Broadband In Schools


Article by Herb Rubenstein, Founder and Executive Director, THE LEEEGH


The author of this article, as development director of the PTA at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland, helped the school raise $50,000 for cable wiring and TV's to be installed to allow the school to access educational resources through cable. That was ten years ago, in 1999. Parents, students, teachers and the administration all enthusiastically supported these cable TV's being in the classroom. However, in the $40+ million dollar budget for building the school, the $50,000 for the cable TV's was nowhere to be found.

Today, the information technology revolution has made many forms of video conferencing, remote video presentations, internet based e-learning platforms, using video and audio, and many other forms of educational tools and resources available using broadband technology. This article explores why and how there will be an explosion of broadband in PreK-12 schools throughout the United States and why this will be one of the best things ever to happen to improve our schools.

This article is based on Herb Rubenstein Consulting's analysis of the future of schools and its research into new ways to use broadband to support improving education in the United States. It is also the result of research conducted by this author in preparation of the book, Leadership Development for Educators (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009, forthcoming) that showed how librarians were embracing new technologies to enhance PreK-12 education.

The Culture of Our Schools

The basic format of our PreK-12 educational system has not changed very much over the past fifty, if not one hundred years. The teacher lectures, explains and delivers curricula and assignments to students, and hand grades most tests. Now, teachers do use some limited resources made available via the computer and the internet and students often have access to the internet during school. In colleges and graduate schools, deployment of broadband based technologies has much further progressed than it has in PreK-12 school environments.

Technology is accepted as an integral part of our PreK-12 culture, but only to a limited extent. This article outlines ways that technology can enhance the educational experience and potentially significantly increase the efficiency of teachers and the outcomes of students. While there are many forms of software, e-learning programs and approaches, and an infinite number of ways that information technology can improve schools, this article looks only at a few technologies that will increase the use of broadband dramatically over the next decade in the PreK-12 school environment. The technologies discussed in this article are merely illustrative of ways to use technologies that expand the use of broadband in schools. There are hundreds of excellent examples of this that we could not include in this introductory article.

Expanding Broadband in Schools

Broadband, the high-speed transmission of information, video, and data via the internet, is becoming more and more ubiquitous. If the use of broadband could save teachers hundreds of millions of hours a year, and while doing so could increase student achievement, we all agree that would be a good thing, provided it did not break the school's budget.

The cost of broadband and information technology is getting lower and lower every year. While no large scale analysis of the overall cost of bringing in large scale broadband services to every PreK-12 school in our country has been performed for this article, the examples of how the upcoming explosion of broadband and information technology in schools show clearly that this will become a cost-effective investment in education.

Every innovation in every sector requires training and change management in order to be effective. There is no doubt that teachers will need to be trained on how to use the technologies that require substantial broadband in schools. Administrators will need to be trained on how to buy, manage, evaluate, and support these technologies. Parents will need to be informed, as will students, on the benefits and the limits that are necessary to insure that the broadband and information technology being made available to schools in the future is used wisely and improves student performance.

Selected Examples of Using Broadband in Schools

Every week virtually every PreK-12 student takes at least one test. Usually this is a paper and pencil exercise, with the teacher grading the test by hand. The student has to hand the test to the teacher and the teacher has to hand the test back. The teacher must grade the test, record the test grade by hand in a book and then, by hand, figure out the overall grade for that student for the grading period. If we rented cars using this technology, it would take hours to get out of an airport or leave any car rental facility.

One example of how to use broadband in schools has to do with test taking. In the future, students will take true-false, short answer, multiple choice, and many math tests on remote, hand held devices, that are much simpler than those use by car rental personnel. These hand held devices could even be cell phones.

While this may sound futuristic, it is not. Simple hand held devices could yield the following benefits to the school system:

  • Save the 3.7 million PreK-12 teachers an average of two hours per week grading and administering tests, which would total over 38 weeks in the school year, two hundred and eighty one million, two hundred thousand hours of time a year. This is the equivalent of 140,600 full time people working 2,000 hours a year.
  • Eliminate cheating by giving teachers the ability to send questions on the test to students using the hand held devices in a random manner or even giving them different, yet equivalent test questions.
  • Create a format where the test is graded immediately upon answering the last question on the test, giving the students the immediate feedback they need.
  • Allow for easier retesting and special testing accommodations for students with particular challenges
  • Allow for better data handling and better data base management of test scores, plus easier communication of all test scores via email to parents
  • Allow for posting on an electronic board all test results to promote competition in the classroom and instant accountability of students for their test scores (some schools may not wish to do this for privacy reasons)
  • Allow for easier sharing of grade data among school officials so they can spot unwelcome trends in student performance and deal with it immediately
  • Allow for instant acknowledge and recognition for excellent test results and overall improvements in trends by students in test scores as soon as they occur.

These are just a few of the massive improvements that would benefit students, teachers, school administrators, and parents, from the use of handheld devices for many of the tests our PreK-12 children take every week. These devices require broadband and such use would dramatically increase the broadband use in schools. The costs of this broadband would be negligible compared to the savings. Just looking at the savings in teachers' time that we estimate, 281,200,000 hours at $25.00 an hour, is over seven billion dollars a year.

A second example of how to use broadband in schools to improve the schools would be to have teachers regularly use video conferencing with parents regarding their students performance. Over the next decade, individual homes, and libraries, among many places, will be video enabled for communication. Video conferences save everyone transportation time, are easier on people's busy schedules, and could serve as a new effort by teachers to engage parents more successfully as educational partners.

A third example is to use broadband to pipe in lectures and educational programming over the internet to students. This is certainly occurring to some extent, but not nearly as much as technology currently allows for in the classroom or auditorium.

A fourth example of using broadband in schools to enhance student achievement is to use cameras to record what goes on in selected classes at selected times. Recording selected classes at selected times would allow, on a password protected basis, many beneficial results, including:

  • Allowing other teachers and administrators to learn from other teachers for training and improvement
  • Allow peer review and mentoring of teachers by teachers
  • Allow administrators to evaluate more accurately how teachers are performing
  • Allow our educational system to conduct better research on factors that contribute and hinder student achievement
  • Allow parents to view classes
  • Allow students who miss classes due to illness to view the classes they miss
  • Allow the school to show exemplary teaching, exemplary student achievement, and exemplary educational programs to the community, potential funding sources like businesses, and foundations, and to help link what actually goes in schools to the community as a whole.
  • Allow schools to license excellent lectures either for free or for a fee to areas that might not have teachers with the same level of expertise of gifts as the teacher who has her classed recorded either by video or merely audio means
  • Promote video conferencing for teacher training and conferences
  • Promote video conferencing for large scale administrator and teacher interactions
  • Promote video conferencing for use in sports programs, music programs, extracurricular activities, library oriented research and resource activities, and even school assemblies

While these video recordings and transmissions via the internet, and video conferencing among teachers, students, administrators, and the outside community, will all require some equipment and additional broadband, the technology exists and has already been used for years in the business sector and in higher education for years.

As Director of Development of the Autism Society of Colorado, the author was informed by a family in New England that their child, who was diagnosed with autism, was video recorded for several minutes each, several times a week by the school. The video was downloaded to the web, and the parents through a password protected format, were able to view the video. The parents were then able to discuss what they saw on the video with the child's teachers, doctors, counselors, and the child himself. The parents loved the three or four minute videos they were able to view each week and believed the videos were very helpful in aiding their child with autism in the educational environment and in life itself.

Video, supported by increased broadband, can play a huge role in improving our schools. Some may argue there are privacy concerns regarding using video recordings for any purposed in schools. However, this author believes that these privacy concerns can be addressed fully with proper rules regarding access and uses of the video in schools.

One final example of an excellent use of technology to improve schools that will require additional broadband is the simplest of all. In many extracurricular activities, students have to go to a math contest, a science competition, visit other language clubs at other schools, go on field trips to remote locations. For any parent, like myself, who has attended a math competition, it is clear that physically going to one of these competitions is exhilarating for the student contestant. However, think of how many additional competitions could be held if large screens and video links were established so schools could have their team at their school and compete against other schools while those students were sitting at their own schools. Think how many field trips to remote locations could be done over a video connection so that all students could participate in the field trips and not just a chosen few, as is often the case today in schools.

This final example shows how video conferencing can expand excellent educational opportunities to many more students. Schools cannot afford to all students to go on dozens of field trips a year. However, with interactive video conferencing, students from the entire school could participate at a cost of next to nothing, in field trips that were accomplished via video conferencing.


Today's students are significant users of broadband. Certainly much of the content they currently access through broadband is not educational in nature. However, this is not a good argument against using expanded broadband in schools wisely in the future. Cable TV is a great example of a medium where much of the content is neither educational nor even appropriate for our PreK-12 students. At Montgomery Blair high school, the $50,000 was well invested to bring the best capabilities of cable TV for the benefit of our students. The best of cable TV does provide educational benefits for our students and people all over the world. Today, broadband and the transmission of video over the web have tremendous potential for helping teachers improve the use of their time, and improving the education of our students. We need to explore all of the potential benefits and potential challenges of expanding the use of broadband in PreK-12 schools. From our perspective, we see the clear advantages overwhelming the disadvantages and challenges. That is why we are predicting an explosion of the use of broadband in PreK-12 schools throughout the United States over the next several years.

About the Author

Herb Rubenstein is the President of Herb Rubenstein Consulting, a consulting firm to businesses and has its headquarters in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author of Breakthrough, Inc.: High Growth Strategies for Entrepreneurial Organizations (Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 1999) and Leadership Development for Educators (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), and the author of Leadership for Lawyers, 2ed. (American Bar Association, 2008), plus over 100 articles on business strategy, entrepreneurship, leadership, and improving how organizations function and deliver value. He also served as an Adjunct Professor of Strategic Planning George Washington University, and has been an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurism at George Mason University and Colorado State University. He has his law degree from Georgetown University, his Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a graduate degree in sociology from the University of Bristol in Bristol, England and was a Phi Beta Kappa/Omicron Delta Kappa graduate from Washington and Lee University in 1974. His email address is he can be reached at (303) 592-4084. For more information about Herb Rubenstein Consulting, see

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