Archived Information

Unpacking the Challenge

Because of the enormity of the challenge of building an infrastructure for learning, we should approach it step by step, designing and implementing individual elements so we can take advantage of their incremental benefits along the way.

Broadband everywhere

Sidebar
Building a Statewide Infrastructure for Learning
Using Cell Phones to Support Teaching and Learning
Individualizing and Differentiating Learning in New York's School of One
Open Textbooks In California

A crucial element of an infrastructure for learning is a broadband network of adequate performance and reach, including abundant wireless coverage in and out of school buildings. Adequate means enough bandwidth to support simultaneous use by all students and educators anywhere in the building and the surrounding campus to routinely use the web, multimedia, and collaboration software. The activities of the Federal Communication Commission (www.fcc.gov/broadband/) and the Department of Commerce NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants/) to bolster the nation's broadband provisioning are essential to learning life-long and life-wide.

Access devices for every student and educator

Because an infrastructure for learning should support learning in and outside the classroom, students and educators need Internet access devices for around-the-clock use from any location. Internet access devices are continually evolving and today include desktop computers, laptops, netbooks, public-access kiosks, mobile phones, portable digital players, and wireless readers. Many districts say they face major challenges in providing access devices for every student and educator. Even with the rise of relatively low cost mobile devices and netbooks, most devices cost at least several hundred dollars and need to be replaced every few years. In 2002, however, Maine became the first state in the country to give every seventh- and eighth-grade student and educator a laptop for use both at school and at home. Research on the effectiveness of the program shows that student learning has improved (Berry & Wintle, 2009; Silvernail & Bluffington, 2009; Silvernail & Gritter, 2007), and the program is now being expanded to high schools.

Many K-12 students already carry mobile devices for personal use with greater computing power than the supercomputers of a generation ago. K-12 educators routinely own access devices for use in their daily lives. Students at our nation's colleges and universities increasingly are arriving on campus with powerful laptops and mobile devices of their own. The presence of so many access devices and the precedent that has been established at colleges and universities is prompting some K-12 school districts to explore having their students and educators use their own personal access devices as an alternative to purchasing them. In the past, districts were reluctant to allow students to use their own devices in school because of concerns about the unfair advantage of affluent students who are more likely to have the latest devices and the risk of students accessing inappropriate Internet content or using their connectivity to cheat on tests. However, districts are finding that a combination of acceptable use policies and staff training makes student use of personal digital devices both feasible and safe.

Middletown Public Schools in New Jersey, for example, brought together elementary, middle, and high school educators to forge an acceptable-use policy that would allow students to use personal cell phones and other computing devices in school. Students then created videos to illustrate acceptable and unacceptable uses for their peers. At Passage Middle School in Newport News, Virginia, a host of student and educator uses of cell phones to support learning was unleashed when the principal decided to allow the use of cell phones for instructional purposes during class.

Schools can also solve the equity issue – concern that affluent students will have devices and others will not – by purchasing devices just for the students who need such financial support. This is more cost-effective than purchasing devices for every student. Districts can think about providing an access device and Internet access at home for those students who need them in the same way they provide a free or reduced-price hot lunch for students who could not otherwise afford it. Allowing students to bring their own access devices to school has been limited, however, by provisions within the E-Rate, a federal program that supports connectivity in elementary and secondary schools and libraries by providing discounts on Internet access, telecommunications services, internal network connections, and basic maintenance to support them. Schools' eligibility for E-Rate money is contingent on compliance with several federal laws designed to ensure student privacy and safety on the Internet. These include the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires the use of electronic filtering on school networks. In some cases this requirement creates barriers to the rich learning experiences that in-school Internet access should afford students. E-Rate provisions and CIPA requirements should be clarified and barriers to student-owned devices in schools removed. (See the sidebar on Balancing Connectivity and Student Safety on the Internet for more information.)

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