Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), shares a national perspective on how online education is progressing. “In the early days of online learning, content was flat, sequential and text-based,” she said. “This is evolving into a dynamic environment, with customized, adaptive content. Artificial intelligence will be increasingly built into interactive, online systems.”
As evidenced by Florida Virtual School’s (FLVS) distribution model, resources often are stored online and streamed in real-time to the end-user’s computer. The school is preparing to deliver personalized content to each student. “Before a student enters a course he or she will take an assessment of what they already know, and how they like to learn,” said Andy Ross, FLVS chief sales and marketing officer. “The system will then create a customized course, building the content from a variety of learning objects stored in the cloud.” It will take another 18 months-2 years for FLVS to transition to this customized, streaming media system.
Terri-Lynn Brown, senior education specialist at Desire2Learn, said it’s clear that the instructor’s use of video applications and multimedia will play a large role in determining future bandwidth requirements. “We are seeing increased use of multimedia in online learning,” she said. ““The [Desire2Learn] platform delivers maximum functionality across the lowest bandwidth possible, but at the same time, it is imperative for broadband carriers to continue to expand network capacity given the increase in streaming media.”
Patrick agrees that broadband availability and capacity is a challenge to this new educational model. “Everything our research shows is that educators and their technology partners are going to see broadband user demand loads unlike anything they’ve experienced before,” Patrick said. “A school’s infrastructure is just not ready for five or more students running simultaneous multimedia content with embedded assessments.” Read more
Simulation: The Lab of the Future
Simulation is a powerful multimedia tool used in scientific and mathematics courses and to train a variety of technical professionals—from veterinary technicians to plumbers. Simulation involves using a computer to model a real-life or hypothetical situation so that it can be studied to understand how the system works.
Online content providers such as SAS Curriculum Pathways have embraced the use of science and mathematics simulations. Chemistry students complete laboratory experiments via an animated, interactive SAS tool that incorporates streaming video from a real lab environment. In another SAS course, Geometry students visualize and manipulate problems with 2D and 3D diagrams.
iLab Central is dedicated to the proposition that real laboratories accessed remotely over the Internet can enrich science and engineering education by expanding the range of experiments and equipment that students are exposed to in the course of their education. Read more
Online learning, which incorporates Web-based instruction, multimedia resources and the capability to support real-time and asynchronous communication, is transforming the traditional classroom into a digitally-rich, interactive and highly personalized environment.
Although online learning has its roots in distance education, it has expanded beyond the traditional correspondence course. Today, a virtual program can replace or supplement traditional brick-and-mortar classroom instruction. Virtual courses are available in K-12 environments, higher education institutions and industry-specific continuing education programs.
This dramatic shift in the U.S. education landscape is prefaced upon the availability of broadband infrastructure within the traditional school building, in the learner’s home and in mobile locations. Over the next few weeks, the New Edge will publish a series of articles exploring how online learning is affecting U.S. education, and how students utilize the broadband pipe for learning opportunities.
The Online Learning Boom
More than 5.6 million higher-education students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2009, an increase of nearly 1 million students in one year, according to the report Class Differences: Online Learning in the United States, 2010 by The Sloan Consortium. Nearly 30% of higher education students now take at least one course online, and 63% of reporting higher education institutions said that online learning was a critical part of their long-term strategies.
K-12 education is mirroring the trends seen in the higher-education environment. K-12 online learning is a booming field, growing at 30% annually. Today, supplemental or full-time K-12 online learning programs are available to most students in 48 states, plus Washington, D.C. Read more
Click here to download a printer-friendly PDF of the entire five part series.
Resources: Places to Go to Learn More
- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP)
- Electric Power Research Institute
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
- National Broadband Plan, Recommendations on Energy and the Environment
- National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC)
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
- National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC)
- NTCA’s October 2, 2009, comments submitted to the FCC on smart grid
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Smart Grid Overview
- Utilities Telecom Council (UTC)
Crucial to the smart grid ecosystem is the development of an open architecture defined by clear, accepted standards for interconnection, interoperability, performance and monitoring. These standards will provide a necessary foundation for an intelligent network and the many devices which will interface with the grid.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is intimately involved with the standards development process. “We need uniform ways of communicating for the smart grid network to be successful,” said Bob Saint, principal engineer at NRECA. “Electric cooperatives don’t have the staff or resources to customize solutions. We need a device that is plug-and-play, or as near plug-and-play as possible for a variety of network architectures.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), which started working on smart grid standards in 2007 when it was tasked to do so by the Energy Independence & Security Act, is spearheading national standards efforts. To carry out its mission, NIST received $15 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Read more
To operate a smart grid, rural utility providers will need last-mile broadband infrastructure connecting smart meters with remote locations and central offices. As utilities evolve and interconnect their networks, they will also need large-scale connectivity between their aggregation points.
Utilities looking to develop a smart grid have several options. They can build their own last-mile and core broadband network, partner with an existing network operator to provide the infrastructure or meet somewhere in the middle, deploying last-mile connectivity while working with a backhaul aggregator. The decision is based upon a variety of factors including the utility’s unique needs and the local regulatory environment as defined by each state public utility commission. Read more