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The issue of bandwidth is becoming ever-more urgent for those who understand its value and contribution to learning everywhere.

I live with what I call "smoke signals" bandwidth due to my geographic location, but I have done pretty much everything to my network to assure that 1 have a good, or at least sufficient, connection most of the time. Yes, it goes down on occasion and I find myself frustrated, but understanding the constraints of being in a wilderness area with minimal bandwidth is essential to understanding why this happens. If I know this information, then I can deal with it on a much more knowledgeable basis.

What I don't understand is why we have schools in both urban and rural areas that lack the bandwidth necessary to effectively use the learning tools of today, and particularly why this isn't the number one priority for each and every school district. How can students access equitable information when their bandwidth or bit rates vary so greatly? It doesn't matter what technological equipment is being used if the bottleneck is going to be the capacity of the bandwidth. In times of "Bring Your Own Device"(BYOD), this can be a real problem.

First, let's establish a working definition that I shall use to discuss this: Bandwidth refers to data, while broadband refers to telecommunications. For example: My cell phone works quite well just about anywhere, but my computer internet certainly doesn't. This means that my broadband coverage is quite good, while my bandwidth isn't. Broadband was originally used to discuss radio signals, and now is being used in many ways to describe a signal or type of signal that is transmitted through various methods/ mediums for our use. Cell phone towers are a classic example of broadband--companies are even renting "space" on another company's tower to afford coverage to their clients if they don't have it in a certain area. So, I can use my cell phone whether or not my plan "covers" an area by tapping into these "rented" towers.

This is not the case with bandwidth. If a bandwidth source doesn't have capacity for high speed, it doesn't matter what the instrument is capable of-it will operate at the bandwidth capacity of the source, not the instrument. Then, there is the issue that bandwidth is going to be used by more than the specific information instrument--it can be used to transmit voice, music, video, etc. My children (adults now) come to our house and the bandwidth we have just can't support their electronic information needs. We have to "take turns" using it.

Imagine that the situation at your school is just like it is at my house. Taking turns is a difficult teaching and learning strategy. Frustration reigns and classroom teachers can't understand why their use of bandwidth isn't supreme. The teacher librarian can't access all the information needed in their world: the information technologist can't set up many of the systems that would appeal to students (and be approved by parents and staff) because there isn't enough bandwidth to do so. A colleague of mine talks to his elementary students regarding bandwidth by using the analogy of a garden and a garden hose. If that garden hose isn't able to provide an adequate amount of water due to its size (say, it is like a straw), the garden will not receive its required watering to flourish. Another teacher librarian states that there is no such thing as too much bandwidth. An analogy of what it is like to have too little bandwidth is finally persuading a student to read but then turning out the light which is needed to read. My colleague worries that this type of approach will discourage students from looking for information, and he believes that bandwidth needs to be a consistent infrastructure in schools, much like bathrooms, wireless access, water, electricity, etc. Without adequate bandwidth, students are easily discouraged.

I worry about issues like the one raised in this recent article: http :// In this piece, there is reference to the question, "How 'big' do you want to think?" from a tech person outside of the educational system. Both the mayor and the superintendent of schools in this city didn't know how to respond. Bandwidth immediately comes to mind for me. Sure, I am all for newer technology and access to it, but why bother if those tools aren't able to work at full capacity for information?

In Pittsburgh Public Schools, secondary students have put together a Bill of Rights that they want instituted for every student in that school district ( 2013/10/14/Pittsburgh-Public-Schools-students-rally-for-new-student-bill-of-rights/stories/201310140090). It includes much about the issue of technology and equity of information, something for which bandwidth can be seen as essential in achieving.

There are bandwidth standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a New York based non-profit association ( whose mission is to "foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity." Presently the bandwidth standard is 802.11G, but many people have 802.11N, and the future is moving toward 802.11AC. Is it important to know the difference? Yes, as it totally affects the information capacity of your library and school. Find out what you are running. The last thing you want to have happen is that you run out of bandwidth and have students who need more to gain the information access they need to complete their thought processes. A suggestion would be to move exponentially from what you have (if it is basic) and go for the highest bandwidth capacity/standard out there.

Today, there is much information that is only available on the "net," yet we are handicapped by how much of that information can be accessed in our schools. In recent months, we have all seen the debacle of the new health care initiative that is centered in a non-responsive program that could potentially be considered bandwidth-starved. Not knowing what is being used to access this program, it is paramount that the bandwidth not be the "bottleneck" for the program on anyone's device. This is the issue for our schools: we often do not know what is being used when and where to access information we hope to supply. We have to consider that bandwidth should always be an issue when deciding learning's future.

But, as we know, the actual bandwidth capacity isn't going to be the only issue and it certainly isn't well understood. In addition to increasing bandwidth capacity, someone has to understand, and be influential enough to assist or make decisions that matter, regarding learning electronically. Whether it is a state responsibility or not, most states won't be stepping up to add this to the education legislation plate anytime soon. Lobbyists usually aren't schooled in the ramifications of this educational concern. Perhaps there is a chief information officer (CIO) in your school] school district who might have both influence and understanding--but probably not. Therefore, it is a responsibility the teacher librarian can assume (if they are willing to do so). They can assume a proactive stance regarding bandwidth. Student devices put additional pressure on networks. Networks historically haven't been designed with student devices in mind. Local providers of networks aren't providing for them either--they are providing capacity for local businesses and independent users. The proactive stance of the teacher librarian about this is important to more than the students--it goes to achieving a data flow that satisfies everyone on the network.

Look at technology innovations groups like Meru (http://www.merunetworks. com]). They have been working to address the concerns of local area networks and bandwidth since they started their company in 2002. They adhere to the IEEE standards, and work on innovative ideas that will assist everyone in better link themselves electronically. They are very clear that this style of learning isn't going away or getting smaller. Wi-fi is to be talked about and decided upon way before it is implemented. Meru has a vision that looks into the idea of most enterprises operating this way in their near futures, and Meru helps them to be able to count on their wireless networks, regardless of content and applications, allowing them to accomplish what they want to accomplish without bandwidth being a barrier. They work to allow technology managers to harness and use the power of their networks for future generations. The speed with which technology is happening demands that we act quickly to stay abreast of its future.

So, contrary to the comment on leadership of Illinois teacher librarians in a recent article (, be an instructional leader and pursue the right of the student to equitable access of information, including the bandwidth capacity needed to do so. Explore your situation, know your community, and see how you can positively impact it. Be the guide who facilitates understanding of why this is an essential component of learning.
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Author:Marcoux, Elizabeth "Betty"
Publication:Teacher Librarian
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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