How application-enabled learning is changing the face of education

Mike Maloney, Vice President, Comcast Business Services

The introduction of bandwidth-intensive learning applications, including video and peer-to-peer teaching applications, has fundamentally transformed the way teachers teach and students learn. With funding over the past 14 years from the federal E-rate (EducationRate) program, school districts and libraries nationwide have provided high-speed network access to students and faculty, and deployed learning and teaching applications never before thought possible.

“E-rate–funded Ethernet network connectivity enables the future of education by providing high-speed network access to applications that are hosted elsewhere,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Both large and small school districts have benefited from E-rate. The most successful districts have developed long-term, comprehensive technology implementation plans that view E-rate discounts as integral, and as only one of many funding sources supporting their infrastructure and curriculum.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how schools and libraries are utilizing technology through high-speed networks to enhance their education offerings.

What is the E-rate program?

A part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the E-rate program has committed more than $20 billion to schools and libraries since its creation. As schools and districts expand electronic curriculum through streaming video and Web-based applications, the demand for E-rate dollars remains strong. Each year, there are more than 20,000 applicants requesting funds for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on eligible services, products and e-Education content delivery. This funding has become particularly valuable as school budgets remain under significant pressure.

How does Ethernet technology assist with learning applications?

With Ethernet, a school’s infrastructure will be more scalable, reliable and cost-effective than with legacy technologies such as T1 lines, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode. Connection speeds can be quickly increased and levels can often be changed remotely to support the high bandwidth the school’s applications need. The technology provides for centralized course curriculum delivery; centralized storage of score and student completion records; attendance tracking and real-time truancy reporting to the district and state level; distance learning, streaming video course content from a central data center; and Internet Protocol (IP) telephony and voice communications.

What are some applications that are enabled because of high-speed technology?

The most frequently deployed technology applications in schools are those that connect content to the student, teacher and parent. The ability to capture, transport, retrieve and store high-definition video has enabled distance learning and safe access to movie file archives from learning channels.

With distance learning, voice-over IP and streaming live two-way high-definition video on large projector screens, the school district can host a French class from a single location to multiple classrooms, for example. No longer is it necessary for a French teacher to be in every school. This allows districts to pool resources. Even access to guidance counselors can be accomplished with an appointment-based telepresence meeting.

By far, one of the most bandwidth-intensive uses of network access is Google Earth. Google Earth offers more than a third of the world’s land surface in high-resolution imagery and requires high-speed access to return refreshed results. Prior to high-speed cable and Ethernet, if every student in geography class performed a search at the same time, the classroom would either be unable to connect or would lose valuable time waiting for the pages to load.

Other applications include:

  • Connected classrooms, where high-tech devices allow students to instantly contribute and collaborate on projects with advanced teacher assessment monitoring.
  • Intelligent tutoring, where homework can be tailored to individual aptitude, with online interactive learning programs providing tutoring based on student responses.
  • Instant feedback to teachers on student performance, identifying difficulties so educators can course-correct upcoming instructions.
  • Software-based learning tools for math, social studies and geography, where wireless devices enable the teacher to ask a question and students to ‘enter’ answers virtually.
  • Remote access is used by district administration professionals to recertify teachers and rank them in the state school system, while allowing parents access to the teacher-student portal to see lesson plans, homework assignments, test scores and teacher ratings. Remote access can also include virtual parent-teacher conferences and email linking that gives parents access to their child’s attendance record and teacher’s desktops.

How can technology improve the security and safety of schools?

As the risks posed by student access to weapons has changed the way schools protect classrooms, students and teachers, it has resulted in increased use of video surveillance. Video storage and collection from schools requires massive bandwidth. Master video banks can store and retrieve 30 days of footage to allow for the playback of incidents. Applications such as these can help deter perpetrators, impress upon parents that children are safe and possibly lower insurance premiums.

There are thousands of success stories in school districts and libraries across the country. High-speed network connections have transformed education in rural districts, where they are now able to deliver Advanced Placement courses that were once impossible to offer. Public libraries offer patrons opportunities for continued education and professional development through resources available via high-speed network access and through easily deployed Ethernet services offered by local cable operators.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at [email protected]

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