Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Beth Holland (Part 3 of 3)

February 11, 2021

This is the third part of a three-part interview conducted with Dr. Beth Holland, Partner at The Learning Accelerator, Digital Equity Advisor to CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), and a longtime advocate of broadband access for work and learning. Two articles drawn from the interview are available on the ShapingEDU blog.

What are some of the more difficult, long-term largest barriers you continue to see to creating universal broadband access and access to the tools needed to effectively use the Internet for work and learning throughout the United States?

Beth Holland

I was at the last SHLB [Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition] conference in October of 2019. A researcher from Michigan made a great point: He explained that the state is literally solid granite and that you can’t easily put cable in granite. There are definite geographic barriers to overcome. The second one is really at a policy level. I am hoping that with Jessica Rosenworcel as acting FCC chair, maybe some of these can be addressed.

Currently, internet is considered a service and not a utility. Therefore, that’s how it’s regulated. There really isn’t the financial incentive or pressure to run broadband to every community—especially the hard-to-reach ones. There are some advocates calling for internet to become a utility so that the country can be wired in a fashion similar to the electrification project in the 1930s. Finally, and this is tied to regulation, we really have to remember cost. Even low-cost options could be too much for a family to afford. The argument can be made for internet to be considered as part of the life-line program that ensures phone access as a matter of public safety.

The learning part is a totally different question versus the access part. 

So, I think it’s important to remember that digital technology in education has really been around for centuries. Audrey Watters has a book—Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning—coming out soon from MIT Press. She traces this idea of technology back to Sidney Pressey in the early 1900s. I’m thinking about digital tools that really started to take shape and influence what could be possible with learning to the 1980s. Not only did people like Seymour Papert introduce tools like MindStorms [which inspired Lego MindStorms], but there were others, like Alan Kay, who advocated that students should be learning to control computers and not the other way around. However, technology has been slow to adopt at scale. In their book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, [Allan] Collins and [Richard] Halverson explain that there has always been technology in education, but digital technology fundamentally threatens the systems and structures on which schools and teachers base their identities. Basically, digital tools mean that students can learn anywhere, any time, and from anyone. This creates a real system of threat. For decades, technology has been that add-on that some kids might use. However, COVID has changed that and made technology almost synonymous to learning because of the need for remote/hybrid contexts. The real barrier is now what kind of learning will happen as we move forward. Since teachers have become more comfortable with tools, does that mean that they can now start to rethink instruction? There’s a ton of potential now that a lot of the actual physical barriers to access have been decreased (though still 12 million + kids unconnected), and some of the lack of familiarity reduced. I hope that education policy and district initiatives will continue to focus on helping teachers, leaders, and also broader school communities reimagine what learning could look like if these tools are harnessed to create more personalized experiences where students have agency and choice in how they demonstrate their learning and how their learning needs are met. 

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

Nationally, there needs to be policy changes to make broadband access seen as a public good—like electricity or water. There also needs to be funding to support both school and home access for students. For an immediate thing to consider, CoSN, ISTE [the International Society for Technology in Education], and SETDA do an annual ed-tech advocacy event where educators receive training in the latest policy recommendations and then spend a day meeting with their representatives’ offices to ensure that the message can get through. It’s virtual again this year and also includes conversations at the [US] Department of Education and FCC.

Regionally, I guess this is tricky because regions are so diverse in this country. A lot of states have regional education groups. A big thing to consider is how regional groups can band together to have more collective bargaining power. Each regional group may have a different acronym (BOCES, LEA, etc.), but all can work together. I know that in Colorado, the regional groups file for E-Rate together so that they can get better rates to offset their costs.

Locally, I think it’s important to be aware of who does/doesn’t have access. Teachers may either over/under estimate the amount of connectivity that their students have. Matthew Hiefield, from Beaverton, Oregon, helped me write a post a while ago about questions to ask students. Teshon Christie in Kent, Washington made a great point about not only assuming students have access, but [about] the danger of assuming that they don’t. He’s found that some families prioritize access while others may not. His district has been very deliberate about finding out who needs support from the district instead of using a general metric like free or reduced-price lunch to drive assumptions.

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

I think that there are two critical considerations. First, digital equity is incredibly nuanced and complex. Simply getting access does not solve the problem. It is also going to continue to morph as technologies change. For example, as AI becomes increasingly ubiquitous, there are a host of new considerations for school and community leaders. Second, this comes back to the empathy comment that you made earlier: any solution really needs to consider the context and community. What needs to happen beyond access and digital literacy to also address broader issues of media literacy and even algorithmic literacy? I’ve been thinking about the issues of Pandora’s box. We can open it and let things out, but if we haven’t considered the potential unintended consequences of throwing out access without helping students and adults fully develop an understanding of the implications and connotations, then the potential exists to further inequity and not address it. The NDIA has been having this conversation a lot lately, and I think that it’s an important one. 

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


NMC 2017: Expanding the Ever-growing Conversations in Our Global Learning Spaces

June 14, 2017

You certainly didn’t have to be here in Boston to have been an active participant in opening day at the NMC (New Media Consortium) 2017 Summer Conference yesterday. Because so many of us have become used to, adept at, and passionate about being part of  the blended (online-onsite) learning environments we help create and nurture, those of us onsite actively reached out to offsite colleagues to draw them into the presentations, conversations, explorations, and numerous moments of revelation in terms of trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology. And those to whom we reached out responded magnificently via synchronous and asynchronous contributions on Facebook, Twitter, Shindig, and other online collaborative tools. Sometimes with us, sometimes among themselves—a process that further emphasizes the diminishing assumption that onsite interactions are always central and online interactions are ancillary.

NMC17--LogoIt’s far from unusual at conferences serving trainer-teacher-learner-doers to find dynamic levels of discourse flowing seamlessly between onsite and online participants. When the reason we are gathering is to learn more about technology by using it, the discourse that is fostered by creative use of resources such as Shindig only speeds up the process of disseminating that innovation and its adoption among ever-increasing numbers of people globally.

You could literally see the process taking place during International Society for Technology in Training (ISTE) CEO Richard Culatta’s keynote address during the formal opening session. Colleagues onsite were visibly engaged, and their engagement expanded via Twitter and Facebook to draw our offsite colleagues into exchanges that sometimes included backchannel conversations between those offsite colleagues—as if Culatta were with them as well as with us and inspiring some major rethinking about the world we inhabit.

Also apparent to those of us attentive to this was the way what used to be seen as discrete, separated moments are becoming intriguingly expanded “moments” that that can continue for days, weeks, months, or event years through the use of the online tools that continue to evolve to our benefit.

nmc17--Richard_Culatta_and_Bryan_Alexander--2017-0614[1]

Richard Culatta(l) and Bryan Alexander at NMC17

The latest of those moments for me began earlier this week when Apple Distinguished Educator/Henderson Prize Winner/Future-U Founder/entrepreneur/innovator/NMC Ambassador/colleague/friend Jonathan Nalder and sat down to dinner here an hour after I arrived. Some of what we discussed during that dinner extended into another dinner two nights later with Shindig representatives, our colleague Bryan Alexander, and several others who, over the course of the evening, were sharing stories about the ed-tech developments we are exploring, fostering, and disseminating—including the use of Shindig to take advantage of collaborative learning opportunities. The moment again expanded unexpectedly yesterday morning when another colleague (Palm Beach State College Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology/NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli) and I decided to track Bryan down to see if we could watch him conduct a live Virtual Connecting session via Shindig with offsite colleagues right after Richard Culatta’s keynote address concluded.  He and our Shindig colleagues didn’t just invite us in to observe the session involving Culatta and others; they introduced us to Culatta a few minutes later when he arrived to discuss his keynote address a bit with our offsite colleagues; allowed us to photograph the process in action; and even interviewed us, at the end of the session, to extend our own conversations into the online part of our global learning space.

NMC staff, administrators, board members, general members, and supporters have done a great job, over the past few years, in creating and fostering a vision of a cutting-edge community of  learning centered on “lifelong learning with lifelong friends,” and I’ve never felt that vision in action more strongly than during this extended “moment” that is obviously far from finished as I write these words well after midnight between days one and two of the conference. We came. We interacted. We learned. And we will continue to do so as long as we remain committed to maintaining a strong sense of curiosity, a commitment to innovation, and a focus on serving those who rely on us to support them in their own lifelong learning efforts.


eLearning Guild Report: Revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Digital Age

February 15, 2013

If trainer-teacher-learners were looking for foundational works within our profession, we probably would quickly turn to Donald Kirkpatrick’s Evaluating Training Programs or Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain—better known to most of us as Bloom’s Taxonomy or, more simply, “the Handbook.” So when there is an update along the lines of what Lorin Anderson and his collaborators did for the Taxonomy in 2001, or what Cecilia Munzenmaier offers in a new eLearning Guild Perspectives report, “Bloom’s Taxonomy: What’s Old is New Again,” we know we had better pay attention.

eLearning_Guild--Blooms_Taxonomy_ReportBy the time we finish reading the report, we’re glad we did, for Munzenmaier not only provides a first-rate refresher course in the original taxonomy itself, but takes us through a concise discussion of Andrew Churches’ 2009 publication, “Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy,” so we can see how relevant the taxonomy remains to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning.

Munzenmaier begins the report with a reminder that Bloom didn’t originally set out to “invent educational dogma”; the Taxonomy “emerged from a series of informal discussions with colleagues that began at the American Psychological Association in 1948,” and eventually led to publication, in 1956, of the book that was “based on the work of hundreds of collaborators.” The cognitive hierarchy at the heart of the Taxonomy includes a set of stepping stones including the knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels; the result, Munzenmaier writes, was to help “make an important shift in educators’ focus: from teaching to learning”—a transition that is still very much underway as we continue moving from a teacher-centric model to a learner-centric model of learning at all stages of learners’ lives.

When she moves into the second half of the report with a section focusing on “Adapting the Hierarchy to the Digital Revolution,” we’re well into the work Andrew Churches has done “to ‘marry’ Bloom’s cognitive levels to 21st-century digital skills.” Munzenmaier notes that the National Education Technology Standards (NETS)—creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking/problem solving/decision making, digital citizenship, and technology operations and concepts—developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) “define the foundations of digital literacy for K-12 education.” Since she is writing for adult trainer-teacher-learners involved in e-learning, she can’t help but plant a question in our minds: how many of us have mastered those same foundations that have been adopted for the younger students who are not all that far away from entering the workplaces where we are responsible for meeting learners’ lifelong learning needs? And if we have mastered those foundational elements expected of our youngest learners, how many of us have gone even further and mastered the NETS for teachers?

eLearning_GuildThe eLearning Guild report serves not only as a wake-up call for many of us, but is wonderfully inspirational when it provides a copy of Churches’ concept map of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and a follow-up chart of activities for digital learning within each level of the digital taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating). Suggestions range from summarizing the content of a learning experience in a blog post (an exercise many of us have enjoyed in the #etmooc massive open online course that is currently in progress) to developing scripts for videos, constructing an e-book, or developing a podcast. There is even a wonderful chart (pp. 29-30) offering criteria for selecting applications according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, with plenty of references to digital tools that can be used in this context (e.g., TED talks to help learners understand a topic if they are engaged in the growing movement toward a flipped classroom model; mind maps to help learners as they move through the “Analyze” level; and Prezi as a creation tool when learners move to the top of the learning hierarchy within the Taxonomy).

The most rewarding part of reading the report, however, is the reminder that trainer-teacher-learners still find the Taxonomy to be useful; that “Bloom’s work has also stood the test of time as a model for writing questions that require higher-order thinking”; and that “Bloom’s work continues to provoke thought, as he had hoped” it would.

And if you’re not completely satiated by the time you finish absorbing what Munzenmaier has provided, you’ll find plenty of links, at the end of the report, to online resources that will help you continue your exploration of the subject.


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