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Broadband Internet Connectivity Gains Importance in the Classroom

September 05, 2014

The classroom is a fond memory for most of us, but it’s fair to say that most of us wouldn’t recognize today’s classroom. Curricula have changed greatly (for better or worse, as the controversy over Common Core standards continues to rage), and technology has changed some familiar old processes. While a decade or two ago, computers were largely confined to computer class in which students were taught technology literacy skills, today networking is far more pervasive in education.

The Internet in the classroom today is a tool for more self-directed learning, which may be a way to engage students better and allow them to reach resources that would normally be too distant for them, according to Richard Adler, writing for Computerworld.  It also allows them to customize learning materials to better meet their interest, which boost their engagement levels. Educators call it “connected learning.”

“Connected learning leverages digital network technology to empower students to pursue their own interests and assemble their own curriculums, making it possible for them to learn anytime, in any place and at any pace,” wrote Adler. “Online resources that support this kind of individualized learning include search engines, digital libraries, blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, social media, open education resources and specialized communities of practice.”

Adler notes that broadband networks, both wired and wireless, and the proliferation of personal digital devices act as “on-ramps” to customized digital learning. It’s a far cry from the one-size-fits-all classroom in which students were all presented with the same materials and expected to sink or swim according to their interests and abilities.

Obviously, limitations need to be put in place to ensure students are using trusted, reviewed materials and not finding distracting (or worse, harmful) material online. Adler cites a report by the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet that calls for the creation of “trusted environments” to keep students safe when they are learning online and protect their privacy.

Online learning has been an element of college education for longer, with many Americans today pursuing degrees online. But even this model is changing with the creation of “MOOCs,” or massively open online courses that allow adults to pursue accredited college education on their own.

One of the hurdles to connected learning, however, is ensuring broadband access for all Americans. About 70 percent of American households have broadband today – a rather that is higher than ever – but it still leaves 30 percent of the nation disconnected both from the Internet and the opportunities it presents for education. Both private and public initiatives to improve connectivity continue to bear fruit, but the rates of those who do not have easy access to broadband remain stubbornly high.

Adler notes that when government interests formulate broadband plans to improve accessibility, it’s important they keep in mind the educational aspects of Internet connectivity.

“To ensure that the interests of education are taken into account when new telecom rules are formulated, educators will need to have a seat at the table,” he writes. “But if they are to participate in shaping new legislation, they will need to inform themselves about the technology and its educational potential.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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