Recent News // New Study Shows a Growing Need for Broadband Access in Alaska Classrooms

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rural schools relying on broadband, but most say current bandwidth is insufficient

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Anchorage, AK: Nearly three-quarters of rural educators in Alaska – 73% – report that a lack of adequate broadband limits the educational opportunities they offer their students, and a majority of rural schools in Alaska need additional funding simply to keep up with educational broadband needs. Those are among the key findings of a Connect Alaska study released today, “Broadband: A Critical Element of Education in Alaska.” For this study, Connect Alaska surveyed Alaskan K-12 educators across the state, focusing on the use and needs for enhanced broadband in educating Alaska’s youth.

The study summarizes the results of 55 one-on-one interviews of school educators and administrators, the majority in rural and bush areas, in which nearly three-quarters of the state’s K-12 schools are located. Interviews were conducted by Hayes Research Group, a research firm based in Anchorage, Alaska.

Rural schools in Alaska depend on broadband and computer technology to teach students, but the study also shows that broadband access and cost substantially limit the effectiveness of these 21st century educational tools. As one educator put it, “Teachers are now hamstrung without better connections.  ALL courseware is now including online content but schools in remote Alaska cannot use it.”

“Schools in Alaska are struggling to keep up with ever-increasing broadband needs for education,” said James Dunn, director of Connect Alaska. “The Federal Communications Commission recently established broadband target speeds of 1 Mbps for each student and staff member, and many schools in Alaska struggle to provide even 1 Mbps of reliable Internet access to the entire school. Last year, the FCC increased the size of its E-Rate subsidy program to help schools meet these new target speeds. The first step in helping Alaska schools reach that benchmark is to understand comprehensively where these broadband gaps are most acute and understand the impact those gaps have on the classroom every day.”

Absent direct action, the broadband gap in Alaska schools is likely to widen.  Eighty-nine percent (89%) of educators interviewed saw broadband need and demand in their schools rising in the next five years. With connectivity needs increasing, the opportunity for learning through broadband is great. As one educator stated, “[With proper access] we could offer students access to a databank of courses from any university in the world for content and instruction.”

The survey of Alaska educators is part of the Alaska School Broadband Audit initiative, a multi-faceted series of projects undertaken by Connect Alaska in partnership with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. The Audit is designed to provide the public, educators, and policymakers with a comprehensive picture of broadband connectivity and use at all public K-12 schools in Alaska. The Audit, which will conclude by May 2015, includes:

  • Comprehensive data collection from every K-12 public school in Alaska on broadband connectivity, on-campus wireless and wired network capacity, equipment, and district Wide Area Network connectivity. While on-going, data has already been collected from the vast majority of schools in the state.
  • Site Visits by Network Engineers to examine, test, and validate broadband and on-campus connectivity and capacity. By its completion, the Audit will visit all 54 school districts in the state, and, as of this writing, qualified network engineers have visited and validated data from 48 districts.
  • A comprehensive report of findings from the data collection and site visits, scheduled for release in May 2015.
  • A clear, intuitive data visualization portal that will help educators, the public, and policymakers learn about the broadband gaps for every K-12 public school in the state, including tools to track and benchmark progress against peers and national broadband connectivity targets; and
  • The educator needs assessment survey, conducted by Anchorage-based Hayes Research, the results of which are released today.

More details about the progress of all components of the Alaska School Broadband Audit will be presented at the Alaska Society for Technology in Education (ASTE) 2015 Conference in Anchorage, February 21-24, 2015.  For more information about the Alaska School Broadband Audit or to be part of the survey, please visit www.akbroadbandaudit.org

Download the Press Release.                                              

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About Connect Alaska: Connect Alaska partners with technology-minded businesses, government entities, and universities across the state to accelerate broadband access, adoption, and use in Alaska. Connect Alaska is working with the Alaska Broadband Task Force, and this initiative is made possible through support from the state of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

For more information about Connect Alaska, visit our website at www.connectak.org. You can also follow Connect Alaska on Facebook and Twitter.