Although the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 63 percent of schools are connected to the internet along fast, dedicated communications lines, education experts say schools are suffering from the same problem as many businesses and entertainment web sites: inadequate bandwidth.

Loosely defined, bandwidth is the speed at which a person’s computer can access the internet and download information, graphics, music, and so on. As web sites get more complicated, the bandwidth requirements needed to work with those sites have increased.

Several factors are complicating matters, even for schools that already have fast hookups. First, as more teachers are using computers regularly in the classroom, they are placing greater demands on central networks. More users will slow down a network, creating problems for both educational and administrative users in a school system.

Second, video is rapidly increasing the need for bandwidth. Whether the video is a short clip taken from an historically oriented web site or an online discussion group with students elsewhere in the country, these applications are “bandwidth hogs.”

A third major user of bandwidth are collaborative course curriculum projects. These programs enable teachers to jointly develop lesson plans and share them with their classes. While experts are hesitant to prescribe a single number of users for a given bandwidth, they note that having a T-1 line (which is the most common way for schools to get fast access to the internet) might have been sufficient for a school district at one time but is now more appropriate for a single school or school cluster.

Experts say several solutions are worth exploring:

  • Upgrade the infrastructure of a district.
  • Use Internet2, which is an online network designed for interactive video.
  • Look carefully at the ways information can be accessed. For example, Classroom Connect provides information in different formats, some of which use significantly less bandwidth.
  • Show teachers how to decide which presentation best fits their ability to access it.