Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LUS Fiber & Saint Thomas More & The Modern Curriculum

LUS Fiber has an ongoing "affinity" program with St. Thomas More high school; that program is evidence of a willingness to use the community's network to open up new possibilities for education in Lafayette.

An Affinity Promotion
St. Thomas More a local Catholic high school will benefit from a new affinity program with LUS Fiber. From the St. Thomas More website:
LUS Fiber has recently announced a new program exclusively for STM students, faculty and staff. Any STM student, teacher or staff member that switches to LUS Fiber will receive $50 in bill credits AND will secure $50 in bill credits for STM as well! Mention the “STM Affinity Program” when you sign up for service. This program is available to new residential and business customers in LUS Fiber’s service territory. LUS Fiber is the state’s largest community-owned ultra-fast fiber optic network that provides service to residents and businesses in the city of Lafayette. Visit LUSFIBER.com for more information on the company and its services.
It is pretty clearly as small transformation of the popular "Refer a Friend" promotion — your refer a friend and if he mentions your referral you both get a 50 buck discount on your bill. In this version your friend assigns his 50 buck discount to the school.

It is easy to see why this is likely to be an effective promotion—its' a good way to activate both school spirit and community patriotism. But its a good bit more than that potentially; a partnership between LUS Fiber and the schools is a natural—and necessary—condition for moving education into a 21st century model. Let me use St. Thomas More as a practical, specific example of why this is so.....

St. Thomas More's Gigabit:
An interesting idea and one that could generate a lot of team spirit. St. Thomas More was was LUS Fiber's first gigabit customer—a fact that the school brags on in its parental information page:
LUS Fiber provides St. Thomas More High School with a 1 Gigabit connection over a pure fiber optic network to power the robust and innovative applications used to create an enhanced educational experience. LUS Fiber is the only community-owned, ultra-fast fiber optic network in the state and offers video, Internet and phone services to residents and businesses in the city of Lafayette.
The 1:1 Tablet Program & Instructional Model
The school needs that gigabit. In addition to the usual computer labs and classroom computers St. Thomas More also sports a 1:1 tablet program in which each student is supplied with a tablet computer for their 4-year program. The student has has use of the tablet in school and out. Continuous access is crucial to the "flipped" curriculum model St. Thomas More is using. The traditional school-day pattern is to teach all the students in the class the material and to apply, practice, and review as homework. The flipped model flips that (bet you didn't see that coming!). Students watch video instruction and read material at home which leaves more time in school for the teacher to engage in targeted review with students who are struggling with a concept and to develop application projects that ground the material learned. (Much of this was discussed by the principal at that the recent "Breakfast for Fiber" event.)

When 1,100 students and faculty able to go online at the same time they can soak up a LOT of bandwidth. Principal Audrey Menard said at the Breakfast for Fiber event that they outran their 100 meg connection within a month of acquiring it from LUS.

The Bottom Line
Yes, the school needs a gig, any school with an muscular, universal, always-on program of tech use will gobble down a huge amount of bandwidth. But even more: moving much primary instruction to the home means the home has to have a lot of bandwidth too. St. Thomas More classes often provide video of their classroom lectures—with the school provided tablet that's easy if, and only if, they have a lot of bandwidth at home. That applies to other online learning environments as well. Should the students want to try a different explanation of the transitive property or Boles law the Khan Academy, iTunes U, or Youtube is sure to be useful; and to suck down its own ration of bandwidth. In addition to classroom teaching materials St. Thomas More also uses the Moodle class software you'll more commonly see in university classrooms (including ULL) and an array of other parent and student accessible grade and testing material available off the schools website. LUS' 100 meg intranet ensures that every student on LUS' system will be able to get back to their school's server at usable speeds. 20 students logging on from home won't bog down the connection.

All this boils down to a pretty simple bottom line: a really forward-looking school, one that uses technology to its full extent, will need four things: 1) An always-on, stays-with-the-student form of access, 2) truly massive of bandwidth to the school, 3) a lot of bandwidth between the school and the home, and 4) a good pipe from home as well as the school to the larger universe of learning resources. In most places in this country this is simply too high a bar; most schools simply cannot afford to "own" the gig or more that they need to start with pervasive personal access—and very likely don't have it available at any cost. The families cannot all afford to be on a big pipe at home—and even for those that could afford it really big bandwidth is commonly simply not available to most homes.

LUS Fiber makes a truly modern curriculum model possible. Right now St. Thomas More has the resources to make one inexpensive tablet available to their students for a four year tenure. The school has a gig available for what would be a shockingly low price almost anywhere else in the US. And, like all citizens, students in Lafayette have easy, cheap access to residential fiber's low latency and high speed.

It's possible here. It is not possible in most places in this country. And for that advantage we have LUS Fiber to thank.

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One school leading the way is admirable and laudable. But it is not enough. We are rapidly approaching a tipping point in Lafayette where the materials and methods being used at St. Thomas More are becoming more widely available and cheaper each year. Substituting a tablet for an large backpack full of expensive texts is already a sensible proposition—where the texts are digitally available. But other places will not be able to reap the sorts of benefits for which St. Thomas More is striving because the infrastructure will not be available to flip instruction into every home that needs it. Within the city we have LUS fiber and a central reason for extending it into the parish should be to serve every student. Having a local fiber net network that treats schools like schools and citizens like citizens rather than profit centers is the hard part. We've got that now.  The affinity program that St. Thomas More has is not just good business—it's evidence that LUS Fiber thinks about these things differently. We ought to be planning, now, for a sea change in education that leverages the advantages Lafayette fought for to make a better future for our kids.

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