Report: Research & Education Networks Make Sense for K-12 as Bandwidth Demands Increase

Tremendous pressure for broadband access is being placed on schools, stemming in part from educational needs, in part from the demands of online testing and in part from the motivation to provide equitable access for all students. To alleviate that pressure, advised a group of education technology experts, it's high time those schools considered tapping into the massive capacity and high speeds of research and education (R&E) networks.

That's the overall suggestion of a research project jointly produced by the New Media Consortium (NMC), a global community of institutions of higher education and research centers, and Internet2, a similar organization that runs one such network for academic and research institutions in the United States.

According to the new report, "R&E Networks: Pathways to Innovation for K-12," high-speed networks are "essential" if schools expect to be able to scale new learning models, such as online and flipped learning, learning analytics, cloud computing, bring-your-own-device and other "emerging models."

The report was developed from two sources: a survey of scholarly and other "credible" literature and the output from a discussion among 42 ed tech experts in spring 2015 to examine the opportunities inherent in supplying high-performance Internet access to K-12. The report documents the "opportunities, challenges and recommendations" for K-12 stakeholders as they explore the "demands of digital learning."

As the report explained, the typical R&E network operates as a not-for-profit with a "public service mission." Increasingly, these networks use the networking infrastructure to deliver value-added services, such as disaster recovery, high-definition video-conferencing and e-mail and Web-server hosting. They're generally far less expensive than commercial offerings.

Schools can connect to the R&E network from the district level or from individual school buildings through regional networks. In some cases the R&E network may work with a commercial provider to deliver last-mile connectivity.

The experts offered four recommendations to education policymakers and education community members:

  • First, locate a local R&E network provider and join the network's community. (The report links to regional R&E networks for every state.) From there, providers can help the school or district figure out how to connect to the network itself.
  • Second, make R&E network-enabled teaching and learning opportunities visible in order to get teachers excited about the potential and help them gain confidence in changing their instructional practices.
  • Third, focus on how the R&E network can support learning, by identifying and sharing the benefits and best practices associated with having high-speed network connectivity. Doing so will "engage larger numbers of educators, parents and researchers" to implement methods and applications that take advantage of the potential R&E networks offer.
  • Fourth, participate in the R&E network community to reap full benefit.

"While we've made great strides over the last 20 years in getting nearly every school in the United States connected to the Internet, today just being connected isn't enough," said James Werle, director of the K-20 Initiative within Internet2, in a prepared statement. "What really matters for schools is a reliable, scalable, high-quality and affordable broadband connection capable of meeting the current and future technology demands of students and teachers. The research and education networking community can be an important part of the solution, not only for K-12 schools, but for other community anchor organizations as well."

The report is available on the NMC site here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.