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Building smart networks to improve learning

Building a scalable, affordable, and reliable education network is no longer “nice to have.” It is a basic requirement for school districts today. As President Obama said: “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools.”

We are at a tipping point for technology in K-12 – it is a “new normal.”

Reality of today’s education network

Last fall, CoSN released a national survey documenting the woeful state of most education networks:

  • 43 percent of the school districts say none of their schools currently can meet the goal of 100Mbps of internet access per 1,000 students.
  • More than 40 percent of all classrooms do not have wireless internet connectivity.
  • Even if we had truly broadband connectivity to our school doors, classroom connections in most schools are inadequate and result in slow connections

The steady convergence of high-speed mobile broadband, ubiquitous mobile devices, higher capacity networks, cloud services, big data, and virtualization are all game-changers for our education networks. Education networks should be “future-ready” and adaptable to constant technological updates.

Help is here

School system leaders need help to design robust, well-designed education networks. CoSN’s free, vendor-neutral Smart Education Networks by Design (SEND) initiative, created with support from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., will help your district to plan smartly, effectively and efficiently to meet the challenges of today’s learning environment. At the website you can download a rich set of free Design Guidelines, as well as a comprehensive Checklist.

Determining where you are going

Take a look at this online readiness chart (below) to determine where you are today. Most districts are at Basic Connectivity for Supplemental Enrichment. You know the drill: limited or no wireless; 100MB/1GB core; limited internet; bad cabling; and, analog voice service. This option is designed for Scarcity.

cosn-readiness

The next level of Emerging Reliance on Online Educational Tools and resources is where leading school districts are and most districts are headed. The network has: limited mobility; increasing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies; some wireless coverage; some service server virtualization; adequate business continuity; some online instructional services; limited directory integration and device management; marginally adequate internet (100M/1GB and some 10GB Core); better cabling; fiber WAN and VOIP. Better, but still an emerging education network.

We argue that to get to 21st century teaching and learning, we need to evolve to the highest bar: Transformation to a Technology-Rich Learning Environment. This option requires: full mobility (one-to-one) and BYOD, WWAN support for mobility, wireless coverage and capacity; many online resources, courses and instructional services with 24/7 availability; and more.

President Obama has started the conversation with the ConnectEd vision. The Federal Communications Commission is now asking for suggestions on how to modernize the eRate. This effort will require a substantial increase in eRate funding to meet growing educational broadband needs. Now is the time for this investment.

Stepping up to build up

School system leaders must lead this effort and educate our school boards and communities as to why a modern, smart network is critical to transform the learning experience. Our chief priority should be to ensure that we have learning environments that support and prepare students for college and careers in an increasingly digital world. Technology holds the promise of enabling more personalized learning, but only IF we have powerful broadband networks that support this transformation.

Keith Krueger is the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking.

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