EAGLE-Net Broadband Delays Test Patient Hopes for Digital Learning Policies

The power and potential of blended learning stand out in several ways. It can give students more control over their education — like having a customized playlist — and enable them to advance at their own pace. It can expand the reach of effective teachers and allow them to focus time more efficiently on what they do best. It can foster more innovation to speed up the process of building effective learning systems. And it can do all that without requiring new revenue.

Some of the greatest potential to help students lies in Colorado’s rural areas, and some districts have begun to embrace the possibilities. But in order to make blended learning work, they have to access digital technology in the form of high-speed Internet access. Hence, an eye-catching new story by Andy Vuong in the Denver Post (H/T Complete Colorado):

EAGLE-Net Alliance hopes to connect 80 percent of Colorado’s school districts to its taxpayer-funded broadband network by the end of next year, president Mike Ryan told state lawmakers Monday.

EAGLE-Net has been overseeing a major federal grant program to connect Colorado school districts to broadband technology. Charges about the group’s work led to Congressional hearings earlier this year. The project was put on hiatus for nearly half a year while issues were resolved.

That partly explains why my Education Policy Center friends’ 2012 digital learning policy road map ended up missing the mark when it said EAGLE-Net was “scheduled to complete broadband infrastructure enhancements to serve all 178 school districts by August 2013.” Now we’re looking at 7 percent of the initial $100 million grant (representing most of their funds) remaining, and an expectation that 80 percent of districts will be up to speed a whole year from now.

It makes little minds like mine wonder if there isn’t a better way to provide the digital connections rural students needs. If this step has become so time-consuming and challenging, how long will it take to put Colorado at the forefront of student-centered digital learning policy? We’re still waiting to update the student count system, not to mention enacting course-level funding or developing competency-based tests and accountability measures.

Meanwhile, there is a rising number of Colorado blended learning innovations to keep an eye on, and plenty of outside inspiration to keep cheering for. Policy changes may move too slowly for an impatient kid, but let’s keep pressing in the right direction!