OPPORTUNITY: MN Safe Learning Survey

This is a slight wheel into another lane, except access to broadband impact the experience of online learning…

The University of Minnesota is working with MDE and launched the MN Safe Learning Survey in an effort to provide MDE, policy makers, and educational leaders a sense of how students, families, and educators are feeling about the school year. We are eager to get it out far and wide so that we get as many student, family, and educator responses as possible. Could you help us by sharing with your networks and on social media? Here is the link:

 

https://z.umn.edu/MNSafeLearningSurvey

EVENT Feb 24: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Navigators

Just a reminder for folks that this conversation is happening on Wednesday…

Digital Navigators What, how & why (Feb 24 noon to 1pm CST)
Digital Navigators are individuals who help people (or organizations) through the process of finding the best digital solutions to meet their needs. It scored highly on our interest survey last month and we have (at least) two Lunch Bunchers who are willing to share their expertise with the group – one national and one focused on Minnesota schools. So please come with questions, ideas and solutions. Register here.

I’m excited to have two experts on deck to share their wisdom:

  • Marc Johnson, Executive Director of (ECMECC), a telecommunications & technology cooperative of school in East Central MN. You can catch him talking about digital navigators with North Branch Area Public Schools, if you want a sneak preview.
  • Paolo Balboa is the Programs and Data Manager for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, where he applies his background in adult literacy and data management to developing digital equity programs.

 

Senator Klobuchar thinks there may be more federal funding for broadband – even beyond pandemic

The Alexandria Echo Press reports…

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, held a Zoom call with superintendents from west central Minnesota to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their students and school systems Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Klobuchar said that Minnesota will receive around $30 billion, which will be distributed across the state. The Senate will be processing the bill more in depth next week with the goal of implementing it by mid-March.

This funding package will help schools take the next steps in improving classroom safety and COVID-19 response efforts, so she wanted to hear how local education leaders around the state believe the dollars should be spent.

The funding is designed to help in a number of ways but Klobuchar mentioned that there may be more coming for broadband…

Klobuchar said she’s finding the silver lining in the possibility of more federal funding for broadband internet access and support for teachers, even beyond the pandemic.

“I just feel more hope about this than I have in the past,” she said.

College students need broadband and connection with teacher

A recent academic research report (Digital inequality, faculty communication, and remote learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of U.S. undergraduates ) found that undergraduates need broadband and connection with teacher…

Our results suggest that there are two kinds of connection that students need to develop remote learning proficiency: digital connectivity, in the form of consistent, high-speed internet and functional digital devices on the one hand, and strong human connections to the instructors who guide their learning, on the other. While the former provides the foundational infrastructure for students’ access to a novel learning environment, the latter provides the supportive framework to develop the digital skills to successfully navigate it, as well as the motivation to persist until that proficiency is realized.

As such, this study contributes to digital inequality research by identifying how first- and second-level digital inequality are connected within the sudden shift to remote learning during the early stages of the pandemic. Our findings are also consistent with extant literature in finding that financially insecure students report more challenges to maintaining the internet connectivity and devices that enable consistent access to remote learning environments. However, under-connected students may be even more vulnerable in remote than in face-to-face learning conditions, given that digital access is also prerequisite for communicating and securing assistance from teaching assistants and professors in remote learning.

Unfortunately, the study can tell us the problem but not the full impact, since that will unfold over time…

To fully capture how first- and second-level digital inequality are influencing undergraduates’ outcomes from remote learning will require longitudinal studies, Over time, it will be possible to trace how the volatility and vulnerability of being under-connected affects accessing course content and communicating with instructors. Our study’s contribution to the nascent and urgent effort to understand this unintended national experiment in undergraduate education is in providing a clear snapshot of how students experienced the very earliest weeks of the remote learning transition, and of what supported the very earliest stages of their adaptation.

Senator Klobuchar talks to schools near Wilkin County MN – broadband is issue, especially during pandemic

Wahpeton Daily News reports…

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Minn.) recently hosted a conference call with Breckenridge Public Schools Superintendent Diane Cordes and other area education leaders to discuss how the state could provide equitable attention and opportunities to Greater Minnesota schools.

Included in the Friday, Jan. 29 call were Executive Director of Lakes Country Service Cooperative Jeremy Kovash and superintendents Jeff Drake of Fergus Falls Public Schools, Phil Jensen of Hawley Public Schools and Brandon Lunak of Moorhead Public Schools.

Broadband came up…

Klobuchar said a consistent problem throughout the pandemic has been access to broadband, an issue she has championed as the co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus. Nationwide, 25 percent of students do not have full access to broadband.

“That’s been a problem obviously before we had the pandemic. Some kids are better able to access internet services,” Klobuchar said.

Despite access challenges, Kovash said for the most part, the area is flourishing.

Telecom Industry Wants Federal Broadband Initiatives to Support Training

I was very excited when I first read this headline, because I assumed training meant digital inclusion training – for folks at all rungs of the digital inclusion ladder. What it really seems to mean is apprenticeships to help build the network, not necessarily use the network.

In a joint letter to the White House and Congress, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), INCOMPAS, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), the Telecommunications Industry Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) asked for any infrastructure legislation to include support for broadband-related job skills.

The industry expects as many as 3 million jobs to be created as a result of expansion of 5G communications. The technology is also expected to contribute $500 billion annually to the economy, according to the associations.

The letter proposes that apprenticeship programs would offer diversity, safety and good-paying jobs. The industry already employs some 672,000 workers, while average annual wages are in excess of $77,500.

I’m a big proponent of education (I have two Master’s degrees) so I’m warm to any sort of training to help people get better jobs. But I’d love to see some training on how to use the network too – both in terms of closing the digital divide and making sure people have basic skills to find a job, write an email, work from home but also the education to create new jobs for themselves, pursue dreams and innovate.

Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Moose Lake Star Gazette reports

Ryan Stewart’s, Moose Lake High School Principal, image froze on the screens of the Moose Lake School Board. He was making a presentation of a new grading option designed to help students recover their Grade Point Averages after struggling in Distance Learning. His daughter was home from college and also online.

To fix his internet connection problems Stewart needed to pause his presentation and ask his daughter to disconnect from the internet. Internet connection problems are a common one to have in areas around our community, but they make working and learning from home even more difficult.

Willow River Schools have provided mobile internet hotspots to students who are struggling to connect. At their most recent school board meeting school administrators were happy to report that with the recent purchase and set up of 25 additional hotspots all families who requested help connecting were able to receive a device.

The article goes on to provide several helpful tips to improve access by monitoring use and rebooting, helpful but the answer should be at a higher level. And they get to that too with an update of where state and federal funding from broadband stand today…

Rural areas have struggled to gain access to reliable internet connections for years. Legislative projects at both the state and federal level have been working to create a reliable source of internet connection for all. Broadband is simply a way of identifying internet connection to a router or wired connection. Connection to broadband creates the wireless connections within a home or area.

OPPORTUNITY: Free classes for Minnesotans through DEED and Coursera from now to March 31

Update: sorry – I just learned the deadline to sign up was Dec 31. 

GCN reports

To help Minnesota’s 130,000 unemployed workers, the state’s  Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is providing on-demand access to online classes for training, reskilling and upskilling.

The department contracted with Coursera, an online learning provider, to offer 3,800 classes for free to Minnesotans, particularly those affected by job losses related to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents request access to the course catalog through the DEED website and have until March 31, 2021, to complete their courses, which typically cost individuals $400 annually.

Here’s a taste of what they have and a reminder that they have more…

Courses related to technology, health care, retail and manufacturing have drawn the most attention, but so have COVID-specific ones, too, such as contact tracing classes, Warfa said. Because this effort targets out-of-work residents, state government employees are not required to take courses, but they are eligible.

What’s more, the offering complements the state’s CareerForce platform for connecting employers and job seekers. It has a tool that residents can use to see what skills they need to work in a particular industry.

“This is by no means a replacement for the workforce-training programs that exist. This is just another tool in the toolbox that I think is responsive and timely to COVID impact,” Warfa said. “Our goal is really just economic prosperity for everyone, especially those living on the margins of our economy.”

Internet outage in Red Wing brings us a new form of “snow day”

RiverTowns.Net reports…

Call it a cable day instead of a snow day late start. Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, [Red Wings School]Superintendent Karsten Anderson called for classes to start at least two hours late because one of the community’s two internet companies suffered a line break.

Hiawatha Broadband’s outage reportedly involves a portion of southeastern Minnesota.

“As a result of that outage, many students and staff members do not have access to the internet or to the school learning platform,” Anderson said.

The disruption affects classes for all K-12 students, who are in full distance learning, regardless of whether they still have internet access.

At 9:45 a.m., he issued a second stating that the internet had been restored. K-6 students could log in at 9:50 a.m. High School students were notified how their four-block schedule was revised.

On the one hand this is a fun story on how “snow days” may not be entirely gone. And if you’ve grown up in a cold climate, you probably have a place in your heart for snow days. One the other hand, this is a reminder of how important secure, reliable broadband is at every level. If you’re Internet went out today – what could your family do and not do. The list is different since the pandemic and I think that list is changed permanently.

Klobuchar Broadband Provisions Included in Year-End Package Passed by Senate, Expected to be Signed Into Law

Big news from Senator Klobuchar, especially on broadband mapping and college kids in need of better broadband…

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, announced that several of her key broadband priorities were included in the year-end omnibus package passed by the Senate and expected to be signed into law. These provisions include funding to ensure students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet based off Klobuchar’s Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act and funding to implement the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps which was signed into law in March.

 

“In 2020, every family in America should have access to high-speed internet, regardless of their zip code,” Klobuchar said. “The pandemic has exposed how critical broadband is to staying connected to work, school, health care and more. These provisions will help bring us closer to ensuring all Americans have access to high speed internet by improving the broadband data collection process and connecting our college students with the greatest financial need to vital internet services.”  

 

The following provisions were included:

  • Connecting College and University Students in Need: The provision includes funding to ensure college students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet based-off the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act. The package includes $285 million funding for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), their students, and minority-owned businesses near those colleges and universities.
    • The funding can be used to purchase routers, modems, wi-fi hotspots, tablets, and laptops. Funding recipients must prioritize students eligible for the Pell Grant or the FCC’s Lifeline program; approved to receive unemployment insurance benefits; currently receiving other need-based financial aid; or earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., $39,300 for a family of four in the contiguous U.S.). The legislation also allows for connectivity funding for minority-owned businesses near those higher education institutions and establishes the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to carry out programs to expand access to broadband at and in communities around HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs and other MSIs.

Potential Federal Emergency Assistance for Education Institutions and Connectivity

Benton reports…

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives unveiled highlights of the $748 billion Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020. Provisions for broadband include:

  • $6.25 billion for State Broadband Deployment and Broadband Connectivity grants to bridge the digital divide and ensure affordable access to broadband during the COVID 19 pandemic

  • $3 billion for an Emergency Educational Connectivity Fund to provide E-Rate support to educational and distance learning providers to provide hotspots, devices, and other connected devices, and advance digital equity/inclusion.

  • $200 million to Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas

  • $475 million to FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support efforts of healthcare providers to address coronavirus, including a 20% set aside for small, rural health providers

  • $100 million to Department of Veterans Affairs for Telehealth and Connected Care Program to purchase, maintain, and refresh devices and services to veterans for provision of access to telehealth services

OPPORTUNITY: ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today!

ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today! Here’s the latest from ConnectedMN

We’re accepting applications for grants to bring tech devices, internet access, and digital learning support to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including students who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, students from low-income families, and students residing in rural Minnesota.

The deadline is January 26. Decisions will be made Feb 16. Get more details on who, why and how from their website.

Here’s a little background on ConnectedMN from their email alert…

Since early May 2020, the Partnership for ConnectedMN has worked as a public-private partnership to bring tech devices, internet access and programmatic support to students across the state. Over the last 7 months, we have raised and distributed $2.15 million in grants to organizations serving the connectivity and computing needs of an estimated 68,000 students and their families in urban and rural communities. With these resources, grantees are providing access to devices, internet connectivity, supportive mentors, coaching and tech support. We have also listened to community needs and connected organizations and providers in pursuit of devices and connectivity.

COVID push to get kids online for school worked for computers but not broadband

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society looks at students’ access to technology at the start at the pandemic (April 23-May 5) and seven months later (November 11-13). Access to computers increased; access to broadband didn’t.

They report on the computers…

Device availability (either always or usually) increased from 86.7% to 90.9% from May to November, with a notable increase in computers always being available (70.2% to 76.0%). Translating that into numbers (assuming a K-12 student population of 53.1 million) means that about 3 million more student households had computers always available for educational purposes in November 2020 than in May 2020.

More computers in student households were also coming from schools according to the November 2020 data. In May, 37.4% of households with students said a computer was provided by a child’s school or school district. This figure climbed to 62.0% by November.

And broadband…

Households with students in kindergarten through 12th grade have seen little change in internet availability since May, with that figure increasing from 89.3% to 90.4% (a statistically significant difference). Essentially the same share of these households has the internet always available for educational purposes over the 6-month time frame. For internet availability that is “always” or “usually” present, about 590,000 more households with K-12 students have the internet since May 2020.

Availability patterns play out among familiar lines of household income. The November data shows that, for households with incomes below $35,000 annually, 62.1% say the internet is always available for educational purposes while 75.8% of household above that income level say this. This filters into other metrics, as one-third (33.3%) of lower income households report the internet is either usually available (21.5%) or sometimes (11.8%). For households above the $35,000 annual income threshold, just 20.1% says this, with 15.4% saying the internet is usually available and 4.7% saying it is always available.

We saw that when we spoke to different Minnesota Counties about their COVID situation. Rock County is well served with nearly 100 percent access to broadband. To serve the students who weren’t set up they found computers and a way to make existing broadband affordable. While other counties, such Kanabec, there may be problems with computers and affordability but the bigger problems in that there is no adequate access. Surveys showed that while 6-12 percent of student households lacked access to Kanabec, 20-30 percent lacked adequate access.) Expanding or upgrading broadband where it doesn’t exist is not as easy.

It’s clearly awesome to get computers to the kids who need them. Heck – to the adults too. But access to broadband would have the longer standing impact. Households with broadband reap an economic benefit of $1850 (on the low end) and $10,500 (on the high end). It would increase the value of the homes. It would give that household access to a tool that will definitely outlive even the best computer.

FCC looks at Controversial Spectrum/Education Decision in Pai’s Final Days

Voqual reports

Chairman Ajit Pai appears to be moving full steam ahead on a controversial spectrum item in his final days as head of the agency. According to the FCC’s list of items on circulation, he recently shared a Petition for Reconsideration that was filed by ten education groups regarding the Commission’s July 2019 decision on Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum. If the item receives three votes while on circulation – which some believe may already be the case – the Commission can move forward and dismiss the petition, thus denying schools a meaningful opportunity to acquire EBS licenses and connect students.

A coalition of 23 educational groups is now calling on Chairman Pai not to move forward on this controversial item. In a letter to Chairman Pai led by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), the organizations explained three important reasons why this item should not be considered until the incoming presidential administration and the new FCC has had a chance to fully consider the ramifications of the Petition for Reconsideration.

Schools are getting innovative with bringing broadband to students who need it.

Michael Calabrese and Amir Nasr at New America look at schools in the pandemic. They have been hard hit with need and many have gotten innovative about how to get broadband to the students who need it to ensure a more equitable experience for all

The problem…

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep inequities in the United States, and the lack of high-speed broadband access has been front-and-center because this public health crisis has required a large share of the population to work and learn from home. Among those most adversely impacted have been America’s students. The pandemic resulted in the near total shutdown of schools last spring, impacting 55.1 million students at 124,000 U.S. public and private schools.1 Schools shifted to remote learning almost overnight. The prevalence of remote learning continued into the 2020–2021 school year, with only 24 percent of school districts returning to in-person instruction full-time.

Exacerbating the problem…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has both the authority and the resources to mitigate the homework gap and yet it has refused to act. The FCC oversees the Universal Service Fund, which spends billions of dollars each year on several programs with the statutory goal of connecting all Americans to advanced communications, including specifically for education.

The homegrown solutions…

Thankfully, hundreds of school districts around the country have not waited for the FCC to grant them more E-Rate funding or flexibility to allocate E-Rate funds to meet this challenge. This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior.

An outline of the solutions they detail…

This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior. In Part II, we profile more than a dozen school districts that have pioneered a range of innovative approaches to connecting students lacking adequate internet access at home. We start with three school districts in Iowa and California that have partnered with their municipality to build out community Wi-Fi networks that connect low-income students directly to the school’s network. The next subsection profiles school districts in Texas, California, and other states that are taking advantage of novel spectrum sharing frameworks, such as the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band, to build out private LTE mobile networks that connect students at home, and that are far more financially sustainable longer term than buying subscriptions from mobile cellular providers.

A third subsection describes efforts in Virginia and Colorado to extend the reach of school networks directly to students at home, or to community hotspots closer to their homes, using the free unlicensed spectrum known as “TV white spaces” (TVWS). TVWS refers to the locally-vacant television channels that can be used to transmit internet access over very long distances. Finally, a fourth subsection highlights districts that are outfitting school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots and parking them strategically in neighborhoods where clusters of students lack broadband at home. Some districts are locating internet hotspots in community centers, public housing, or other more permanent locations. Libraries, which are also eligible for E-Rate funding, have also been stepping up by lending out Wi-Fi hotspots and amplifying their Wi-Fi so that students and other patrons can get online even when the building is closed.