2011/06/03

Google Fiber KCK: Youth and Education

A high-value initial focus area for Google Fiber KCK is involving youth and education in the ultra high-speed internet access.

There are tremendous opportunities for new and interesting ways to leverage gigabit access in the field of learning and teaching. Young people will benefit from having access to the blazing fast Google Fiber connections and will, in some cases, lead the way in developing new tools and applications for gigabit internet.

Four avenues immediately come to mind for applying the power of gigabit fiber to the benefit of young people and education in KCK:
  1. Integrating the advantages of the blazing fast speed into regular K-12 and college classroom activities.
  2. Developing and launching new K-12 and college programs which utilize the benefits of gigabit access, such as Chromebook pilot programs and inter-school student collaboration on high bandwidth applications.
  3. Developing and launching non-school programs for KCK young people where they can explore ways for the gigabit internet to help them learn about or become involved with topics in which they are passionately interested.
  4. Integrating unique features of ultra high-speed fiber into adult and continuing ed programs and creating new adult ed opportunities for KCK residents who don't currently have computers or internet access.
Because I haven't yet visited the KCK schools, I don't know what their current internet access speeds are or how extensively internet is used in their classes. But if their access is anything like the schools in northeast Wisconsin, especially the older ones that haven't been re-wired for improved internet in the past five years, the schools' internet may be painful or annoying to use. Making 100+ Mbps connections available will tend to transform the internet into a ubiquitous fact of life for both teachers and students instead of a teaching tool that teachers sometimes struggle with to integrate with other classroom activities. When there is zero wait time to access sites, stream videos, do online research and connect and collaborate effortlessly with others who are on uber fast internet, the gigabit fiber system will become invisible, always-on and accepted as a fact of life in the schools. Teachers and students will soon acclimate to this luxury item made possible by Google. When they travel outside KCK, they will be frustrated by slow speeds that everyone else has to deal with and will be baffled as to how the rest of the world can put up with the feeling of trying to swim through molasses whilst online. As Patrick Pichette, Google's CFO said, "Data speed is like oxygen, right? Oxygen you take for granted until it disappears, and then it becomes like everything, right?"

Although part of the benefit of Google Fiber will be organically assimilated and realized in KCK schools without focused effort, the ultra high-speed network's impact will be magnified by developing a new projects and pilot programs centered around gigabit access. The low-hanging fruit for this magnification effort will be to learn from Chattanooga schools and other education systems which have already found effective ways to use 100+ Mbps internet. Other opportunities for new 'gigabit school programs' include:
  1. Grants and corporate collaboration for student Chromebook pilot programs.
  2. Other programs which help students leverage the benefits of high bandwidth access to the cloud computing ecosystem. Some programs in this category will be best described as "students leading the teachers" and will give students the opportunity to blaze a new trail of innovation across the Wild West of gigabit internet unexplored territory.
  3. Connecting to colleges and other organizations on Internet2 and developing collaborative projects with people outside KCK, such as with students in the sister cities of Linz, Austria, and Limerick, Ireland.
  4. Launch a new Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) culture of active high-speed participation in world-class science fair projects.
Another opportunity for young people to lead the way will be in non-school activities. The bulk of these non-school activities will be suggested and directed by the interests of youth who get involved in these 'after school' programs. There are existing programs in other cities from which KCK youth can glean ideas or request help in launching similar programs. KCK young people will no doubt dream up unique ideas that other communities will hear about and want to emulate. City-wide LAN parties and video and film post-production creations by high school indie producers are just two possibilities in this area. A worthwhile and fun youth-led venture could be launching a KCK program along the lines of Free Geek. The Portland, OR, Free Geek organization refurbishes technology to provide computers, education and job skills in exchange for community service. Other organizations similar to Free Geek accept donations of older PCs, then teach people how to build their own computer from salvaged part from these donated PCs.

A fourth 'youth and education' category to consider is adult and continuing education. One part of this topic could deal with providing access and basic training for high-speed broadband access at several different new community computer centers. People who don't have fast internet (or any internet) at home or who want to learn how to more effectively use the internet could go to these community centers to participate in community-wide computer training or job education programs. KCK adults could participate in basic or advanced online adult and continuing ed learning programs, including those available from the Khan Academy, MIT Open Courseware, University of California, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative and others on a growing list of remote education opportunities.

To sum it up, the Google Fiber experiment opens fantastic new windows and doorways into a brave new world for the KCK youth and education sectors. It will be exciting to see what cool new things appear as this aspect of the project blooms and flourishes.

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