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Bringing Internet Home – Pervasive Digital Education Requires Pervasive Access


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We’ve all heard of the achievement gap that plagues U.S. schools and students. Related — and just as significant — is the “homework gap,” or students’ inability to access consistent, reliable Internet connectivity outside school. This is a major hurdle as digital homework becomes ubiquitous, and particularly impacts low-income households who are more likely to be without broadband. In an effort to help overcome this digital divide, the Center for Digital Education, on behalf of Samsung, sought out school districts implementing innovative initiatives to bring connectivity to students on and off school premises. Read this white paper to learn about how these districts are addressing the homework gap and the challenges still to be overcome.

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Bringing Internet Home – Pervasive Digital Education Requires Pervasive Access

  1. 1. 1 We’ve all heard of the achievement gap that plagues U.S. schools and students. Related — and just as significant — is what FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel refers to as the “homework gap,” or students’ inability to access consistent, reliable Internet connectivity outside school. This is a major hurdle as digital homework becomes ubiquitous. According to the 2015 report, “Taking the Pulse of the High School Student Experience in America,” 96.5 percent of the students surveyed said they needed Internet access to complete homework outside school. About half could not complete homework due to lack of Internet access and 42 percent had received lower grades on an assignment due to lack of access. Not surprisingly, socioeconomics play a large role in the homework gap. Students from low-income households are about four times more likely to be without broadband at home than their more affluent counterparts. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found only 8.4 percent of households with school-age kids and annual incomes of over $50,000 Bringing Internet Home: Pervasive digital education requires pervasive access A 2015 study found that half of students surveyed could not complete homework due to lack of consistent, reliable Internet access outside of school. The Homework Gap
  2. 2. 2 All White Black Hispanic Asian 38.6% 37.4% 15.5%24.6%31.4% 8.4% 6.7% 13% 12.8% 4% Households With School-Age Children That Do Not Have Broadband Access % Lacking a high-speed connection at home Annual income under $50,000 $50,000 or greater % With a high-speed connection at home All households with school-age children 82.5% 88% 71.5% 72.2% 92.3% Annual income under $25,000 60.3% 67.9% 53.6% 54.8% 79% $25,000-$49,999 75.7% 80.6% 71.2% 69.2% 88.6% $50,000-$99,999 88.2% 90.5% 84.1% 82.1% 94% $100,000-$149,999 94.3% 95.1% 91.7% 90.6% 96.5% $150,000+ 96.7% 97% 93.5% 93.9% 97.9% Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 American Community Survey (IPUMS) lacked broadband access, compared to 31.4 percent of students in households with incomes below $50,000. Technology has transformed education, but the initial focus was to equip schools with high-speed Internet access and students with devices. Now, “the biggest challenge is the at-home piece,” says Brent Legg, vice president for education programs at Connected Nation, a nonprofit committed to bringing high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans. Some work is being done to overcome this challenge. The ConnectED initiative aims to provide 99 percent of American students with access to the Internet at school. The initiative has now been joined by ConnectHome, which works with nonprofits and industry partners to bring high-speed broadband to 275,000 households. In 2014, AT&T pledged $100 million over 3 years to provide 50,000 students with off-campus connectivity. With lofty goals come challenges. One is developing data plans that can support rich educational content, but are inexpensive enough for school districts or low-income families to afford. A federal program known as E-rate partially reimburses schools and libraries for Internet access costs, but it doesn’t subsidize at-home connectivity. Another challenge is that many low-income students don’t go home to the same place every night. They require a solution that moves with them, not a cable that connects to a single dwelling. In an effort to help overcome this digital divide, the Center for Digital Education, on behalf of Samsung, sought out school districts implementing innovative initiatives to bring connectivity to students on and off school premises. Samsung has a particular stake in solving these challenges for students. As one of the largest technology companies in the world, offering solutions ranging from network infrastructure to mobile computing devices to interactive displays, Samsung is dedicated to ensuring students receive the education and skillsets necessary to better prepare them for the future. Since 2010, Samsung has been hosting the Solve for Tomorrow contest, which challenges students to tap into their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to create solutions to real problems in their communities, such as the homework gap. Through this contest, Samsung awards $2 million in technology each year to participating schools across the country. Keep reading to learn how Samsung and other technology companies are supporting schools in their efforts to bridge the digital divide.
  3. 3. In San Marcos Independent School District outside San Diego, 89 percent of students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch and 65 percent are English language learners. Until last year, 59 percent of the sixth graders at the district’s Alvin Dunn Elementary School lacked home Internet access. That has changed thanks to a Qualcomm Education pilot program that provided all 77 Alvin Dunn sixth graders with a Samsung tablet featuring a low-cost data plan sponsored by AT&T. Qualcomm Education’s QLearn technology allows the school to provide after-school access to approved schoolwork and learning-related apps and websites on both WiFi and LTE. This gives students constant access to learning tools on the Samsung tablets so they can study, conduct research, watch school-approved videos and turn in homework. To conserve LTE and keep the monthly plans affordable, the school can also designate allowable content such as websites, apps and videos to only be accessed on WiFi. This approach allows Alvin Dunn to comply with federal laws such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which require schools to block content that could be considered obscene or harmful to students while they are on and off campus. It also keeps data costs low by ensuring kids don’t spend their evenings watching YouTube videos. Instead, the technology provides a simple user experience that allows students to access school-approved games and other content. Ninety-six percent of students said having access to the Internet at home made them better learners, according to an evaluation of the Alvin Dunn pilot conducted by Project Tomorrow, an education nonprofit dedicated to empowering student voices. A majority said the ability to do homework outside school made them more confident in their abilities and more interested in what they were learning. On average, the students said they spent just over an hour per day doing schoolwork-related activities at home. Qualcomm Education, Samsung and AT&T are continuing the Alvin Dunn pilot this year with a new class of sixth graders. The goal is not to offer charity — the impact of which ends when the sponsor’s money dries up — but to create a sustainable business model. The hope is the pilot will lead to a $10 to $15 monthly data plan that can be purchased by schools and rolled out nationwide starting this September. If successful, it will be one that school districts can afford and will give the carriers a financial incentive to continue offering it. 3 Focus on Data Plans: Alvin Dunn Elementary School, San Marcos, Calif. Before a pilot equipped all sixth graders at Alvin Dunn Elementary School with a tablet, 59 percent lacked home Internet access. of students said having access to the Internet at home made them better learners. A majority said the ability to do homework outside school made them more confident in their abilities and more interested in what they were learning. 96%
  4. 4. Pasadena Independent School District (ISD) and Katy ISD serve similar numbers of students, but are demographically distinct. As a result, they are using very different approaches. For Pasadena, the issue has been connectivity at home, while Katy’s schools have undergone a digital transformation. Pasadena ISD The district serves 50,000 students across 50 schools. Seventy-one percent of the students are Hispanic and 70 percent are economically disadvantaged. Pasadena ISD has become a model for identifying the needs of its students, then developing technology solutions to address them. Beginning in 2011, the district began work on a 24/7 digital learning environment. Educational technology is of limited value without rich content, skilled teachers and an understanding of the target population, so the district spent the first year conducting a needs assessment, developing a grade-by-grade digital curriculum and providing teachers with intensive professional development to help maximize the impact of new digital resources. Only after this work was done did the initiative bring students on board. The district decided to first focus on the middle school, and in year two Pasadena gave sixth graders devices with data plans to provide at-home connectivity. Each year another grade was brought online, but only after digital content was developed and teachers were trained. The next step was for Pasadena to determine the most cost-effective way to ensure home connectivity and a 24/7 mobile learning environment for its high population of low- income and minority students. The district is landlocked and densely populated, making it well-suited for a private LTE network. Polly Gifford, the founder and principal consultant of Education Partners Solutions, Inc., says districts need to accurately evaluate the true cost of the private network Demographics and Geography Help Determine Optimal Connectivity Solutions: Katy and Pasadena Independent School Districts, Greater Houston Area Ninety percent of Katy ISD students have Internet access at home, so the district supports a program that provides discount pricing for parents who want to purchase devices.4 SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  5. 5. option compared to other approaches. “You have to clearly define the capacity and applications you’re looking for and who the subscribers will be.” A well-thought-out procurement process will also help identify a district’s most cost-effective connectivity option. For example, it’s important not to overlook the fact that a private LTE network could be obsolete in a few years as technology advances. But, Gifford says, “in this case, competitive bids showed the private network to be the most cost-effective and technology-efficient way to ensure 24/7 learning over a 5-year period.” Pasadena ISD broke ground on its first tower in February and service will commence in summer 2016. Because community leaders took the time to identify their students’ needs and aligned technology to curriculum, they can be confident a private LTE network is their best option. Katy ISD The district serves over 73,000 students in 60 schools spread over 181 square miles. With fewer than 30 percent of its students considered low income and many more already connected to the Internet at home, its needs are very different from Pasadena’s. Katy’s story is about transforming itself into a digital learning environment. In 2009, the district launched its Mobile Learning Initiative at one elementary school, providing 140 fifth graders with smartphones donated by Verizon. The phones featured large screens and easy-to-read text, but had no texting and phone capabilities. Instead, they provided filtered Internet access and apps their teachers had selected. In year two, Katy ISD expanded the pilot to 10 more schools, this time using Android devices. During the 2011-12 school year, the district also upgraded its core network to accommodate the new mobile devices. By 2012-13, the district had distributed 2,800 mobile learning devices to fifth graders at 18 elementary school campuses. As was the case in Pasadena, intensive professional development for teachers was an important part of the initiative. The tables shown indicate that it yielded immediate student achievement gains. By the program’s fourth year, students were increasingly asking to use their own devices and not taking them home as often. A district survey found that more than 90 percent of students have at-home Internet access, and parents increasingly purchased their children devices as they saw the plethora of online software and resources. Now, instead of supplying mobile devices, Katy ISD supports a program that provides discount pricing for parents who want to purchase them. Additionally, the district has added bandwidth and access points at all schools. Students can also check out a device and a hotspot if they do not have Internet access at home. All devices are routed back through Katy ISD’s filter. In less than a decade, Katy ISD has transformed into a digital learning environment. A rich curriculum and learning tools are available online, and processes such as communicating with teachers and getting assignments have been standardized. “Competitive bids showed the private network to be the most cost- effective and technology-efficient way to ensure 24/7 learning over a 5-year period.” Polly Gifford, Founder and Principal Consultant, Education Partners Solutions, Inc. Percentile on state tests for students participating in year one of Mobile Learning Initiative Reading Math Science 2009 86% 86% 80% 94% 92% 95% 2010 2010 2010 2009 2009 Percentile on state tests for year two of Mobile Learning Initiative, expansion to 11 schools Reading Math Science 2010 2011 2011 2011 2010 2010 91% 90% 90% 93% 92% 62% 5
  6. 6. The High Plains Regional Educational Cooperative (HPREC) serves a number of school districts over a vast, sparsely populated area of New Mexico. In these rural areas, geography makes connectivity a challenge. Building a fiber optic cable network is usually not cost effective, so HPREC is pursuing a creative technological solution. “White spaces” are frequencies reclaimed from the ultra-high frequency (UHF) broadcast allocation when television switched from analog to digital. The technology can provide long-range, high-capacity, high-quality broadband for a comparatively modest capital investment. Some technologies that utilize white spaces can be deployed similar to cellular towers, but due to the nature of the spectrum, transmission signals can cover a larger area. A white spaces system utilizing this technology was successfully deployed in a rural area of northern Alberta, Canada, serving vast areas in remote regions. White spaces offer a number of advantages for rural school districts. Being less capital intensive than other approaches translates to being quicker to market — about 18 to 24 months for southeastern New Mexico. Low capital costs can also make it easier to offer low-cost data plans. HPREC has entered into a partnership with Terastream Broadband for the New Mexico schools project. Terastream is developing a homework Internet access package that would be offered at a discount rate as long as at least one child in a household is in school. “We are committed to doing whatever is necessary to make our products cost effective within the markets we serve,” says Terastream Vice President of Business Development Liz Zucco. Rather than competing with other carriers, Terastream seeks to bring service to places where it doesn’t make sense for others to do so. The HPREC/Terastream joint venture has been granted an experimental license in New Mexico. Their next chal- lenge will be gaining access to the broadcast allocation needed to make the project a reality. The FCC plans a spectrum auction this spring. “White Spaces” Offer a Potential Solution for Rural Connectivity: Southeastern New Mexico Since building a fiber optic cable network is not usually cost effective in rural areas, white spaces offer a creative solution. The technology can provide long- range, high-capacity, high-quality broadband for a comparatively modest capital investment. 6 The Advantages of White Spaces Offer long-range, high-capacity, high-quality broadband in rural areas Smaller upfront capital investment makes it easier to offer low-cost data plans Quicker to market
  7. 7. School Superintendent Dan Walker regularly confronts challenges that few of his counterparts could even imagine. His Lower Kuskokwim School District in western Alaska covers 21,000 square miles, or about the size of West Virginia. It serves approximately 4,200 students in 28 schools that range from 12 to just over 500 students and are spread across 22 villages. The only way to get in or out of most of the villages is by air. Even school sports teams fly to away games — that is, when they don’t travel in snowmobile convoys along frozen rivers. With many miles in between sparsely populated villages, it’s impossible to staff every classroom with a high-quality teacher, which makes blended learning and two-way interactive videoconferencing critical. A decade ago the district accessed the Internet via a satellite system plagued by low bandwidth, lack of reliability and delays. But then GCI, a telecommunications company with Alaska’s largest wireless network, built out its system, allowing Lower Kuskokwim to switch to a land-based microwave network that is faster, provides more bandwidth and is less susceptible to weather. A typical school in one of the district’s villages has three or four portable videoconferencing stations. Some- times just a single student will be taking a class and sometimes it’s a much larger group. Despite having many times more bandwidth than it had with the old satellite system, the microwave network is still far below recommended levels, which necessitates aggressive management of the network. Non-educational content is blocked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, so teachers wait until after 5 to download video clips and other materials that require more bandwidth. School is the hub of the community in small Eskimo villages. Combine that with the fact that Lower Kuskokwim is one of the nation’s poorest school districts with 90 percent of its students below the federal poverty level, and that only schools and libraries — not homes — qualify for federal E-rate reimbursements for Internet access costs, and it’s easy to understand why the district’s focus is on school connectivity. Most students receive a school-issued device and connect to the Internet on campus. Walker says Lower Kuskokwim’s wide area network (WAN) is probably the most complex of any school district in the country. It costs about $30 million annually, but since E-rate reimbursements are based on poverty level and urban/rural status, the district foots only about 10 percent of the bill. A technological revolution in recent years is providing students in the district access to quality education that would have been impossible less than a decade ago. And it appears all the hard work under difficult circumstances is starting to pay off. Last year alone, the district’s graduation rate rose by 15 percentage points. Doing More with Less: Lower Kuskokwim School District, Alaska Lower Kuskokwim is one of the nation’s poorest school districts with 90 percent of its students below the federal poverty level. With little to no connectivity at home, most students receive a school-issued device and connect to the Internet on campus. 7 SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  8. 8. Using 24/7 Internet Access to Meet Unique Student Needs: The Momentous School, Oak Cliff, Texas 8 Collaboration and student engagement improved at the Momentous School after teachers and students were equipped with Samsung tablets that had filtered content and mobile broadband from AT&T. The Momentous Institute (formerly Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers) is a private nonprofit organization that has been providing mental health services in the Dallas area for over 95 years. Its focus on prevention rather than intervention led to the founding of the Momentous School, a lab school, in 1997. Building on the institute’s work, the school, located in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, serves 248 students between the ages of 3 and 11 with a program focused on social and emotional health. More than 90 percent of its students are Hispanic and 85 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Momentous serves them well; as of 2014, 99 percent of its former students had gone on to graduate from high school on time and 86 percent of graduates had enrolled in higher education.
  9. 9. 9 In recent years, the school began exploring ways to increase student engagement and extend learning to students’ homes. A parent survey found 96 percent had smartphones, 82 percent had computers, 92 percent had Internet access and 78 percent had tablets. But as is often the case in low-income families, there was uncertainty around the Internet and access was not always consistent. School leaders chose to address the issue by combining their educational expertise with technical know-how provided by Samsung and AT&T. During the 2014-15 school year, all Momentous School students and teachers received tablets donated by Samsung and equipped with filtered content and mobile broadband from AT&T. Beginning in the spring semester, three social and emotional health applications based on strategies teachers use in school to aid students’ self-regulation and relationship skills were developed and added to the tablets. Two lead teachers were involved in software development, advising the technical team on ways in which tablets with filtered content could help create a 24/7 learning environment. They later played an important role in training their colleagues to use the tablets. There is also an annual training event for parents where they learn safety practices and how to use the tablets’ software. At the end of the school year, teachers and fourth- and fifth-grade students were surveyed about their perceptions of the tablets’ impact. Teachers reported the tablets helped them facilitate differentiated instruction and improve student engagement, among other benefits. Momentous teachers also reported the tablets actually increased collaboration among students (rather than isolating them) as they shared what they learned and asked their peers to troubleshoot problems with them. The fourth and fifth graders agreed, reporting the tablets enhanced collaboration, creativity and learning. They were also found to be much more engaged in learning, as measured by how much they enjoyed using the tablets in various subject areas. This year, Momentous implemented a Google platform and is focused on perfecting the software. School leaders decided not to send tablets home until technology issues have been ironed out, the devices have the necessary apps and filtering is installed to prohibit students from downloading anything they shouldn’t. Tablets are expected to start going home in April and continue through the end of the school year in June. After the school year ends, school leaders will conduct a needs assessment, implement additional parent training and plot next steps. Percentage of teachers who agreed or strongly agreed the tablets enhanced: 94.7% 63.2% 81.6% 82.1% 77.6% 61.7% Differentiated instruction Student engagement Student learning Student collaboration Communication with other classrooms Assessment Percentage of students who agreed or strongly agreed they enjoyed using tablets in each subject area: Music Art Social Studies Science Math Reading Grade 5 Grade 5 Grade 5 Grade 5 Grade 5 Grade 5 Grade 4 Grade 4 Grade 4 Grade 4 Grade 4 Grade 4 96.5% 86.2% 83.3% 83.4% 80.6% 70.5% 100% 96.4% 92.9% 95.9% 93.6% 96.8% Momentous teachers reported the tablets actually increased collaboration among students (rather than isolating them) as they shared what they learned and asked their peers to troubleshoot problems with them.
  10. 10. Conclusion: Closing the Gap Clear progress is being made in the effort to bridge the digital divide in American public education and close the homework gap. The profiles highlight various approaches that are showing promise in different environments. But challenges remain. Perhaps the biggest is how to bring promising pilot programs to scale and avoid having them become what Julie Evans, the researcher behind the evaluation of Qualcomm Education’s Alvin Dunn Elementary pilot, calls “campfires of innovation.” In other words, the goal is to ensure promising innovations can spread before they expire. With its focus on building a sustainable business model, it’s clear Qualcomm and its partners understand the challenge. Education Partner Solutions’ Gifford warns that school districts may be operating far outside their core competency when it comes to procuring on-campus and/or at-home Internet solutions. They sometimes don’t understand the resources and alternatives available to them. As a result, they can too easily just purchase whatever is offered by their local provider. Some have signed long-term contracts that leave them over charged and poorly served. Last year, Education Week highlighted the case of a rural school district that, until recently, had been paying $9,275 a month for “the slowest internet in Mississippi.” Gifford stresses that such stories are hardly limited to rural areas. There are also reasons for optimism. When it comes to school access, the FCC recently approved a $1.5 billion increase in 2016 E-rate reimbursements to a total of $3.9 billion. Just as important, it has introduced transparency measures such as online access to bids and other documents that will show districts what their counterparts pay for Internet access. The ConnectED and ConnectHome initiatives demonstrate that the government recognizes the importance of both on- campus and at-home Internet access to achieve digital equity. The participation of technology companies is also encouraging; perhaps they recognize a business opportunity that could make large-scale, at-home access economically sustainable. As we get closer to the summit, the climb becomes steeper. Educational content is becoming more robust, so long-term solutions should focus on infrastructure that can support ever- growing bandwidth requirements. It’s clear from these case studies there is no one-size-fits-all answer to educational connectivity challenges. Perhaps the best description of what needs to be developed is a flexible free- and reduced-price lunch program for data. Low-income students can’t learn if they’re hungry; nor can they succeed if they lack the broadband access they need to do their homework. This piece was developed and written by the Center for Digital Education custom media division, with information and input from Samsung. Learn more: | | 1-866-SAM4BIZ Follow us: | @SamsungBizUSA Produced by: © 2016 Samsung Electronics America, Inc. All rights reserved. Samsung is a registered trademark of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. All products, logos and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies. This white paper is for informational purposes only. Samsung makes no warranties, express or implied, in this white paper. WHP-EDU-BRINGINGINTERNETHOME-APR16CDE SHUTTERSTOCK.COM