Friday, June 11, 2021

Where do most Americans without internet access live? You may be surprised.

 

In recent blog posts, we’ve explored the lack of broadband access in the United States, and described actions the federal government is taking to fix the problem.  The focus on expanded broadband access is often on the rural areas of the country, assuming that it’s mostly an infrastructure problem. 

 

A recent New York Times article looks more closely at the urban households who cannot afford access to the internet, even though the infrastructure is present in their neighborhood.  The article suggests that “some critics worry that the capital-heavy rural-first strategy could leave behind urban America, which is more populous, diverse and productive.”  It goes on to state that the total number of urban households without internet (13.6 million) is almost three times as high as the number of rural households who have no access to internet (whether they can afford it or not).  And notice that the numbers are for households, not the total number of individuals in those households.

 

Not surprisingly, the major impediment for urban households without internet access is financial.  They simply can’t afford it.  They are also overwhelmingly low income communities of color.  Which raises the politically sensitive issue of providing subsidies or otherwise regulating the pricing of internet service.

 

One urban community has taken matters into their own hands.  Three underserved neighborhoods in Detroit have benefited from the Equitable Internet Initiative, a coalition of media and tech companies and community groups that is financing and building wireless broadband networks for 50 households in each neighborhood.  Called “community technology”, this approach seeks to implement the United Nations’ declaration a few years ago that internet access is a basic human right.

 

The project uses local labor, training the residents who will benefit from the internet access in the skills needed to install and maintain the broadband network.  In 2018, its pilot year, the Equitable Internet Initiative installed broadband access into 150 homes.  In succeeding years, it has expanded into additional underserved Detroit neighborhoods.  The group is currently looking to hire a coordinator to keep the program going.

 

Another approach to making the internet accessible to all urban households is to essentially treat broadband providers as utilities, mandating that they provide a minimum level of service to everyone.  The State of New York has recently required internet providers to offer broadband service for $15/month.  The audience for this subsidized internet service is customers whose low income qualifies them for other government services like food stamps or Medicaid.

 

Universal broadband access is clearly a complicated aspiration, which will require a multi-facted set of solutions to become reality.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Free Internet for qualifying US residents

 

The US government launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit last week, a $3.2 billion pot of money to help all eligible US residents access available internet services, regardless of ability to pay.

 

What is the benefit? 

·      Up to $50/month on broadband service for eligible households.

·      Up to $75/month on broadband service for households on qualifying Tribal lands.

·      Up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet for eligible households (you need to contribute $10-50 toward the purchase price).

·      Only one monthly benefit and one device purchase benefit per household.

 

Who qualifies?  To be “eligible”, a household needs to meet one of these criteria: 

·      Income less than or equal to 135% of federal poverty guidelines.

·      Participates in certain assistance programs (SNAP, Medicaid, Lifeline).

·      Approved to participate in free school lunch or breakfast program in 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.

·      Received federal Pell grant during current award year.

·      Experienced substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb 29, 2020, and total 2020 income was below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers.

·      Meets eligibility requirements for participating broadband provider’s existing low-income or Covid-19 program.

 

How does an “eligible household” apply?  I’ve read it’s time-consuming and complicated, so be patient and persistent.

·      Contact your preferred participating broadband provider directly.

·      Go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org to apply online and find participating broadband providers near you.

·      Call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application.

 

Read more here, here, here, here and here.

 

I recognize that this blog post may not apply to all of our readers.  Please forward it on to anyone you know that might qualify for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. 

 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Free virtual conference for online educators, June 9-10 2021

 

REMOTE: the connected faculty summit, hosted by Arizona State University, will be held on June 9-10, 2021.  As described on their website:  Join educators and decision makers from global universities and colleges to view and engage with presenters and peers on pedagogy, blended learning and best practices for student engagement online or on campus. REMOTE helps to design & deliver the best possible experience and outcomes for teachers and learners and provides keen insights for those involved in supporting education.”

 

This is the second year the summit has been offered.   It describes itself as the “largest virtual gathering of higher education faculty and administration.”

 

The agenda covers these topics:

·      How to optimize online learning

·      Equity first approaches

·      Developing and supporting robust systems

·      Adapting to policies that address faculty and student facing challenges

·      Lessons from COVID

·      Economic impact

·      How to partner with technology companies

·      Techniques and strategies

 

Participants also receive curated free resources and best practices.

 

And did I mention that it’s free.  Register here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Education Will Look Different Post-Covid in Some School Districts

 

We’re coming to the end of a year-plus of disruption in the education system due to Covid-19.  This change in routine has itself caused a lot of learning.  Many school systems have, by necessity, become familiar with online platforms.  Many faculty have, again by necessity, incorporated online learning pedagogy into their curriculum.  And some students, by happenstance, have discovered that online classes suit their learning style and lifestyle.

 

So, will that Covid-induced learning cause our education system to make permanent changes?  Time will tell, of course, but there are already some hints of change on the horizon.

 

One school district in Utah is opening up three virtual schools in fall 2021 (one elementary, one middle, one high school) to provide the option for students to continue online learning if they want to.  The elementary and middle schools will be entirely virtual, with no physical location available.  High school students will have the option of taking all their classes online, or doing a hybrid model with some classes in person and some online.  The faculty and staff will work solely for the virtual school, which will also have its own mascot and school colors.

 

A school district in Colorado is offering a remote learning program for grades 6-12, available to any student within the state.  The remote learning student will take some or all of their classes online, and will remain connected with their neighborhood school for athletics, social activities (think prom), extracurricular activities and other school-related events.  The remote learning program will use the synchronous teaching model, meaning that all students will be attending class at the same time, interacting with both the teacher and each other in every class session.  The program estimates that 1,000-2,500 students will enroll in its first year of operation.

 

Some school districts are considering offering low-demand classes online to increase access for all interested students.  Say, e.g., there is adequate demand for learning Portuguese across the district (or even across a state), but not enough students (or qualified teachers) in any one jurisdiction to offer the class.  Offering the class online can allow the subject to be taught, without an unmanageable increase in cost.

 

At least one commentator has suggested that blended learning will become more customary in the near future.  Sometimes referred to as “flipped classrooms,” this approach to teaching allows the instructor to use the best of online and in-person methods to maximize the learning experience.  Often, the content of a class is delivered via pre-recorded video lecture.  This allows the student to learn the material on their own schedule, with the opportunity to review the lecture as many times as desired.  In-class time is then used to put the content into practice, facilitating extensive question-and-answer sessions, as well as experiential learning through exercises.

 

In Texas, education officials have purchased over 4.5 million computers and hotspots in the last few months.  They have also set a goal to provide free internet access in the home for all public school students.  President Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation and other proposed Congressional action also include extensive funding to build a universal broadband network across the country.

 

It will be interesting to watch how the emergency reliance on online learning during a pandemic will permanently alter the landscape of education for the future.  With a year-plus of accidental experience with online learning, its benefits have made themselves known.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities in the US available

 

In a recent blog post, we outlined the argument in favor of universal broadband.  Since that post, the Internet Society has published a Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities in the US.  The guide identifies various funding opportunities available for all levels of government local, state, tribal) and utilities to expand broadband infrastructure.  The funding opportunities include those that are currently available and ones that may be available in the future.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Gamification: Making Learning Fun and Intuitive

 

The first time I taught English as a Second Language (ESL), one of my fellow instructors was writing a dissertation on gamification.  My immediate reaction to turning learning for adults into a game was not so positive (learning should be serious, right?!).  But as I listened to her theories and watched her students learn faster than mine did, I became intrigued.

 

What is gamification?  Wikipedia defines it as “the introduction of game elements in a non-game situation.”  In other words, instructors turn exercises into games to encourage participation and essentially hide the learning aspect of the exercise.

 

Why does it work?  It’s fun!  People get more relaxed focusing on the game part of the exercise, creating mental space for the learning to occur.  For some students, it feeds their sense of competition, which enhances motivation for learning.  Most importantly, it works with (rather than against) the neuroscience of the brain.  “What fires together, wires together.”  Repetition strengthens the neural connections in the brain, and gamification provides a non-boring way to practice repetition.  Finally, the game can generate a lot of laughter, which has additional neuroscience benefits for learning.

 

What does gamification look like?  Here’s the game I designed for that ESL class:  practicing tenses for the verb “to be” using dice.  The set-up for the game:

·      Two dice

·      Two columns on the board:  one column lists six pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they); the other column lists tenses (past, present, future, past, present, future)

Going in turns, each student rolls both dice.  The number of each die facing up tells the student what they need to say (die 1 = 3, die 2 = 4:  “he was”).  The beauty of the game is its unpredictability, and the students can go at whatever pace they’re comfortable with.  Depending on the competitiveness of the students, you can choose to keep score (or not).

 

OK, so I was sold on gamification.  In the classroom.  But does it work for online learning?

 

Popular Science magazine recently reviewed a variety of gamified learning apps that incorporate principles of online games to serious topics.  The major benefit appears to be the dopamine hit the student gets from playing the learning game, which encourages continued use (and, therefore, continued learning).  I encourage you to go read the Popular Science article in full, but here is a sample of the apps they reviewed:

 

·      Duolingo is a prime example of gamification.  The app applauds you for every correct answer (feel that “ping” of pleasure in your brain?!), and gently (but persistently) nudges you to take the next step if you start slacking off on the lessons.  The app’s humorous nudges have created an entire meme library (e.g., It’s simple. Spanish or vanish.)

·      eQuoo seeks to teach emotional intelligence (EQ) through choose-your-own-adventure games.

·      World Citizen teaches world geography through quizzes and competition with others.

·      Yousician, which has been compared to the video game Guitar Hero, helps you learn to play an instrument (guitar, piano, ukulele) by simulating a real performance scenario.

 

Suggestions for incorporating gamification into your curriculum can be found here, here, and here.

 

May the best player/learner win!

Monday, March 15, 2021

US Congress Considering Funding for Universal Broadband

 

Our last blog post outlined the argument for universal broadband (equitable access to the internet for all), and suggested a few ways this could be accomplished.

 

Since that blog post, Congress passed the coronavirus stimulus package, which included $7 billion to help K-12 schools provide their students with devices (computers, tablets, wifi hotspots) they need to participate in remote learning.  The stimulus package also provides $10 billion for states to use to expand infrastructure, which can (but does not have to) include broadband internet access.

 

Since the covid stimulus package passed, legislation has been introduced in the US Congress to provide $94 billion to make broadband internet access available and affordable across the country.  Called the Accessible, Affordable Internet Access for All Act, the proposed legislation envisions a new federal program that focuses exclusively on ensuring equitable internet access across the 50 states.  The infrastructure development focus will be on projects in areas that currently have no internet:  rural and tribal areas, as well as lower-income urban communities.

 

The bill also proposes to provide $6 billion in an affordability program, which would provide up to $50/month subsidies for families in need to access existing internet services.

 

The Accessible, Affordable Internet Access for All Act was introduced by 30 Democrats in both the House and Senate.  A summary of the bill’s main points is available here.  Given the current make-up of both houses of Congress, this is the best opportunity in a long time for the bill to pass.  If you are a reader in the US, your representative and senator would love to hear from you …