Hardware and Infrastructure

Infrastructure needs to be affordable, ubiquitous, redundant, abundant, equal, and adaptable, assuring all learners have access throughout their community, regardless of time or place. Our vision of the future includes the following:
  • Infrastructure includes support for multiple devices, including devices being brought in by the learners;
  • Infrastructure supports any platform, any application;
  • Financial and staff resources are available to support not only infrastructure, but also the learners who depend on that infrastructure;
  • Infrastructure includes both wireless and wired options, as no single solution will meet the needs of all situations;
  • Infrastructure extends beyond hardware to include software applications as well (e.g., Google Apps for Education, iTunesU, Edmodo).

Today, many of our schools and libraries have significantly less bandwidth than they need.  This issue will become even more critical as more services move to the cloud. While the TEACH program is now increasing the bandwidth to many school districts (and libraries) on BadgerNet, it likely will not be able to meet their needs into the future without a significant funding increase.  Sufficient broadband – from whatever source – at affordable cost is essential to ensuring the success of digital learning in Wisconsin (for more information, see the DPI paper on broadband, http://pld.dpi.wi.gov/files/pld/pdf/bbandnetaccess.pdf).  A number of organizations provide guidelines on what schools and libraries should be aiming for with regard to Internet connectivity:
  • The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recommends that for every 1000 students and staff, schools have 100 Mbps capacity to the Internet and 1 Gbps capacity between facilities.
  • The National Broadband Plan recommends 1 Gbps to every community anchor institution (e.g., schools, libraries, municipalities, hospitals) by 2020.
  • The School Health and Library Broadband Coalition (SHLB) calls for 1 Mbps per connected computer per institution.
  • The FCC’s “Household Broadband Guide” recommends households with four computers have between 6-15 Mbps, even if just one of those computers is used for an application such as streaming video, video conferencing, or online gaming.  “Broadband” is defined as having a minimum of 4 Mbps connection to the Internet.

In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison invented a light bulb that plugged into a socket. This light bulb solved a major problem with illumination. No longer were there issues with open flames or the soot of candles.  Edison's real interest, however, was about much more than light bulbs, sockets, or even illumination. Edison’s passion was creating the entire electrical grid. Edison spent his time focused on how to get electricity to all people at the lowest possible cost. Though he'll go down in history as the inventor of the light bulb, Edison's more important legacy has more to do with the electrical grid...the infrastructure that would go on to support everything from the light bulb to the electric car.

As schools and libraries think about the infrastructure and hardware necessary to support 21st Century digital learning, we feel it important that leaders plan carefully, starting with a scalable infrastructure designed to support a diverse range of devices and platforms. The acronym “BYOD” (bring your own device) is certainly a buzz phrase in today’s educational landscape.  On one hand it begins to solve problems of access, while on the other it creates issues related to equity and support. Regardless, schools and libraries must plan accordingly and accommodate. Any device should be able to connect.  Any app should work on the infrastructure. When it comes to planning infrastructure and hardware, leaders must focus efforts on providing access much like we do electricity.

We firmly believe Wisconsin schools and libraries should have a “technology grid” that is analogous to the electrical grid. That is, the system should be ubiquitous, affordable, and always available at school and home to facilitate 24/7 learning.  We must reach a point in which this is no longer an issue. Enabling this infrastructure allows more attention to be focused on how we use the technology, rather than how we get adequate access.