On A Mission

Priorities for a connected classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Suchita Mandavilli

CREDIT EveryoneOnOn January 14, 2015, President Barack Obama spoke in Cedar Falls, Iowa, about the need for better broadband. “High-speed broadband is not a luxury,” he said. “It’s a necessity.” This speech was one of many pushes President Obama has made during his time in the White House to improve U.S. Internet access. In June 2013, the President announced the ConnectED initiative, a program designed to ensure that teachers and students across the United States, regardless of income, have access to next-generation technology and broadband.

Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. schools currently have the broadband necessary to integrate the best technology into their classrooms. 

As one of three organizations tapped to assist in supporting the initiative, EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit on a mission to close the American digital divide, sponsored the creation of the National Advisory Council on ConnectED (NACC). The NACC is comprised of leading K-12 public school officials who have come together to offer their advice on how the education community can best take advantage of the ConnectED initiative and offers.

As part of ConnectED, leading private sector companies donated nearly $2 billion in hardware, software content, and wireless connectivity. To date, 12 companies have donated products for the initiative. With strong backgrounds in educational technology and experience in leading their own school districts through technological procurement processes, the NACC members not only have the expertise to assist schools in maximizing the value of ConnectED for schools, but also to offer the private sector feedback in how to best build products for the education community.

As a result, the Council produced a report, “Priorities for a Connected Classroom: A Framework for Assessing Educational Technology Offers.” The report offers an examination and evaluation of the offers as well as a rubric schools can use to determine the value of educational technology products. While the rubric was specifically designed with the ConnectED offers in mind, the Council believes the priorities apply and can be useful in evaluating other educational technology products as well.

After many conversations debating the needs and desires of the educational community, the Council selected four key characteristics that products ought to demonstrate in order to be truly valuable to a school district: interoperability and integration; equitable and universal access; mobile optimization and home connectivity; and professional development and common core alignment.

These characteristics are, according to the Council, shared priorities for all school districts and therefore it is in technology companies’ best interests to adhere to these guidelines when creating products for schools. It is also in school districts’ best interests to utilize these guidelines when choosing products to make sure they’re getting the most value.

“Working through ConnectED and communicating our collective needs will change the landscape of the offers being provided to us,” said NACC member Diane Jones who serves as chief information and strategic officer at Detroit Public Schools. “It is important that we continue to speak up and participate in ConnectED.”

Diane Jones serves on the Council alongside Lloyd Brown (Baltimore County Public Schools), Charles Hucks (Horry County Schools), Deborah Karcher (Miami-Dade County Public Schools), Lenny Schad (Houston Independent School District), and Scott Smith (Mooresville Graded School District). Together these educators have dedicated their time and energy to ensure that ConnectED has as much of an impact as possible.

Every school is unique and it is difficult to align the needs of schools in cities with those in rural areas, those in California with those in New York, and those with thousands of students with those with hundreds. It was the Council’s intention, though, that the report should signify those priorities that all schools, regardless of location, student composition, or any other distinguishing characteristic, should desire and need to ensure that their students really do have access to next-generation technology and therefore next-generation education.

Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. schools currently have the broadband necessary to integrate the best technology into their classrooms. It is the White House’s, Council’s, and EveryoneOn’s hope that this changes soon and that ConnectED can play a role in creating that change.

Suchita Mandavilli works at EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit devoted to closing the digital divide. EveryoneOn provides unconnected households with access to low-cost Internet service, affordable computers, and free digital literacy courses.

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