August 6, 2014
True IT Pro

We’ve all been hearing a lot about the fate of the internet lately.

Headlines about net neutrality, ISP monopolies, and internet “fast lanes” have been showing up everywhere across the internet, including on this site.

The news has centered on the policies, who’s responsible, what can be done to stop them, and what will happen to our experience of the internet if we don’t.

Let’s step back and focus on the bigger picture, for a moment. Let’s try to add some context to this conversation. So—net neutrality aside—why is broadband internet so important anyway? Why is it important that people have access to high-speed internet? What does fast internet service do for society?

There are dozens and dozens of answers to these questions, and the chances are high that many of them are related to things that you care deeply about. There’s no way to go over all of them in a single blog post, so let’s start with one today: education.

Technology and Education in History

Decades and decades ago, the Carnegie Corporation released a report on a brand new technology, called the television. In the report, the foundation said that TV could have a use in preschool education, intellectually stimulating young children through specific means of interaction.

While there were many, many people who doubted television’s ability to produce any meaningful benefit to society, others were undeterred in their search for revolutionary learning experiences with this amazing new technology. A couple of those believers were the creators of Sesame Street.

Sesame Street premiered in 1969 and, though they didn’t know it then, the show’s creators had managed to build something that would forever change the way we viewed both the educational capabilities of TV shows and our children’s relationship with television.

This capability of a new technology to alter society’s perception of education happens again and again. We saw it when there was a radio in every home. We saw it when computers went mainstream. We saw it when the internet grew into more than anyone could have imagined. We’re seeing it as broadband internet connects the world in new ways, faster and faster all the time.

So, there’s historical precedent for broadband to offer more useful functionality than is originally supposed. But what about actual evidence that it’s useful to society?

Broadband Internet Access and Education

In terms of education, the internet accomplished something that the television couldn’t: be a universal resource for delivering specific content on demand. Broadband internet accomplishes something that slower internet cannot: deliver instant access to any content for a large number of users.

Reports from the FCC, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Department of education have all concluded the same thing: broadband internet is an indispensable educational tool for people of all ages. Young students with access to broadband internet are far more likely to succeed; those without are “falling behind.”

The types of content that we deliver across broadband internet are far richer, more engaging, and more dynamic. Interactive web-based applications, streaming on-demand high quality videos, live video feeds through platforms like Skype, and course management systems are just some of the technologies enabled by broadband internet access.

Using these technologies and more, educators have already begun changing the way we think about the educational process and improving education for their students. One of the most notable new teaching methods is “blended learning.” Blended learning combines traditional classroom learning with learning outside of the classroom, using more targeted content specific for certain groups of students.

Through use of online materials such as educational videos and lectures and applications that engage the student directly, educators can extend their reach outside of the traditional confining area of the classroom. Teachers can even connect directly to students and parents via live video chat.

Such technologies can shape the way our educational experience works, changing techniques that we have long left unchanged. Educators can balance their time more dynamically, offering students “homework” that centers around online lectures while doing more assignments in the classroom, where students can get help right away.

Students can use “broadband-enabled tools” to collaborate on projects remotely, learn material using engaging tools like online applications, and acquire skills necessary to enter the technology-centered workforce of today’s world.

These are the main points that a report from the US Chamber of Commerce outlines for how broadband internet is benefitting education:

  • Extending learning into the home;
  • Supplementing traditional in-school education with targeted content tailored to the needs of children of a certain age or demographic group;
  • The production and wide-scale dissemination of engaging and interactive educational content;
  • Increased experimentation among educators regarding how to best use technology in the classroom and how to build upon the lessons being learned by students at home;
  • The importance of leveraging technologies to aid in the development of critical skills before entrance into formal schooling; and
  • The creation of a marketplace for educational technologies, which has spurred healthy competition and robust innovation

The Chamber of Commerce report says that the recent studies from the FCC and the Department of Education “positioned broadband as an essential component of 21st century learning.

The FCC’s report states that broadband internet access “can be an important tool to help educators, parents and students meet major challenges in education. The country’s economic welfare and long-term success depend on improving learning for all students, and broadband-enabled solutions hold tremendous promise to help reverse patterns of low achievement.

We’re unsure where all this is headed, and that’s okay

There are a huge number of ways for broadband internet to change our lives through education. We may not know exactly what type of educational techniques are best or what education as a whole will look like in a few decades, but we know that broadband access improves opportunities for better education across the board.

More information becomes available on the internet all the time through a variety of mediums. Accessing that information quickly and powerfully is something that broadband allows us to do. For example, Khan Academy is an online educational organization with the lofty goal of providing “free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” You can use powerful, dynamic, and free learning tools to learn about whatever subject you want.

Broadband’s ability to alter education isn’t limited to the K-12 students, either. The landscape of higher education is shifting as well, as many of the top universities in the nation have already uploaded nearly all of their course content online, including video lectures and learning tools.

You don’t even have to be a student to make use of all of this information. The only reason I was able to write this blog post was the fact that I was able to instantaneously download these 100+ page PDF reports from government websites.

As we bring broadband internet access to more people and increase the average speed of our internet connection, the opportunities for education grow. We don’t know what the future may hold, but it becomes clearer every day that broadband internet access will be a foundation upon which our educational system depends.

Students want to use technology. They like the benefits it imparts and feel at home with it, as they have grown up in a highly technological world. Technology is a part of all students’ lives and will continue to be so even more as time goes on.

As technology develops, the internet becomes a more and more dynamic source of educational materials, techniques, and mediums. More and more educators are using these broadband-enabled tools to teach their students in new ways, including altering the classroom experience and implementing learning outside of the classroom. Educators also have access to amazing course and learning management systems that aid in the organization and dissemination of knowledge.

Broadband tools have proven themselves as effective, efficient, and cost-saving resources for students, educators, and administrators, and there’s no doubt that we will continue to grow, refine, and redefine the educational process through broadband internet access.

Stay tuned for more parts in this series of blogs on why broadband internet matters to society.