assumes students have access to the internet at home, which is not a given even in a digital age. It can also be a challenge for teachers to write lesson plans for kids who may need more hands-on attention.

“It does take a lot of time to plan good e-learning modules, particularly for younger learners who may still be learning to navigate the technology, who are developing readers,” said Melissa Davey, who teaches French and English as a second language at Robbinsdale Middle School and had to prep a digital lesson at home recently while caring for her toddler.

“We’re looking at what can students do independently on their own or in a limited English proficiency household,” she said. “That is a very significant challenge.”

Little Falls Community Schools, a rural district in central Minnesota between St. Cloud and Brainerd, has experimented with e-learning and flexible learning days, but the district has put its focus this year on other instructional priorities, said Wade Mathers, principal at Little Falls Community Middle School.

My daughter claims that her Charter school in St Paul won’t be moving to digital days and that in fact the teachers don’t assign homework that requires broadband access ever, in deference to students who don’t have access. That being said I can tell you she uses broadband for her homework daily. SO even if it’s not required, it is an incredible benefit for those who have it.

ACT highlights technology-based, learning disparities between rural/urban students

A recent paper from ACT reports…

High school students in rural parts of the U.S. face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning — access that students in more populated parts of the country and policymakers may take for granted, according to surveys of students who took the national ACT® test. However, ACT’s experts also suggest stakeholders can take important steps that can help every student succeed, no matter where he or she lives.

The report, “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities ,” found that rural students were less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access was “great” (36 percent vs. 46 percent).

Similarly, rural students were almost twice as likely as non-rural students to state that their internet access was “unpredictable” (16 percent vs. 9 percent). At school, however, there were no substantive differences in reported internet quality between rural and non-rural students.

Rural and non-rural students also had differing access to devices both at school and at home. Notably, rural students reported somewhat less access to a laptop or desktop computer at home compared to non-rural students (82 percent vs. 87 percent).

Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their course-taking success and their ability to participate in online courses and other opportunities for personalized learning.

It outlines the inequity in rural/urban access to education resources brought on by broadband and technology disparities. Something worth consideration for policymakers, community leaders and educators.

The ACT also makes recommendations…

1. Improve access to technology both at school and home.

The Federal E-Rate program must continue to fund access to affordable broadband internet to rural areas and completely close the gap between schools with broadband access and those without

2. Increase opportunities for rigorous course taking.

Students must have access to and be encouraged to take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The survey found that students in rural areas were less likely than non-rural students to complete (or plan to complete) the ACT-recommended core curriculum (76 percent vs. 81 percent).

3. Expand opportunities for personalized learning.

Students need the opportunity to receive personalized, student-centered learning. In the case of the rural students in the survey, personalized learning could help provide greater access to advanced coursework.

Minnesota ranks top state to raise a family

This news was too good not to share. WalletHub was just named Minnesota the best place to raise a family. No surprise to me with three girls! To be fair they don’t mention broadband or internet but reading through their categories, it was easy for me to see the impact broadband would have on each:

Family Fun – OK we only ranked 13. I have a family blog that alone should rank us higher than that. (To be fair, we were more obviously fun when the girls were little.) But especially when the girls were little, broadband helped us find fun. I scanned local calendars for fun things on a regular basis – from Winter Carnivals to art openings to pumpkin carvings. You name it, if we had an afternoon off, we could find fun. Also we used the internet to see things we’d never go see. Question about the Sphinx? We’ll look it up. For some families, gaming may be an issue or feature – and Paul Bunyan has shown us how fun and profitable that can be with their annual Gaming Contest. Not for us – but it has been a ticket into finding unusual activities.

Health & Safety – Access to remote healthcare – be it doctor emails or actual video visits has been a game changer, especially as a parent. And I’m a parent in a city. I can’t imagine the time savings not bundling up kids for every sneeze when the doctor is 10 miles away. Also portals make it easy to manage regular visits and payments. Telehealth use increased seven-fold in Minnesota between 2010-2015, and use continues to grow. But it also helps with healthier lifestyles. Many of us use devices (fitbits and others) to maintain healthy habits. And of course using the internet for quick fixes for getting out splinters or getting gum out of hair is a day saver too.

Education and Child Care – My kids have used broadband for assignments starting almost in kindergarten. In Kindergarten we used it to extend learning. But by second grade one was using Khan Academy for extra math support. They have all created and uploaded videos for class assignments. All have been required to access, complete and turn in assignments online. The youngest has created (on her own) online quizlets to help her with mock trial. Broadband is all but required for basic education but it is key for extending a student’s reach beyond formal education. (Last year, Blandin hosted a webinar on broadband and the homework gap.)

Affordability – Studies show that homes with broadband see an annual economic benefit between $1,850 and $10,500. And home buyers will pay seven percent more for a home with gigabit service; people wouldn’t pay that if they didn’t think there was a return on investment in education, healthcare or fun for their families.