Saturday, February 3, 2007

Higher Education and Universal Broadband

I am excited the energy and level of interest I saw at the February 2 One Ohio gathering. I have not seen that many people in one room discussing broadband since the National Media reform Conference.

I want to share my thoughts on why universal affordable broadband and CTC support should be important to higher education.

First, here is some of what I heard:

According to the FCC's most recent report on national broadband penetration, Ohio ranks a mediocre 28th out of 50 states. As the day went on we heard what this means in real terms for Ohio:
  • communities struggling to keep and attract businesses because they are unable to offer simple broadband connection;

  • farmers, a significant economic sector in Ohio, unable to monitor agricultural markets;

  • citizens, both urban and rural, unable to use a computer to do things connected citizens take for granted such take online classes, search and apply for jobs, access political, consumer and cultural information.
These simmering frustrations are now finding a voice thanks to political leadership provided by Governor Strickland. And it is clear that in the in area of training and education, the administration wants state higher educational institutions to take the lead.

What's at Stake for Higher Education

This is why I think universal broadband community-based education should be important to us.

  • Where I work at Columbus State Community College, our distance learning enrollment is growing at 20% clip. We, like other colleges and universities, need to recognize community broadband is part of our educational infrastructure.

  • For students, broadband is an opportunity cost for their education. Because of their life circumstance, online learning is the only option that meets the learning needs of many students. How many do not take advantage of this because they cannot afford a connection or they endure an economic hardship to do so?

  • Broadband may determine the quality of online education. Working in instructional design, I know that some methods of content delivery, instruction and interaction are simply not viable without a robust broadband connection. And some newer collaboration tools -- often dubbed "Web 2.0" technologies -- require a degree of comfort and experience to utilize. But what we see emerging is a cultural divide between those who have access and those who do not: the saavy and nonsaavy. So we end up making educational decisions that conform to a lower common denominator. We should be making decisions based on pedagogy not technology.

  • Ohio's competitiveness depends on this. Our world is changing at a rapid clip. Our students will have multiple careers. In fact, we are training students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented. To keep up, we will all need to be able to rapidly learn and renew skills to stay viable. Much of that learning will have to be facilitated online.

  • Ohio's low college enrollment reflects a serious cultural divide that can only be bridged at the grassroots level. Community-based education, through community technology centers, is where we can begin to turn-around Ohio and bring life-long learners into our institutions
The momentum to use broadband to turn around Ohio appears to be on our side. With the leadership of our colleges and universities, we can make Ohio a prosperous and creative place to live and work.

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DelCo Dem said...

Broadband unavailability is the silent killer of jobs, even in those areas that have it, but for which there is no competition. I know of a physician specialty group in Pickaway Co. that has waited three months to have a Time Warner cable "engineer" come out to bless an office building (that other tenants already have service in) just so the installers can install. This is a multi million dollar office (equipment staff) that has been stopped in its tracks because cable is necessary for electronic medical records transfer.

MJ Willow said...

Living in the inner city, which is probably considered one of those "less desirable areas," I have seen how the public libraries in my area have made a huge difference in the computer literacy rate. The wait for a computer is often around 2 hours on a good day. There is a time limit for usage. Even though they offer free wireless connections, there are few people in the area who own a laptop, so it doesn't really address the need.

Cheap broadband would be very beneficial for someone like myself who lives on a budget (providing their definition of cheap is the same as mine.) But if a person doesn't have the means to own a computer then it's a waste unless schools also have some kind of PC/laptop loan program for students.