National Broadband Plan focuses on e-Rate, online learning

Expanding online learning

The plan also recommends that the government support online learning, unlock the value of data to improve transparency, and modernize the educational broadband infrastructure.

“Broadband can be an important tool to help educators, parents, and students meet major challenges in education. The country’s economic welfare and long-term success depend on improving learning for all students, and broadband-enabled solutions hold tremendous promise to help reverse patterns of low achievement,” the plan states.

One barrier to realizing the full potential of online learning is that there is a limited pool of high-quality digital content that can be easily found, bought, accessed, and combined with other content to allow teachers to customize classroom materials to their students’ needs, the plan says.

To help eliminate this barrier, the plan suggests that the U.S. Department of Education (ED), with support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the FCC, establish standards to be adopted by the federal government for locating, sharing, and licensing digital educational content by March 2011. Those standards should be periodically revisited to ensure they are consistent with the needs of the educational community.

The federal government also should increase the supply of digital content available for learning, and Congress should consider taking legislative action to encourage copyright holders to grant educational digital rights of use, the plan says.

Another major barrier to online learning is that students often have trouble obtaining course credit for online classes, and teachers licensed in one state might not be able to teach online courses in another.

To address this concern, the plan calls on state accreditation organizations to change their course accreditation and teacher certification requirements to allow students to take more courses for credit online and permit more online instruction across state lines.

Common Sense Media Co-Founder and CEO James Steyer said the National Broadband Plan will go a long way to help parents and educators raise a generation of media-savvy and digitally responsible children.

“The plan, if instituted, will give millions of children and families in low-income and other underserved areas equal access to the information and opportunities of this digital age. With increased access comes an increased need to ensure kids everywhere are equipped with the tools and information they need to use broadband in smart, safe ways that will bring real improvements to their education and their economic futures,” he said.

To unlock the value of data and improve transparency, the plan recommends that ED encourage the adoption of standards for electronic educational records and develop digital financial data transparency standards for education.

“In every era, America must confront the challenge of connecting the nation anew,” said Blair Levin, executive director of OBI. “Above all else, the plan is a call to action to meet that challenge for our era. If we meet it, we will have networks, devices, and applications that create new solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”

Mark Schneiderman, senior director of education policy for the Software and Information Industry Association, said he commends the FCC for recognizing the importance of ubiquitous high-speed broadband access to the nation’s educational and economic health.

“While many education ideas are touched on, we encourage the FCC and Congress to focus on those most appropriate and direct to the core goal: improving broadband access to schools and students necessary for learning in this digital age, including especially the raising of the e-Rate cap,” he said.

But some FCC commissioners voiced concern over parts of the plan, and McDowell said he was troubled by some of the plan’s proposed regulations.

“I’m sure that the plan contains many ideas I can support, and further study of it will reveal such proposals in the days to come. At the same time, I would be remiss if I did not point out some ideas that give me concern,” he said.

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