Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Dianne Connery (Part 2 of 2)

October 7, 2020

This is the concluding segment of a two-part interview conducted with Dianne Connery, director of the Pottsboro Area Library (in Texas) and a ShapingEDU colleague who has been a long-time proponent of universal broadband access, particularly for those in the community she serves. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s pivot a bit to focus on how successful partnerships that benefit everyone involved are developed. During a recent webinar you did for WebJunction, you talked about a variety of innovative approaches you and your colleagues in Pottsboro have taken in an effort to provide broadband access. Would you mind describing the partnership you created with a local conference center there in Pottsboro?

We work to support local businesses. Being in a tourist destination (Pottsboro is on a large recreational lake—Lake Texoma), our businesses were especially hard hit by the pandemic. Outside of city limits, access is more difficult. We talked to the manager of a resort hotel/conference center about the possibility of using their parking lot as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students. As part of that partnership, we shared our goal of getting media attention about the project. In fact, it has received national attention. When I took photos of the Wi-Fi hotspot, I made sure to take the picture from an angle that showed the resort in the background. This trailer was provided by by ITDRC [Information Technology Disaster Resource Center]. There was no cost to the resort or to the library. It was the library acting as the connector between organizations who could meet the need and the community.

Any stories from Pottsboro residents showing the positive impact that the placement of a Wi-Fi hotspot in town had?

A grandmother who is raising her three grandchildren in nearby apartments used that Wi-Fi for the kids to do their schoolwork. Not only did she not have Internet at home, but she doesn’t have a car. When the schools shut down, being able to walk to that hotspot was the only way the kids could finish out the school year. College students who came back home when their schools shut down used it for accounting homework and test taking. Fortunately, we have a board member who also lives in the nearby apartments who was able to capture some photos and get photo releases. That is part of being strategic with finding funding—being able to put a human face on the issues.

You have, in other conversations we have had, talked about the difference between what standard maps show in terms of broadband coverage and what coverage actually exists. Would you describe what you’ve seen and talk about what we can do to address the disparity between the maps and the actual situation impacting people who need broadband Internet access for work and learning?

One of the difficult national issues is no one has a clear picture of what the real extent of the infrastructure problem is. In short, the FCC maps are created by self-reporting from Internet providers. A provider considers an area covered if one home in a census block could potentially receive service. Self-reporting from providers results in tremendous over-reporting. Some organizations are working towards more accurate maps, but it is very labor intensive. Connected Nation is creating new maps. Their process is sending field engineers to drive every road in the county with equipment that looks for signals. (I’ve spent the morning riding around with two field engineers who were sent here to map coverage in Grayson County through funding provided through Texas Rural Funders.) The engineers take pictures of a variety of towers, power lines, etc. to figure out where actual coverage is. This is an area [where] I would like to see rural libraries take the lead. One of the first steps is to figure out if access is available. After that, we need to know if it is affordable. After that, we need to make sure devices are available. After that, the users have to have the digital literacy to use it. It is a complex problem with no quick fixes.

Drawing upon your extensive experience, what would you suggest individuals can do to support broadband access locally, regionally, and nationally?

Connect people who have an interest in the issue to work together. Who has an interest? Schools, businesses, libraries, realtors, health care providers, non-profits, internetproviders, people who work from home, and families. Sometimes even people in this small town don’t agree on whether or not there is a problem. If they have robust service in their home, they don’t understand that a house down the block might not be able to get a connection. I think gathering all the stakeholders to discuss what the current status is would be a great start.  

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

The only thing that comes to mind is that speaking to you has brought into focus the importance of storytelling. This is such a dry subject that it is easy for people to glaze over. By telling the stories, I think we have more of a chance of motivating people to work towards solutions. We are developing a coverage map with interactive markers that will tell the story of the person who lives in that location. All of this talk about spectrum, bandwidth, and infrastructure is about real people living their lives and trying to do the best they can.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Dianne Connery (Part 1 of 2)

October 6, 2020

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Dianne Connery, director of the Pottsboro Area Library (in Texas) and a ShapingEDU colleague who has been a long-time proponent of universal broadband access, particularly for those in the community she serves. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s dive right into the substance of what you’re doing. What first drew you to the challenge of providing broadband Internet access for work and learning?

Dianne Connery

Working in a rural library, I talk to people every day who struggle with not having access to broadband. Their stories inspired me to work to improve conditions. In particular, I saw how young people do not have the same experiences and opportunities as kids in the suburbs and urban environments. I raised my kids in cities, and they were exposed to up-to-date technology. Many of the families do not have broadband in their homes, and parents are not tech savvy. The school system is struggling to provide up-to-date technology and training as well. It is not uncommon for teachers to lack access to broadband in their homes. I want young people to be on a level playing field when they graduate from high school.

Much of what I read and hear from colleagues focuses on the learners and on employees. You’ve raised an interesting part of the problem by mentioning the teachers and their own lack of access. Is the library doing anything to help instructors?

We were able to provide hot spots to some of the teachers although that is not a viable solution for some areas. The library recently received a $25,000 TSLAC [Texas State Library and Archives Commission] grant to provide internet in 40 homes. Teachers will be included, and the remainder are low-income families. A pending $232,000 IMLS [Institute of Museum and Library Services] grant will provide home internet for an additional 85 homes. This is an EBS spectrum dedicated to education. I am working closely with a local fixed wireless internet provider (TekWav) to find funding to build infrastructure that will eventually cover every student and teacher in the county.  On the digital literacy side of the issue, the library has provided access and training to the teachers/students to use our databases. This week I started a learning circle that is a group learning experience for Google Drive Essentials. I’m hoping to support some of the teachers to work more efficiently with available technology.

You’re opening a very interesting door here for readers who are interested in how to take a step-by-step approach to addressing even the smallest pieces of the broadband-access challenge, including the question of funding. Based on your experience pursuing and obtaining grants, what simple steps would you recommend for those who don’t know how to identify funders and create successful funding requests?

Much of our success is a result of building relationships with people/organizations who share the same goals. Especially since COVID-19, I’ve been actively participating in weekly calls where I am connecting with others who are working towards universal broadband. One helpful call is Gigabit Libraries Network. Through being on that call, I was invited to be a sub-awardee on a large global grant proposal that used different approaches in different locations as pilot projects. Ultimately, we did not receive that award, but through the relationship building, Gigabit Libraries Network emailed me and asked if I would like funding to deploy neighborhood access stations. They provided funding for three neighborhood access stations which are in the process of being constructed now. Additionally, they connected me with the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center [ITDRC]. ITDRC deployed a mobile Wi-Fi trailer to a parking lot outside of town in an area with limited connectivity. A few weeks ago, ITDRC installed a hot spot at a bait and tackle shop outside of town in an area with a lot of school kids who don’t have Internet at home. So, all of that happened as a result of just talking with other stakeholders. Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition is also helping me understand the whole issue from a legislative/advocacy perspective. Hopefully, the work we are doing there will result in federal funding to make things happen. So, just talk to people, and one connection leads to another. If you connect to the right person, the funding follows.

 Among the gems in the answer you just provided is this one: “..we did not receive that award, but through the relationship building…” Any thoughts to prospective fundraisers about how to react to the word “no” in response to a request for funding?

I give myself one day to be disappointed, and then [move] on to the next thing. Usually we have several grants in the pipeline at any one time, so we are already focused on the next horizon. Personally, I have also had the good fortune of being a grant reader for two organizations and have learned a lot from being on that side of the equation. Sometimes there is something particular the funder was looking for that, through no fault of your own, doesn’t match. It has helped me be a better grant writer. Also, I have learned to write case statements so that I am able to use content in future grant applications so the work was not wasted. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 2 of 6): Key Trends in Learning and Technology

February 6, 2014

We can easily see, in the newly released (2014) Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report, a cohesive narrative that helps us understand what we and our learners face not only in academic settings but also in many other training-teaching-learning settings where learning, technology, and creativity intersect.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverThe newly-expanded “Key Trends” section of this wonderful annual report on  trends, significant challenges, and innovations in educational technology, first and foremost, is itself an example of the spirit of innovation that drives NMC projects (e.g., reports, summits, and a wiki-thon): it provides more in-depth explorations of each trend than have been included in previous Horizon reports, and places each trend within a specific time frame (fast trends, which are driving changes in higher education over the next one to two years; mid-range trends, which are driving changes within a three- to five-year horizon; and long-range trends, which are driving changes in a horizon of five or more years from the date of publication of the report). Again, I suspect that what we’re seeing here has strong parallels in our extended lifelong learning playground.

Report co-principal investigators Larry Johnson and Malcolm Brown, working with lead writer/researcher Samantha Adams Becker, take us from those fast trends (the growing ubiquity of social media and the integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning), through the mid-range trends (the rise of data-driven learning and assessment, and the shift from students as consumers to students as creators), and then up to the virtual doorstep of the long-range trends (agile approaches to change and the evolution of online learning) in a way that leaves no doubt as to an overall consistent trend of engaging learners in the learning process through the use of tools that are as useful in learning settings as they are in many other parts of our lives. A key conclusion we might reach: barriers are falling; work and play are intersecting with increasing frequency; and undreamed of possibilities continue to come our way.

nmc.logo.cmykAnyone with any level of involvement in social media understands that the various and ever-growing set of tools available to us (everything from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to Pinterest, Scoop.it!, Delicious, and many others) provides collaborative learning opportunities not previously available to us. We see, in the 2014 report, the connection between those fast-trend elements of social media and online/hybrid/collaborative learning where social media tools are an integral part of learning. Being aware of data-driven learning and assessment as well as the shift from students as consumers to students as creators draws us further into blended onsite-onsite interactions with social media tools and other resources in ways that are reshaping—at last—how we approach the training-teaching-learning process. (While recently rereading decades-old literature on the state of learning, I was fascinated to see sources from the 1920s calling for a shift from lecture-based learning to learning that had students acquiring knowledge outside the classroom so that classroom time could be used for experiential/collaborative learning opportunities, so it’s wonderful to see relatively new technology supporting that concept through the flipped classroom model that receives attention elsewhere in the 2014 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report.)

When we move into the long-range trends, we see agile approaches and the continuing evolution of online learning (massive open online courses—MOOCs—being one of many relatively new innovations that are adding to our learning toolkits and expanding the way we think about and deliver learning opportunities).

The theme of collaboration that is an integral part of so many of these trends takes us down some interesting paths. Libraries, for example, are cited in the report as key partners in the trend toward shifting learners from being consumes to learners becoming creators. Makerspaces and other collaborative spaces are increasingly a part of libraries as learning spaces with support from a variety of sponsors, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services. We also, in the report, see examples of collaborations between learning organizations and business entrepreneurs—relationships where businesses serve as models for an agile approach to learning while connecting learning and learners to the development of critically-important business skills.

It all neatly wraps back into that final long-range trend—the evolution of online learning—in the sense that online learning itself is fostering a level of exploration that makes us question some of the most basic assumptions that have guided training-teaching-learning for centuries: the role of grades in learning, the tension that often exists between traditional instructor-centric teaching and learner-centric learning, and even the increasingly intriguing question of what it means to “complete” a course or other learning experience. (Is completion, for example, defined by a final exam or instructor-defined project, or can and do learners play a role in deciding when then have completed a learning experience, as sometimes happens in the more innovative connectivist MOOCs available to us?)

The report itself offers trainer-teacher-learners a variety of levels of engagement. We can simply read and absorb what is of interest to us; follow any of the numerous links to other articles and resources so we learn more about the trends that are most interesting to us; or start with the report summaries of the trends, follow a few of the links, and then carry those learning experiences into conversations with colleagues face to face and online—which means we’re not only fully engaged in integrating online, hybrid, and collaborative learning into our work and play, but are also helping define the evolution of online learning through our own online learning efforts.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Challenges.


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 3 of 3): Six Minutes of Inspiration for Trainer-Teacher-Learners

February 21, 2012

Sometimes it only takes a moment to change the way we view the world; at other times, it takes a little longer.

The talks that have been taped and posted on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) website often, in 18 minutes or less, are powerful enough to change our worldview. And in a reduced format through a “Six Minutes With” series of presentations that ran through the three-day New Media Consortium “Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat in Austin, Texas last month, there were plenty of transformative moments that can now be viewed via links on the Horizon Retreat wiki.

Since these were great thinkers rather than time-keepers, those “Six Minute” segments sometimes ran upwards of nine or twelve minutes, but I suspect none of the attendees was watching the clock. Our eyes and ears were focused on the speakers, and the messages were clear: We’re in an exciting and dynamic period of change in the world of education, technology, and creativity, and each of us involved in training-teaching-learning has a tremendous role to play.

Marsha Semmel, who oversees and coordinates Institute of Museum and Library Services partnerships with other federal agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organization, reminded us that “people go to museums and libraries…because they are places of curiosity, wonder, imagination. They are places that use different styles and promote different styles of learning, and they invite cross-generational learning…Learning is about passion. It’s about motivation. It’s about play. It’s about imagination.” Throughout her presentation, she outlined the educational and cultural roles museums are playing, and suggested that “we are in a period of lifelong, life-wide, life-deep learning, and every single organization and institution has to belly up to the bar and be part of the solution.”

Susan Metros, Associate Vice Provost and Associate Chief Information officer for Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Southern California, talked about how leadership lives within each of us. To give a framework to her presentation, she summarized three books that have influenced her as an leader within education: Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, Amos Rapoport’s  House Form and Culture, and Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life.

John Weber, Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, opened his presentation on “Museums and the Digital Space” by suggesting that “we love our gadgets; we are addicted to them. We obsess over them. We compare them. We update them constantly.” In a focused discussion on how those gadgets fit into the museum experience and its educational offerings, Weber maintained that museums “are very beautiful spaces. They contain objects which are unique, which surprise us, which, generally speaking, exist only in one place and they foster intense, particular, irreplaceable experiences, flashes of recognition and flashes of surprise…We want now to bring our gadgets into museums…We want to photograph what we see in museums…We are photographically addicted, including me…At times, that can really get in the way of seeing it.” But, he concluded, “in  the end, it’s all about looking at the art objects, and how can we empower that” so visitors will “linger longer and get more out of the time they spend with us in real space, in museum space.”

And then there was the final “Six Minutes” presentation—“Reflections: The Horizon Project at 10”—by NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson. Using “the language of image,” Johnson’s presentation was a magnificent and heartfelt combination of photography, philosophy, and call to action. Taking us through a brief history of networked technology at the personal level of how it has been used by his family, he recalled how radio was at the center of his father’s life; how television was the technology of choice as he was growing up; how computers have become “the network” for his son, and how mobile technology is what is at the center of his very young grandchildren’s lives. Furthermore, he said, his son corrects him when he suggests that “the network has been built out to help us in a myriad of ways.” For his son and his son’s contemporaries, “The network is us. It doesn’t help us. The network actually is us. We are the reason there is a network, and the network is here to serve us.”

His grandson and others growing up today, he continued, “will never ever live in the world where the network wasn’t anywhere he wanted to be. …What does that mean for what we do [as educators]?…We have to be careful that we don’t spend the money that we have on solutions that are not going to be used. We need to make sure that we’re not giving people this technology [radio] when, in fact, the world they live in has changed. The thing we need to focus on is how do we keep the magic in learning? …We need to make their jaws drop. We need to make them understand that the world is so cool that it’s worth their curiosity, and that’s the message I’m going to leave you with. This is the room to do it. We’ll do it together.”

And if all of us who serve as trainer-teacher-learners take that message to heart and become part of the group that helps to shape the world as it is changing all around us, we can help reshape the horizon we all spend time exploring.


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