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.