Members of the Boomer generation likely remember it well: banks of black and white television sets hung on mounted brackets from the ceiling, all with grainy images and marginal audio of a science, Spanish or economics teacher on old-style CATV educational programs. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, this type of mass broadcast learning was considered state-of-the-art.
A single teacher - broadcasting from what would today be viewed as a crude, one-camera studio - could reach thousands of students all at once.
Back then, even though it would be viewed as laughable and counterproductive today, the CATV efforts represented a concentrated effort to leverage emerging technology. It did extend teacher resources and present certain resources.
Today, of course, is far different. An entire generation is growing up and learning with integrated digital resources, from tablets and iPads to laptops and smartphones. But just like the old requirement of coaxial cable, digital learning requires digital infrastructure.
While digital learning platforms on wireless present new, exciting and effective means to accelerate learning - both traditional K-12 and adult life-long - wireless and broadband requirements are increasing exponentially. Make no mistake, tablets, smartphones and other wireless devices are bandwidth hogs that require copious amounts of high-speed spectrum to function properly, particularly when online video content is involved. Slow connectivity and low bandwidth prohibits and compromises high-quality video conferences (including SKYPE and similar) and other critical learning platforms.
To help state, county and city governments - as well as school boards - effectively plan for the fiber-based infrastructure required for effective digital learning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set up a special online speed test, available at www.schoolspeedtest.org. If you pull this site up into your browser, you can actually type in (or add) your local schools and directly test the download and upload speeds. This can help you determine where your local schools are positioned to provide the digital content and applications that will help advance your local workforce and accelerate/promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
Eventually all platforms will have to convert or rebuild to a level that emphasizes high-speed fiber-optics, similar to what Smithville has achieved with its 1 Gigabit connectivity and others with their fiber conversions and upgrades. The enormous capacity at 1 Gigabit used to be available only to the select few university labs or specialized technology-based industries. Soon it will be available to almost every consumer, business or education institution, dramatically increasing the communication and data capacity of the state.
Some areas continue to require some encouragement or support to achieve these levels of high-speed connectivity. But just as the investment was obviously worth it when America put through the trans-continental railroad and electrified rural areas, the Return on Investment (ROI) for long-lasting, high-bandwidth fiber optics will be high in both the short- and the long-term.
As new fiber-based systems are installed or upgraded, so will opportunities increase for business and workforce development across the board. Let us continue to accelerate Indiana’s life-long learning capacity with new fiber-based platforms.
Cullen McCarty is Executive Vice President at Smithville
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