Rural students need broadband to prepare for college like suburban and urban peers

The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter recently included an article by Goldie Blumenstyk  on rural college preparedness and broadband. They set out the problem…

A report on the state of rural education came out last week, asserting that some schools and places “face nothing less than an emergency in the education and well-being of children.”

Part of that emergency is the low level of “college readiness” in many of these rural districts, which enroll nearly one in five public-school students in the United States.

They had me at “emergency.”

And places broadband in the middle of the equation…

For matters like college preparation, one of the biggest obstacles that students still face is a lack of ready and reliable broadband access to the internet. In urban areas, that’s often an issue of cost. In rural areas, it’s often actual access as well. “It’s a huge deal right now,” said Klein, noting that for tests like the SAT and ACT, “a lot of the prep tools are online.”

As it happens, Klein spoke to me this week from San Diego, where he was attending the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, where he heard a presentation on a creative broadband-access project sponsored by the extension service at Oklahoma State University. It gave portable Wi-Fi-hotspot devices to local libraries, which then offered them to patrons for checkout.

OK, broadband is a start. The bigger question is: Even if rural students are college-ready, will there be college-level jobs waiting for them back home when they graduate? Clearly, colleges aren’t the only organizations that have a role here. But certainly they can play a part. They can do more to ensure that high-school students understand the ways a college education can be used in rural settings. As Klein noted, many agricultural industries today rely on people with knowledge of chemistry and GIS mapping skills, for example. “Those are some serious college-level tools,” he said.

I know there are university leaders out there right now pondering the question of how their institutions can be more relevant in their rural communities. (I had a long conversation on that topic with one of them just last week.) And Klein told me he hoped that the new report “excites some strategies.” So I expect this to be an issue that I and my colleagues continue to mine in the months to come.

I think a key here is helping students and local businesses understand the power of broadband. We don’t know what we don’t know and in a world where broadband is limited it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to make use of it. Why build demand when supply is already low? Unfortunately that does leave some areas behind. Whereas an influx of students who know the hometown and its industry return from school with some innovative ideas – that might build demand and a buzz for getting better broadband.

Broadband Imperative III Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success – Recommendations and MN Take

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.

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.

Regional support…

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.

OPPORTUNITY: Aspirations in Computing Awards for Young Women deadline Nov 5

From MN State IT Center for Excellence, and a great opportunity for the right person…

NCWIT is accepting applications for the 2020 Aspirations in Computing Awards. Young women from Minnesota’s high schools with computing related interests are highly encouraged to apply. Application opens September 1st and closes November 5th.

Award for AiC recipients are chosen for their demonstrated interest and achievements in computing, proven leadership ability, academic performance, and plans for post‑secondary education. To date, nearly 8,600 women have been honored with the Award. The NCWIT Award for AiC is sponsored by Apple, Bank of America, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions Foundation, and Symantec. MNAiC partners with over 50 businesses to support a year-round talent development program that for many students culminates in being selected as an award honoree. Since 2013, Minnesota has benefited from 313 State Honorees and 40 National Honorees.

We’re inviting high school educators across the state to advocate for young women in computing by generating awareness of the program within their classrooms and schools. The awards program and complementary MNAiC offerings provide an ecosystem of support for young women with computing interests.  In 2019, 82 Minnesota students and 2 educators were selected as honorees.

Inaugural Tribal Broadband Summit: emphasizing the role of librarians

I was lucky enough to participate in the first Tribal Broadband Summit. I haven’t been able to take my usual notes – because I’ve been giving a few presentations but I’m happy to share the high level view.

Tribal lands are in desperate shape for broadband access – and it can be a matter or life and death. We’ve heard stories of people not getting medical attention because of lack of infrastructure. (Really phones – but as you can imagine, no phones means no internet.)

There are a few reservations that are in better shape – thanks to some heavy lifting by awesome champions. I’m always impressed with the champions of deployment who go from knowing nothing about broadband to knowing every nuance – because they have to. It’s like me learning how to build a car – just so I can drive it.

People recognize that a hybrid network (wired-wireless) is probably the best way to go to reach some people in remote locations. But in the same breathe people recognize the impact of weather and other forces on wireless technology. (There are a few folks from Alaska here.)

Attendees are interested in broadband use. Libraries are key players – both in use and deployment. People have been creative with white spaces and e-rate.

FCC Chair Pai spoke on the first day. He announced a new program to get spectrum to tribal areas…

One new policy I’m particularly excited about will give Tribes priority access to spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. This band is the largest contiguous block of spectrum below 3 GHz in the United States. But today, this valuable spectrum currently isn’t used in most of the Western United States. That’s partly because technological advances have rendered the band’s original intended uses outdated, and partly because arcane rules have left it dramatically underused. So this summer, the FCC took action. We removed obsolete restrictions on this band, allowing greater flexibility in how the spectrum can be used. But here’s the big news you’ll want to know about: We’re giving rural Indian tribes an exclusive window to obtain this spectrum to serve rural Tribal lands. That’s right. Before any commercial auction of this spectrum, Tribes can obtain this spectrum for free. This is the first time in the FCC’s history that we have ever given Tribal entities what we call a “priority window” to obtain spectrum for wireless broadband. I’m proud that it is happening under my watch, and I hope that Tribes will take advantage of it.

Head of Dep of Education Betsy DeVos spoke about the value of broadband and importance of government getting out of the way of better broadband.  Many other government officials in the room proudly spoke about the support they have given to get broadband and broadband programming onto tribal lands. For example the Institute for Museums and Library Services has awarded over $60 million in 15 years for grants invested in library tribal services – for online archiving, digital inclusion, online storytelling.

I learned about MLab – a cool tool to help track and map broadband use and services.

And I tried to talk up the Minnesota Broadband model. Here are the presentations…

GigaZone Gaming Championship Set for November 2

So excited to see this grow – and to let you know that they will be talking about the GigaZone Gaming as part of our Digital Showcase for the Fall Broadband Conference (Oct 8-10)

Largest Esports Stadium Style Gaming Event in Northern Minnesota with over $5,000 in cash and prizes

(Bemidji, MN) (September 23, 2019) – The 4th annual GigaZone Gaming Championship is set for Saturday, November 2 at the Sanford Center George W. Neilson Convention Center. The event features free gaming on various console and arcade games, numerous tournaments, virtual reality, door prizes, and more.  All the fun is free.  Over 3,500 attended the event last year.

This one of a kind regional gaming event showcases Paul Bunyan Communications’ IT and web development team which custom built and integrated much of the online technology and leverages the speed of the GigaZone one of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the country. The entire event is run off a single residential GigaZone Internet connection.

This year’s main stage tournament will feature Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate on the esports stadium style stage in the GigaZone Championship Arena.  In addition to the main stage, there will be tournaments of Overwatch, Fortnite, Mario Kart 8, Madden 20, Magic the Gathering Booster Drafts, and more.  Registration for all tournaments will start at the Sanford Center November 2 at 10 a.m. and go until full.

“There is a large gaming community in our area and GigaZone Gaming Championship not only showcases some of the region’s best gamers but it gives everyone a chance to get in on the action!” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members.  The GigaZone provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience and the GigaZone Gaming Championship showcases just that,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.

“There is no other gaming event like it anywhere I’ve seen. It’s unique to our area and we are very proud of our team for making it happen. There is no catch, everyone and anyone gets to game for free!” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

This Paul Bunyan Communications event includes the talents of many local partners including NLFX, Accidently Cool Games, Northern Amusement, the Sanford Center, as well as support from several regional and national partners.

For more information on the GigaZone Gaming Championship visit www.gigazonegaming.com

 

Opportunity: start a Girls Who Code Club in your area

I saw this opportunity in the MN State Library Services newsletter. I’m not sure if it’s only for libraries but if you’re not a library, this is a really good opportunity to partner with one…

State Library Services is partnering with Girls Who Code (GWC) this year to bring free computer science learning opportunities to your community. Girls Who Code Clubs are free after-school programs for girls in grades 3-5 or 6-12. Participants will join a sisterhood of supportive peers and role models and use computer science to change the world. Please note, this program targets, but is not limited to, girls. Participants not only learn hard coding skills and computational thinking, but they’ll also learn project management skills, collaboration, bravery, resilience, how to positively impact their community, and so much more.

When you start a GWC Club, you’ll gain access to free resources, flexible plug-and-play curriculum, funding opportunities, ongoing support, alumni opportunities for your young learners, and more! There’s no computer science experience needed to get started; GWC is there for you every step of the way. Apply now with the brief Clubs Application through our partnership, or learn more about the program at the next live 30-minute webinar! Webinars are scheduled weekly Sept. through Nov. 2019.

FCC Should Assess Making Off-School-Premises Access Eligible for Additional Federal Support

Federal funding is the reason than so many schools and libraries have adequate access. It’s a boon to those communities. But there’s still a huge gap between students with access as home and students without it.

I have three kids. I work full time. I have lots of volunteer gigs. If I had to take them to the library to get homework done we would all be less productive citizens. So I was pleased to see the US Government Accountability Office ask the FCC to look at federal support for home broadband access for students.

Here’s their recommendation…

Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should determine and execute a methodology for collecting and analyzing data—such as conducting a new pilot program regarding off-premises wireless access or analyzing other data—to assess the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of making off-premises wireless access eligible for E-rate program support, and publish the results of this analysis. (Recommendation 1)

More recommendations are promised once the that step is completed. They also post an easy chart that outlines the downsides of having to leave home for access.