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Michelle Pluskota

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K-12 schools need faster bandwidth to keep pace with digital learning

October 21, 2014

It’s no secret that most K-12 schools in the United States have high-speed data networks that connect districtwide. In fact, some forward-thinking districts have advanced their connectivity to both state and federal educational systems.

It’s no secret that most K-12 schools in the United States have high-speed data networks that connect districtwide. In fact, some forward-thinking districts have advanced their connectivity to both state and federal educational systems. What all of these schools have in common is their ongoing need to increase network speed to keep up with digital learning.

In fact, on average, we see schools boosting their network bandwidth by about 40 percent every year. What’s driving this necessity for ever-faster bandwidth within our K-12 schools?

Administrators, staff, and teachers agree it’s being driven by the digital-learning capabilities that are changing the way education is delivered to our students. Higher bandwidth, they say, is essential if the schools are to harness these new capabilities that are necessary for the schools to remain competitive and for them to prepare their students to compete with others.

Key among these drivers of higher bandwidth are the following:

Distributed content and shared information

To remain competitive in the digital-learning world, K-12 schools are developing ways to share educational content throughout the district over their high-speed networks. They’re distributing live music classes, recorded video art lessons, and other content. This benefits both the schools and the students by making these subjects available in classrooms where the districts previously could not afford to offer them. But it is also driving the need for higher bandwidth to handle the live streaming and video downloading.

“There are so many wonderful opportunities for digital learning that require higher bandwidth than in the past,” said Valerie Nelson, founder of Grant Consulting Services, which works with Michigan schools and others across the country to secure grant funding. “Some of the digital learning capabilities, such as virtual field trips and video conferencing with other students across the globe, will enhance what teachers are doing in the classrooms.”

One-to-one digital learning initiative

Over the past few years, many school districts in Southeast Michigan have begun piloting the One-to-One Digital Learning Initiative, joining many districts across Michigan and in other states. With these pilots, the districts are empowering their students by opening a whole new world of learning. They are swapping traditional, printed textbooks for tablets, laptops, and computers, giving students the latest technology and access to the Internet, and building new curricula in and around this marriage of education and technology.

Companies like Apple and Dell are providing the hardware and loading it with appropriate educational applications, while book publishers like McGraw-Hill are producing electronic textbooks for use on these devices. With this equipment, and access to the Internet, the students have virtually all the information they need in the classroom. And in some cases, they also use the equipment at home, where, if they have a high-speed network, they can do their homework, and their parents can check their progress.

The One-to-One Learning Initiative also requires faster bandwidth to ensure high-speed access to the applications and e-books. But more importantly, it benefits the students because it gives them the tools and technology they need for academic success.

Standardized testing

Standardized testing, which has been around for decades, is a benchmark for measuring how well students are doing within districts and states as well as across the country. By putting down the No. 2 pencils and adopting online testing, schools have faster access to results, enabling them and parents to quickly assess students’ progress and better understand their strengths and areas needing additional focus.

Whether a school follows the Common Core curriculum or its own district- or state-mandated testing standards, it needs a high-speed connection to access the online content that drives the testing and to measure online the individual student’s performance against the standards.

As digital-learning capabilities increase and K-12 education moves deeper into the digital realm, teachers are being required to share online more information with each other as well as with principals, administrators, and parents. This ongoing trend will further drive the need for networks with even faster bandwidth so schools remain competitive and provide their students with the best possible education.

This article originally appeared on Crain’s Detroit Business.

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