E-rate Goes Mobile
Mobile learning is on the rise, and consequently, so is the need for mobile connectivity. According to a 2010 survey of E-rate consumers, including public schools and libraries, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 50 percent of respondents said they plan to implement or expand the use of digital textbooks and other wireless devices. In an effort to modernize the E-rate program, which traditionally has provided discounts to schools and libraries for affordable on-campus Internet access, the FCC has launched a pilot program, "Learning On-the-Go." Twenty participants in 14 states, including districts, individual schools and town libraries, were chosen to receive a portion of a $9 million grant from the FCC to fund their mobile learning initiatives that will provide students Internet access during after-school hours on mobile learning devices.
Participants for the program, officially known as the E-Rate Deployed Ubiquitously Wireless Pilot Program, were chosen based on how innovative and comprehensive their mobile plans were.
One example, said Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement, is San Diego Unified School District. "San Diego will receive support to integrate 24/7 online learning into its entire curriculum to serve 6th graders in 10 middle schools. Each student will receive a laptop with wireless connectivity, providing them access to the online curriculum beyond school hours.
The pilot follows recommendations set forth by the National Broadband Plan and participating schools and libraries have plans that include off-campus e-textbooks for students, connectivity for netbooks for students living in remote areas, and access to flexible online education programs for homebound students. After reviewing the results of the pilot program, which will end June 30, 2012, the FCC will determine if providing off-campus E-rate funding is worthwhile.
"I believe that's where we're headed with this pilot program," says Regina Brown, a school and library team leader at the FCC. "Learning is a 24/7 process. Technology is always evolving and more devices are being used as part of the learning environment."
According to Brown, specifics as to cost allocations and requirements for the potential off-campus E-rate program have not been discussed yet. To learn more about the grant program or see all its participants, visit www.fcc.gov.