Friday, September 24, 2021

Free Homework Help at Your Local Library


I recently got an email from my county library alerting me to resources available for homework help.  The best line of the email:  It's all FREE with your County Library card.”  Now, I think you do have to be a county resident to get a library card, but I’m sure other libraries have similar access.  Many of these resources can probably be accessed another way as well.


The resources are broken into three categories: 


·      Pre-K and elementary includes live tutors, magazines, encyclopedia (Funk & Wagnalls), pre-K prep, math and English, science experiments, videos and stories.


·      Middle and high school includes biographies, live tutors, career prep (licensure), college admissions help (essays), magazines, US and world history, HS equivalency (GED), military and government documents, poetry and short stories, points of view (controversies), school center (practice questions), science experiments, encyclopedia (World Book).


·      College and adult includes academic search (peer review), biographies, live tutors, career prep (licensure), college admissions help (essays), college students (test prep), magazines, HS equivalency (GED), US and world history, military and government documents, poetry and short stories, points of view (controversies), religion study and history, science experiments, tuition funding (scholarships), universal class, encyclopedia (World Book).




Saturday, September 11, 2021

Virtual Museum Tours for a Rainy Saturday

In my last post, I focused on virtual travel.  On this rainy Saturday, I decided it would be nice to visit a museum without having to get in the car or put my mask on.  And there are so many options …


The Museum Computer Network (MCN, advancing digital transformation in museums) has put together an extensive list of museums containing virtual content, which it claims to be continually updating.   The list includes portals, virtual tours and online exhibits, e-learning, content created for kids, online collections, science collections, history collections, and digital archives and libraries.  Almost all of the resources are available for free.  As an additional resource, MCN also links to the 75 Best Virtual Museum Tours Around the World, featuring art, history, science and technology exhibits.


I explored a few of the options on the museum list and was blown away.


The Louvre Museum (Paris, France) website allows you to visit the museum from your desktop.  Pick a gallery, and you’re taken on a personal tour.  Some of the tours are a slide show mimicking your actual walk through the space, and some are 360o videos.  The tours highlight the art on display, as well as some of the Louvre’s stunning architecture.  Clicking on the “i” button next to specific displays brings up detailed information about that part of the exhibit.  The only thing missing is the café and croissant.


The virtual tour of the NASA Langley Research Center includes a series of slides and a short narrated video of each major building on the campus.  Many of the buildings can also be visited via a 360o photo.  This virtual tour could be a great way to “host” a field trip for K-12 students studying the history of space travel.  Followed by watching JFK Moonshot, a virtual recreation of the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first man on the moon.


The Städel Museum (Frankfurt, Germany) has created an interactive time machine, in which the virtual visitor is guided through 200 years of the museum’s history.  You can see a painting in the current collection as it was displayed 200 years ago, and learn about the history of the painting and how critics’ opinions and analysis of the art have changed over the years.  With additional software and use of a virtual reality headset, it’s as close to time travel as you can get.


Many of the museums, like the National Museum of Korea, have digitized their exhibits by taking a photograph of each item on display, and linked that with information about the item.  It is a little more cumbersome to navigate these websites and exhibits, and you don’t get the illusion of being there, but you can still learn a lot.


The MCN list of museums with virtual content is heavy on US museums, but as you can see above, international “travel” is also possible.  But, for now, the rain has stopped and I’m going to explore my own backyard.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Virtual Travel Opportunities Abound


I recently had emergency surgery, with a week-plus of enforced rest.  The surgery cut short a camping trip, so I was feeling mighty travel-deprived.  With all that time on my hands, I got to searching the web for virtual travel opportunities – films and websites that could help me be an armchair traveler without using a single core muscle.  I found so much …


First, I googled “best travel movies” and found lots of lists.  Based on recommendations from my favorite list, I binge-watched Under the Tuscan Sun and A Good Year in one evening.  Both movies help you imagine that you’re in the grand rural geographies in Italy and France where they take place.


Then I moved on to virtual travelogues and found that so much has been released to the public or created during the past 1.5 years of Covid.  I’ll just highlight a few for you that combine wanderlust with educational value.


Flyover Zone takes you on 360-degree 3D tours of some of the world’s great cultural heritage sites.  Commentary is provided by leading historical and archaeological experts.  Where sites remain in a damaged condition, the tour may include digital restoration, so you can imagine what it might have looked like at its best.  For now the tours include Baalbek Roman temples,  Hadrian’s villa, chariot racing, and Rome reborn.  Tours of Athens reborn, great monuments and Egypt reborn are under development.  You’ll have to look at their website to see which tours are free.


Just as you can find just about anything available for sale on Amazon’s virtual marketplace, you can use the beta version of Amazon Explore to virtually visit a dizzying number of tourist destinations.  Ranging in cost from $10 to under $100, the virtual travel experiences are organized by world region (North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Australia, Asia).  The focus of the virtual trips is also broad, ranging from a virtual cocktail class to learn how to make the Peruvian drink pisco to shopping (live) for customizable traditional Tuscan textiles to a virtual tour of Slovenia’s capitol (Lubljana) through romantic stories to an exploration of miniature orchids in Costa Rica.


Unify Cosmos promises that you’ll be listening to “the most relaxing sounds in the world.”  You begin the adventure by selecting a place in the world from their list of options.   I picked Alghero, Sardinia.  After clicking on the arrow, I listened to wonderful ocean waves as they lapped on the beautiful beach displayed on my screen.


Finally, Google Arts & Culture offers interactive opportunities to engage with art throughout the world.  By downloading experience-specific apps on your device, you can play with art through offerings such as “Which artwork looks like you?,” “Make music with the blobs in London,” or “Turn yourself into Van Gogh.”  You can also explore major museums like the Grand Palais in Paris, the Tate Britain in London, or the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo.


These virtual travel opportunities are not likely to disappear when Covid does (when will that be?!).  Meaning that we all – adults and children alike – will be able to appreciate some of the wonders of traveling to exotic places from our armchairs for years to come.  If you combine that with ethnic take-out or adventurous cooking, and virtual shopping, maybe it’s almost as good as being there?

Sunday, August 15, 2021


Covid may have been the tipping point for online K-12 education


Before Covid, there were plenty of families who “home-schooled” their K-12 children via online courses.  One of my son’s friends did all four years of high school on a boat sailing around the world with his parents.  Many religious families chose to exert greater control over curriculum content by teaching their children themselves, often using online curricula to do so.  Families living in remote areas (think ranches in the western US or in the outback of Australia) had few other choices than what was called “correspondence courses” pre-internet.


With the significant reliance on virtual schooling during Covid, a far greater part of the general population has been exposed to the opportunities online learning can offer.  As a result, many more families want to have permanent online opportunities available, and some school districts are accommodating that interest. 

A recent CNN article gives a good analysis of why this trend is occurring, along with some examples of options for online K-12 education available in Colorado.  For some families, the interest in online options is rooted in continued concern about Covid exposure risk.  Others have found that online education meets their child’s emotional needs and learning style better than in-class formats.  The appeal of virtual school, or hybrid online school with in-person extracurricular activities, will only grow as educators refine their curricula and teaching methods to enhance the learning via online methods.


Some jurisdictions are creating new online schools to meet the need.  The CNN article describes the Spark Online Academy, a K-8 virtual school currently available in school district 11, but shortly opening up to any student living in Colorado.  Other jurisdictions are deciding to continue offering an online option as an alternative for children who don’t want to restart in-person classes.  My home town is offering Salt Lake Virtual Elementary for K-6 students.  While this appears to be a temporary offering while Covid remains a threat, it may become permanent if demand continues, since the infrastructure will already be in place.


The CNN article emphasizes that online learning is not ideal for every K-12 student.  But, thanks to our experiences over the past 18 months with Covid restrictions, many students will now have a real choice between in-person and virtual learning … depending on which option suits their situation best.

Written by Michele Straube 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Good Reasons to Support Universal Free Online Education


If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that the Straube Foundation advocates for universal free online education.  That means education at all levels, particularly at the higher levels, available online, at no cost, for anyone who wants it.


The past year-and-a-half of Covid restrictions, and education-related data released recently, highlight the relevance of this mission.


The costs of college are going up, and families’ ability to pay the full cost is going down.  Recent estimates suggest that, including supplies, room and board, the cost of college can exceed $70,000 per year.  And that’s not for an expensive Ivy League school.  Many families do not have to pay that full cost, relying on scholarships, grants and student loans, to make up the difference.  But even with financial assistance, the annual “How America Pays For College” report suggests that families on average pay $26,373 per year for college.  Given the level of job disruption caused by Covid shutdowns, these college costs are no longer manageable for many families.  Does that mean their kids should not receive a college education?  Of course not.


There are also non-financial costs associated with attending school in person.  Being in a crowded, poorly ventilated, classroom for many hours increases exposure to Covid and other illnesses (which are enjoying a resurgence due to reduced immunity from extensive mask wearing).  There is an ever-increasing risk of physical violence at schools (79 school shootings have been reported this year so far, with ~115 school shootings for each of the three years before (2018, 2019, 2020)).


If we add in the diversity of learning styles across the population, and the ability of well-designed online classes to accommodate each learning style, it becomes clear that universal online education, available at no cost for all educational levels, would be a great benefit and equalizer in our society.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Argument for Continued Online Learning in non-White Communities


A recent OpEd in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Kill Remote Learning.  Black and Brown Families Need It.” really spoke to me.  I’ll let you read the full article yourself, but highlight some of the main points.


·      Families of color are hesitant to send their children back into the classroom, due to fear of having the children contract Covid or become asymptomatic Covid carriers.  Many adult persons of color have jobs where they are in constant close contact with other individuals.  Vaccinations of adults in communities of color are moving slowly, and children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated at all (yet).  All to say that the cumulative risk of being exposed to Covid remains very high in non-white families.  Sending their children back to in-person school simply increases the risk.


·      Children in families of color suffer from debilitating medical conditions like asthma and diabetes at far higher rates than white families.  This can prove a challenge for regular in-person school attendance, and also increases the risk of poor results if an affected child contracts Covid.  The option of online schooling provides these families an option for effective education for their children with chronic illnesses.


The OpEd concludes as follows:  School districts shouldn’t add to the burdens of the families already suffering from educational and health disparities. Remote learning should remain available even after Covid is no longer an epidemic.” 


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Interactive Map Released that Documents US Digital Divide


On June 17, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a first-ever interactive map which “displays key indicators of broadband needs across the country [the United States]. This is the first interactive, public map that allows users to explore different datasets about where people do not have quality Internet access.”


Data from public and private sources include:

·      Usage:  75% or more devices in area connect with download speeds below 25 Mbps (county level)

·      Speed tests:  Median download speeds in area below 25/3 Mpbs (county and census tract level)

·      American community survey:  25% or more households in area report no internet access (census tract level)

·      American community survey:  25% or more households in area report no computer, smartphone or table (census tract level)

·      FCC Form 477:  No provider reports broadband services at 25/3 Mbps (census block level)


The data on the map can be viewed according to several different spatial boundaries:

·      County

·      Census tract

·      Census block

·      Minority serving institutions (NTIA MSIs)

·      American community survey high poverty communities (20% or more households below poverty level)

·      Tribal lands


The NTIA Administrator said this information will be used by federal and state governments to “make more informed decisions on expanding broadband access.”  The interactive map can also be used by non-profits and individual donors to target donations.


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 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!