WASHINGTON -- "Almost if not every school in this country will have broadband" by 2015, said Jim Shelton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, at Slate's "Design a Better Classroom" event last night, where he sat on a panel with several distinguished education experts. "The contracts are signed, the money is spent."
Shelton mentioned that bit of old news, first unveiled back in March as part of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) National Broadband Plan, as a way to frame break-out sessions designed to encourage participants to share their ideas for redesigning the American classroom. "As we move forward, you have to imagine a different infrastructure," he said. But judging by the reaction in the room, which was filled with more than 100 educators, students and policymakers -- the sort of people you would expect to know this stuff -- and my conversations with attendees during and after the event, the original announcement went largely unnoticed -- or was dismissed as just another pipe dream.
Part of Slate's Hive series, the "Design a Better Classroom" event operated under the assumption that a large, smart and engaged readership knows more than the handful of editors and writers it takes to produce a website, however well regarded that site might be. Some of the ideas proposed were interesting and innovative -- project centers in every classroom, human-centered school design, international videoconferencing -- but most focused around innovation that wouldn't be possible without the National Broadband Plan's goal of bringing 1 Gbit/s Internet service into every library, school and hospital by 2020. (Shelton's five-year projection could prove impossibly ambitious.)