IT Trends

Microsoft, Open Data Institute Announce Broadband Data Challenge

Microsoft has co-launched the "Education Open Data Challenge," to establish the link between broadband access and K-12 learning outcomes. The company will be working with the Open Data Institute on the initiative, with support from Broadband Now. The ODI is a London-based nonprofit, non-partisan organization that works with companies and government agencies to build "open, trustworthy data ecosystems." Broadband Now is a website that helps people compare the services offered by internet service providers in their community.

The challenge will task individuals and teams to evaluate the state of the global digital divide in K-12 and come up with innovative solutions for bridging the gap in a "cost-efficient way."

The solutions need to cover three areas:

  • The steps that government, education providers, businesses and society at large can take to help students gain access to education where digital infrastructure is lacking;

  • How school leaders can "improve digital access to enable equal learning" for all of their students; and

  • How to build the skills required for making online learning programs "inclusive and effective" for students in disadvantaged communities.

To help participants in their work, they'll receive access to tools and resources from all three organizations, as well as data made available for the first time as part of the challenge:

  • A more granular version of Microsoft's U.S. broadband usage data than is normally made available; the data will have differential privacy applied. Microsoft will also provide documentation that demonstrates the impact that applying differential privacy has had on the data. Participants will also able to access free Microsoft Learn training resources and training modules.

  • The ODI will provide mentoring and access to several digital learning modules, covering open data essentials, how to find stories in data and guidance for data users on data licensing and how to anonymize datasets for participants who wish to contribute their own data.

  • From Broadband Now, participants will be able to access U.S. broadband terrestrial provider data.

The winning team will be allowed to choose a nonprofit organization of its choice to receive a $66,000 award. First and second runners-up will be able to designate nonprofits to receive awards of about $40,000 and $26,000.

All participants must be registered to gain access to the resources made available for the challenge and attend various online programs where the data will be previewed. Those are taking place in November. The challenge officially opens on Dec. 10, 2020. Proposals are due by Jan. 31, 2021. The winners will be announced on May 1, 2021.

"More than ever, reliance on access to broadband has the potential to determine whether students thrive or struggle in their educational journeys," wrote Jennifer Yokoyama, chief IP counsel for Microsoft, in a blog story about the competition. "If we want to level the playing field so all students have access to the technology and connectivity, they need to be successful, we need to work together and collaborate around data that has the potential to unlock truly promising solutions."

Learn more at the Challenge website.

About the Author

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