IETA supports funding broadband network

The Idaho Education Technology Association (IETA) is the state’s association for educational technology leaders in Idaho, and is in favor of the state continuing to fund and support the Idaho Education Network (IEN). The concept of the IEN has been a positive experience for most school districts regardless of the contractual issues. We believe the ability to leverage economies of scale by utilizing a statewide contract provides the best return for the taxpayers of Idaho and a lower total cost of ownership.

Over the past five years, teachers and technology directors across Idaho have seen technology used in our schools change dramatically. At the core of these innovative educational services is access to reliable high speed Internet. The IEN has ensured that students have access to high quality online educational resources that compliment education in the classroom regardless of geographical location. Reliable Internet through the IEN means students have instant access to dynamic and pertinent digital resources and curriculum. The Internet has become as important in the classroom as other utilities such as gas and electricity. Teachers and students rely on available bandwidth as an important tool for learning.

Teachers should be able to choose technology based on the educational value and should not be concerned if the Internet will be too slow to support it. A major benefit of the IEN is the active monitoring of bandwidth usage and the addition of incremental bandwidth as necessary. To help control costs, the IEN adjusts bandwidth to schools only when continued use shows a need. For smaller districts, the IEN provides better bandwidth pricing and needed technical support.

The IEN also supports distance learning in Idaho. While the IEN’s primary purpose is to provide high quality bandwidth to schools, it also facilitates access to video teleconference units (VTC) provided by the IEN, online classes, and/or blended courses like those provided by Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA). Quality Internet connections allow for teachers to give live instruction and tutoring to students across the state.

A survey released by the IETA to school district technology staff shows that providing equitable and reliable highspeed Internet is challenging across rural Idaho. Before the IEN many rural schools report that they had difficulty purchasing necessary bandwidth due to cost and/or availability. Without the IEN some schools and communities lacked access to even basic broadband services.

Additional findings from the survey can be found in the IETA Survey Summary at http://www.idahotechtalk.org/ or directly at http://goo.gl/bSvDXZ.

Technology utilization in our schools continues to increase as devices like cell phones, tablets, and laptops decrease in price and increase in classroom use. Learning and online collaboration is now part of daily classroom life. The IEN creates equity for Idaho students, saves taxpayer money, and moves Idaho classrooms toward a more modern learning environment. The IEN contract issues need to be resolved so that Idaho’s students are not left behind.

Keven Denton is the president-elect of the Idaho Education Technology Association. This article represents the views of the IETA board.