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By Sarah Guckert • July 24, 2013

Top 4 Takeaways: Obama’s ConnectED Initiative

In an effort to connect America’s classrooms with the latest digital technologies that are revolutionizing education, the Obama education ConnectED Initiative will connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet within 5 years. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works:

1. Upgraded Connectivity

Connect 99% of America’s schools with next generation broadband in 5 years with a target speed of 1 Gbps.

2. Trained Teachers

Improve teachers’ skills so that every educator has training and support in education technology tools.

3. Build on Private Sector Innovation

Invest in a robust market in educational software which can tap into the educational devices supported by high speed networks.

What exactly does this policy mean for education technology as an industry? At first glance, it sounds great. Obama’s policy plans to tackle just about all of the main problems that educators have with tech devices in the classroom. For a better understanding of the caveats though, let’s take a look at 4 obstacles and opportunities that the ConnectEd Initiative imposes.

Network Support at Home – Only 20% of teachers say their network is strong enough to support their lesson plan. ConnectED clearly aims to close this gap in the classroom, but will that be enough? With more educational resources going online, more homework assignments will require strong Internet connection as well. This means the upgraded connectivity that this policy aims for needs to be paired up with better Internet access for students at home as well. While there are other initiatives to address this problem, increased connectivity in the classroom loses a significant amount of value without strong internet connection at home.

Important Role for Teachers – With the new trend of flipped classrooms some speculate whether there will be a day when technology actually replaces teachers. The Obama administration recognizing the importance of training teachers suggests that education technology is, first and foremost, a tool. Like any tool, if not implemented with the proper guidance, it can very easily be misused or even have negative effects on classroom education. Wendy Kopp, CEO of Tech for All, says “Whenever I ask the leaders of successful schools their secret, the answer is almost always the same: people, people, people.” The Obama Administration seems to share the same sentiments by aiming to harness the power of teachers.

E-Rate Program Cap – The main caveat that many in the education technology industry seem to have with the ConnectED initiative is the fixed cap of E-Rate Funding at $2.4 billion. E-Rate is a program that provides discounts for schools to get access to education technology services. While the demand for internet access has tripled in the past fifteen years, the E-Rate Funding cap has remained the same. Funds for Learning has created a proposal to increase this cap, but unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adjusts the cap, ConnectED will be a very difficult policy to implement.

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Ed Tech Market is Growing – The education technology industry has seen a recent boom where investments in new technology have tripled over the past decade. Given this, the ConnectED policy comes at an appropriate time. Although there has been recent debate over whether the education technology industry is experiencing a sudden flow of investments that will not pay off in value (also known as a “bubble”), CB Insights reports data that shows the recent increase in education technology follows the nature of any new or “hot” industry. This essentially means that we can expect positive outcomes from ConnectED because the market for education technology is doing well.

What’s your take on ConnectED? Is it a surefire success or are there more kinks that need to be worked out? Let us know in the comment box below!



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