Data as the Key to Learning: A Conversation with Mo Katibeh of AT&T

Mo Katibeh
(Image credit: Mo Katibeh)

With classrooms from coast to coast locked up and teachers as well as students stuck at home, the ability to teach remotely has never been more important. But it takes more than a webcam, a nimble teacher and some digital content to make it all work, according to Mo Katibeh, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at AT&T Business. An 18-year veteran of AT&T, Katibeh is responsible for getting data to more than 3 million customers. 

Due to social distancing requirements, we had an email conversation in early April about the role of data and communications links in remote learning. 

Tech & Learning: How important is broadband data to curriculum today? 

Mo Katibeh: The nationwide massive shift to eLearning means that broadband data is absolutely necessary for K-12 and higher-ed students. In addition to using technology for homework assignments, our education customers see the need for their students to have broadband access to investigate, explore, research and respond to learning assignments. And, the need is just as important for teachers and administrators, who not only need bandwidth, but highly secure data to conduct their jobs. 

T&L: Should the students’ experience at home be equivalent to the one at school? 

MK: We know that the virtual learning experience won’t always be equivalent to a classroom experience. But there are also many benefits to eLearning. Right now, education experts across the country are trying to determine what is the optimal amount of video conferencing, independent study and use of other online resources. There isn’t necessarily one answer. 

We are seeing teachers who use video applications for teaching classes and also use it during times of independent study for students to ask questions. Other educators are gathering their classes together in the morning and then allowing students to work on their lessons throughout the day. There are many models right now depending on the age, grade and content. 

T&L: Is video an increasingly popular way to teach? 

Yes, at every level of education. Video is extremely popular in higher education and used extensively for online degree programs. Some colleges are even using programs for incoming freshmen with the plan to move students into the classroom in later years. This allows higher acceptance rates without the limitations of on-campus housing. 

Most K-12 teachers use video content to support their own teaching and for occasional collaboration with experts outside the classroom. Yet, direct delivery of instruction via video is not prevalent for K-12. There are many innovative teachers using video content with their students during the COVID-19 crisis. 

T&L: What are the delivery choices these days(LTE, 5G, Wi-Fi, phone hotspot, stationary wireless, ...)? 

MK: Yes, all of the above. The right answer depends on where you are, of course. Many students will be using their home Wi-Fi. However, mobile broadband also plays a key role. 

T&L: What is AT&T doing to make the transition to home teaching and learning easier? 

MK: Moving the classroom into the home requires that every student has access to the Internet. We launched an unlimited wireless data offer for new lines, at no cost for 60 days, to qualified public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.  

Schools also need to ensure they can block or filter internet content that can be harmful to students. We’ve included a content-filtering solution in our offer to help schools protect the children in their care. 

To further support Internet access to communities across the country, we’ve expanded our low-cost option for home Internet service with Access from AT&T program. And, we’re also offering video conferencing solutions that support students, teachers, and entire administrations.

T&L: Has the company seen a big increase in the use of broadband data since schools have closed? 

MK: Yes. We have seen increases in traffic, for example audio/video conferencing minutes. As of April 6th, we’ve had an overall a 23 percent increase in data traffic versus a similar day in February, but this includes things other than teaching. 

Overall, our network is performing very well. Our employees are working around the clock installing, maintaining and repairing our network so our customers can communicate with each other and stay connected. We are adapting and adding capacity when and where needed to address the minimal congestion resulting from the shift of traffic from work and school to home. 

Brian Nadel