July 29, 2014

ConnectED Will Bring Faster Connections to Schools and Libraries | The Next Big Thing

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What could your library do with gigabit broadband? If you don’t have a list of innovative ways to use an Internet connection 10 or 100 times faster than the current norm, start making it now.

The new federal ConnectED initiative should bring fast connections to almost all schools and libraries within five years. The project, a combination of enhanced broadband connectivity and teacher development, aims to leverage private-sector innovations to benefit students. President Obama also highlighted the role of libraries as partners in improving digital citizenship. Now it’s up to us. What experiences could we provide to our students and patrons if we had superior broadband?

I have four personal Cs of connectivity: content, creation, community, and concurrency. The benefits of the first two are predictable. But the real power of ConnectED lies in the potential of the last two.

Content is the gift and curse of greater broadband. As bandwidth increases, content grows to fill network capacity. While we might imagine expanded content to mean more enriched ebooks and multimedia-enhanced databases, a huge portion of many school networks is clogged with security camera footage.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But libraries need to understand how network configurations and technologies like traffic shaping can provide better, consistent connectivity for all broadband traffic by throttling select bandwidth-hogging services. Security cameras, for example, could be capped at 30 percent of bandwidth. So streaming video to classrooms could have a guaranteed consistent level of performance.

There’s also the issue of net neutrality, which seeks a position that doesn’t favor content from certain Internet providers, and makes traffic-shaping technologies especially important to understand. Service providers could use these technologies to slow down access to content from competitors.

On to my next C. Increased bandwidth expands the capability to create. Schools and libraries could use new resources to publish student- and teacher-authored materials. Think flipped classrooms. Teacher lectures are being recorded with interactive whiteboards and/or cameras, and being pushed out for students to view outside of school. Libraries might record presentations to share with a broader audience, too.

This idea is inexorably linked to the third C: community. A school or library with gigabit broadband in a community without high-speed access will struggle. So, institutions must tackle community access issues first, perhaps even by becoming local hubs for Internet service delivery. Once things are running smoothly, schools and libraries could support their larger communities by providing high-tech services, content delivery, and the creation or publication of locally important content.

Finally, the “ConnectEDness” that comes with high-speed connectivity holds great potential. Approaching gigabit speeds, interactions start to feel concurrent. One can truly be present in real time, even from a distance, as opposed to experiencing the molasseslike lag of high latency. Imagine what libraries could do with that.

We could build a support network to create richer virtual author visits by providing a space in the local library with high-speed broadband. If every library had a multimedia studio space for creation, speakers could use the same hardware for high-quality virtual presentations that feel like a live experience.

This just scratches the surface of things to do with high-speed broadband. Now’s the time to dream big—and to talk big. Share ideas. Establish the need for bandwidth in libraries before it arrives. Then, cross your fingers and hope that ConnectED will push through the morass of politics.

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Christopher Harris About Christopher Harris

Christopher Harris (infomancy@gmail.com) is coordinator of the school library system of the Genesee Valley (NY) Educational Partnership.

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