More Schools Ready for Digital Learning as Connectivity Increases

More Schools Ready for Digital Learning as Connectivity Increases

Ninety-four percent of school districts nationwide are ready for digital learning as they now meet the minimum Internet bandwidth of 100 kilobits per second per student, a goal set by the Federal Communications Commission in 2014, according to the “2017 State of the States” report from the EducationSuperHighway.

Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, told Simba's newsletter, Electronic Education Report, that a rising percentage of school districts ready for digital learning, from 30% in 2013 to 94% now, is unlocking opportunities for teachers to expand educational resources.

Students are getting access to content and choices they never had before, Marwell said, giving the examples of a wider variety of courses and options like virtual field trips. Educators are also getting new resources, helping to personalize instruction and increase effectiveness.

Collaborative learning through class wikis, where students can post work and get feedback from peers and instructors, is occurring across schools. Marwell also sees increased engagement by students technology is integrated into the learning process.

Among highlights in 2017 State of the States are:

▪ 97% of schools have the fiber optic connections needed to deliver high-speed broadband, up from 71% in 2013.

▪ 88% of schools report having sufficient wifi, up from 25% in 2013.

▪ 78% decline in the cost of Internet access for schools between 2013 and 2017, from $22 per Mbps to $4.90 per Mbps.

Making Digital Learning Nationwide

Marwell said he sees incredible progress made since 2013, but also is focused on what is needed to make digital learning nationwide. Efforts to increase digital learning include leveraging price transparency to bring affordable bandwidth to students who do not have it, connecting school districts to service providers that meet national benchmark prices, and increasing the investment by lagging school districts.

 “We learned the affordability of broadband is probably the single most important thing in terms of making sure that schools can get the broadband they need today and in the future,” Marwell said.

Because schools without broadband only need similar deals to those peer districts have gotten, Marwell is optimistic that broadband will be extended nationwide. He sees increased information sharing and partnering through consortia, saying that involvement of governors and state departments of education, as well as 2014 changes to E-Rate, are catalysts. E-Rate data is widely accessed, available through organization websites such as EducationSuperHighway.

Among the 2,000 schools without fiber connections, 80% are in rural areas, where installing fiber is difficult and expensive, Marwell said. 

Schools have two years to access E-Rate's $2.3 billion in funding that supports projects bringing connectivity to classrooms. Bureaucracy sometimes gets in the way at the FCC, where applications for funding are denied or delayed, which discourages other applicants, according to Marwell. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai offered alternative approaches to the 2014 modernization that raised concern among some advocates for school connectivity. Pai now says fiber to rural communities and approving administration of E-Rate are key objectives. Marwell said many are on pins and needles about Pai will do, believing wholesale changes are not

On the plus side, a total of 45 governors have committed to upgrading their schools for the 21st century. Governors have allocated nearly $200 million in state matching funds for special construction to help connect the hardest-to-reach-schools.