Bandwidth as the new Electricity
I have heard my colleagues refer to ‘Wireless is the new Electricity’ starting back in 2012. This statement is so absolutely true even today. We have had challenges with bandwidth in the last 6 weeks. It has been so challenging planning for great learning opportunities to be thwarted with unusable Internet. The statement is now expanding to be ‘Bandwidth is the new Electricity.’
At this year’s Engaging the Digital Learner series, Jordan Tinney asked “The Million Dollar Question” If we were to choose to spend a million dollars, should it be on bandwidth or devices.
I have heard teachers from other districts asked a similar question – a million for more teachers or more bandwidth?
Unfortunately underfunding has left so few options that both these wrong questions are asked. They can’t be an ‘Either Or’ questions.
They are red herrings – Neither answer is a solution.
Never should we be asked to choose between two equally important resources.
Never should we be asked to meet students’ needs through direct support, or providing for an infrastructure service.
The correct answer is ‘Yes, And.’
Bandwidth without device access is of less value and inequitably serves those that can afford devices on their own. We have several Makey Makey at the school; however, they can only run on devices that use newer java than the district 7 year old MacBooks can run. Even when the bandwidth is functioning and available we can’t use some tools we already have.
Devices without reliable access is also of less value. I routinely use my personal Internet to download videos from both YouTube and Discovery Education to present the next day in class. I can’t rely on access when it is needed to teach. I am also nearing the my quota from Telus. Lucky (for my students) that I have a device I can take home and lucky (for my students) that I have home Internet. I don’t have cellular data on my phone so my students are disadvantaged to those that have and are willing to use their personal cellular data plans. A colleague used more than 8G of Cellular data as a result of tethering for just in time learning in the classroom.
For various reasons including: continued increasing use, PLNet issues, FSA’s, and increased needs of the BCeSIS replacement, the Internet has been unreliable for almost 3 weeks. (and slow often slow for long before that.) It is not Okay to lose 3 weeks of effective use. I want my students access their FreshGrade portfolios. I have tried 3 times to get them logged in. Finally this week on my fourth try, the network successfully had 20+ students log in. Even though they were all able to login, when they wanted to watch some videos that I uploaded of their work before Christmas, the network was too slow to stream and view their own work again.
The more we invite and expect teachers to use the resource, the more saturated the system becomes. I am capable and willing to adapt, adjust, and continue to try again; however, when the tool is unreliable, we will push away those already hesitant to take risks to expand their teaching with more Internet based activities. When you are already overwhelmed, and feel under-supported with excessive needs in classes, to have to plan 2 lessons for every opportunity. I am capable to download at home; however, I am just under the monthly limit on my home Internet. (What would it cost the district to pay my home internet. – $500 a year – 5000 teachers 2 500 000. That is potentially what we have been giving to the system. Now add the data 60+ a month that some teachers are using to keep the learning engaging and interacting with the world.
It really has to be a ‘Yes And’, not ‘Either Or’
As the metaphor goes, no school can function (long) without electricity. We send students home for outages longer than an hour or so. Equally electricity to a property is of little utility if there is no building to use it. Our devices are the buildings that use the electricity. We need both
I know it is not simple. The more devices used effectively, the more devices that are needed. The more bandwidth we have the more we will adapt to having and the more we will use.
Districts have been forced to thinking ‘Either Or.’
As a parent,
I never want to be forced to the question do I feed my children or clothe them?
I never want to be forced to ask the question do pay for housing, or do I feed my children?
It is a reality that the education system is underfunded. The Province is forcing these types of questions. They should not be forced on any person or any District. Infrastructure such as bandwidth and access to the bandwidth through devices needs to be funded by the Ministry of Education to provide equity for learners. Most Elementary Schools have the same bandwidth with 30+ devices as a single home uses. A larger elementary may have 100+ devices. Imagine home internet at 1/100 of the speed or capacity. Most secondary schools have the equivalent of 10 average home internet bandwidth for 1200 students or almost 1200 times a single home user needs.
The Province claims to be funding at the highest funding ever – which is technically true. One dollar and one cent is higher than one dollar; however, if the cost of bread goes up 20%, the result is still a net reduction in funding. Our system is being starved to even ask questions for access to either devices or bandwidth. And yet the Province has higher than expected surpluses. There is money available in the surplus alone to resolve bandwidth and even most device challenges within the school system. What is missing is the will to invest in our system.
Investment also needs to go beyond even Bandwidth or Devices.
Teacher Devices regularly refreshed,
Student Devices with access when needed ratios,
Supporting resources to make connections,
and value added.