DAILY INSIGHT: A tsunami of wireless devices is coming

By Alan Landever, guest CIO Advisor

During the June SchoolCIO Leadership Summit in San Antonio, prior to ISTE, I had the opportunity to learn from and speak with Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education. I would like to share one of my major takeaways from that informative conversation.

ConnectEd is Coming
Major shifts in funding should be expected to support President Obama’s new ConnectEd Initiative. ConnectED’s primary goal is to connect 99 percent of America’s students with high-speed wireless broadband in their schools and libraries at a minimum of 100Mbps and with a target of 1Gbps. This is an ambitious goal, and ConnectED aims to accomplish it within five years.

Robust Wireless Networks are Critical
Based on my experiences as technology services director at USD 207 in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, there are some hidden challenges that districts need to acknowledge. The answer is not as simple as ordering a faster Internet pipe. Most network design solutions are based on the assumption that while devices are wireless they will not move very far and therefore the load balancing required is relatively static and simple to design. A storm of district-purchased laptops and tablets—plus BYOD—means that multiple devices will be moving fluidly around every corner of our campus, from classrooms to libraries to clusters in gathering spaces. Wireless systems will need to be professionally engineered, with allowances to support variable density, frequent movement, and seamless hand-offs of devices from access point to access point. Just because our networks are working today does not at all mean it will be able they give our users the experience they will require once the wave of mobile technology floods our schools.

Will E-Rate Be Enough for High-Speed Wireless?

How will this be funded? The President is looking to the the E-Rate funding process as an avenue for the broadband ConnectEd. It will be interesting to see how this all comes together over the next few months. If you have feedback or ideas to contribute, the time to act is now. To that end, proposed changes to the "eligible services list" and other important funding rules have been drafted and are open for public comment. Right now is an important time for us all to pay close attention to possible changes in the erate program. One of the best places to stay alert to E-Rate issues is at USAC.

Don’t Forget Professional Development
Finally, professional development will be crucial for ConnectED to succeed. A functioning high-speed wireless network is a great step, but educators and technology staff will need additional ongoing support to ensure that this technology investment leads to improved student learning outcomes. From personal experience, as we begin the third year of our CYBER-TEAMS initiative at USD 207, I can say that we have found it incredibly valuable to spend more than half of our budget on professional development, relative to technology.

The ConnectED program will use existing funds from Titles II and VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and we look forward to learning more details about exactly how these necessary steps of ConnectED will be implemented. In the end, we need to ensure that we invest wisely in people and infrastructure.