The Digital California Project
by Bob Walczak, CUE Executive Director
"The Digital California Project is central to my goal of integrating
the most advanced technological tools into California's learning
environment so that students can capitalize on the vast benefits
of 21st century knowledge-based technologies," said Gov. Gray
The DCP is laying the foundation for a statewide advanced services
network to serve K-12 education. But creating and implementing such
a network is not done without controversy.
Possibly, this new network maybe too much technology for California's
school system to absorb. Installation costs, connection fees, and
training expenses are always a concern for schools. Suitable curriculum
content, especially meeting California standards,private-sector
development funding, and interoperability challenges (some schools
still use IIGSs) are additional challenges.
CUE is a classroom-based organization and sits on the DCP Program
Steering Committee. We are eager to look at new solutions, and committed
to helping teachers and kids use technology in the teaching and
learning process. In time, this solution from the province of universities
could have a major impact on that process.
Internet2: Ready or Not?
Internet2 is exponentially faster than
the commercial Net, but what will it bring, and at what cost?
by Brian McDonough
Once they put the first electronic card catalog into a high school,
K-12 campuses started a path of ever-upgrading technology that probably
won't stop until physics teachers are launching students into orbit.
So far, though, after the jolt of initial computerization, the tech
flow has been a steadily rising tide more PCs, more memory,
incrementally faster processors and modems, new versions of software.
The next phase might not be so gentle. Internet2, a university-level
project that brings unparalleled bandwidth, is migrating toward
California K-12s. With $32 million in state funding per year for
four years, the Digital California Project: K-12 Statewide Network
is to provide the framework for a state wide advanced service network
that reaches into each of the state's 58 counties.
Once the network has been implemented, K-12 schools, districts
and county offices of education will be able to connect their networks
to the DCP and gain access to rich content resources for teaching
"I think first and foremost, it brings all of the education
and research community together through one infrastructure,"
says Tom West, president of CENIC. "So that will enable, we
believe, additional sharing of programs and learning resources and
The network could allow students and teachers to collaborate outside
the classroom, supplement textbooks, provide interactive learning
opportunities beyond the limits of the printed page or field-trip
budgets and enable AP courses and other specialty courses to be
delivered in a cost-effective manner in all geographic allocations.
It's a big jump in bandwidth that might also be a big jump in cost
and learning curves.
Welcome to the Future
These levels of connectivity and robust digital learning already
exist on Internet2; they just haven't migrated below the university
level yet. Ken Watkin, a professor in the department of speech and
hearing science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,
provides an example.
"Students log in and they get 150-200MB images, 10MB data
files, and they analyze them and then they come to class and we
talk about them," Watkin says. "An example I used yesterday:
I'm teaching students acoustics, and at the same time physiology
and anatomy. I wanted to show them what the vibration of the vocal
folds looks like, and then I wanted them to listen to the sounds
simultaneously and view computer simulation of it. This requires
exceptionally high bandwidth."
It is, he says, a lot better than downloading a video clip via
"The whole goal of Internet2 is that you not have all that
kind of delay. If you want it you got it right in front of you,"
he says. "That's the real important thing for K-12 education,
because the students today are especially sophisticated when it
comes to using the computer as a tool."
Scaling it to K-12
The Digital California Project has the mission of finding the applications
the high-speed network is meant to facilitate, and that will serve
the kindergarten through high-school environments.
"My job is acquiring those resources," says John Vaille,
director of DCP applications. Vaille says he's looking at private
companies, university libraries and other networks. The end goal
is that every classroom in the state, from kindergarten through
college,will be on one high-speed network with access to a wide
variety of programs useful to both classroom teachers and administrators.
CUE Legislative Advocate John Hodges voices concern that the DCP
might not look far enough outside the traditional education realm
for applications that will make Internet2-level bandwidth worthwhile.
The DCP's content-resource list, he says, isn't broad enough. "It
has no major educational foundations or major content providers
as text publishers," he says. "Their list of application
suppliers is a list of the current sources of information as developed
by the state of California."
And when the DCP does go outside the traditional sources, Hodges
warns, they might have trouble getting content approved by the state.
The DCP will look at cutting-edge applications sources, Vaille
says, suggesting that such content might be handled in a manner
similar to that used by the California Learning Resources Network
(CLRN), in which panels of teachers evaluate and rate software for
its quality and adherence to curriculum standards and state guidelines.
Some educators find such conversations too theoretical, though,
considering that the network is being built before worthy applications
have even been found.
"Right now you have all this bandwidth with the assumption
that if you put it in, people will flock to it and will develop
content that is bandwidth-appropriate," says Bob Blackney,
director of Technology and Instructional Support in the Chino Valley
Unified School District. "I don't know. Whenever you talk about
development of content, it takes so many other things. It takes
equipment, it takes training, it takes all those other pieces beyond
just providing bandwidth."
Jeanne Hayes, president of Quality Education Data in Denver, says
content won't be a problem. She says she's sure that removing the
bandwidth bottleneck will uncork a lot of creativity from education
content providers. "Every developer I know is really hamstrung
by the narrow pipes in schools," Hayes says.
In the early term, some of the applications proposed sound familiar,
because rougher versions are already being done via commercial Internet
connections: Distance learning, for video with participation enabled
at both ends, with clear and uninterrupted transmission,plus bandwidth
left over for other applications within that class, such as a digital
Another application of high-quality video and lightning-fast downloads:
A DCP paper conjures the image of a high-school teacher, perhaps,
accessing the SHOAH Visual History Library's 50,000 interviews with
Skip Sharp, executive director of Information Management Services
of the San Diego County Office of Education,says the growth curve
of the initial Internet should pave the way for adoption of next-generation
"We built a fairly robust network to start, anticipating that
there'd be a need for it," says Sharp, who also participates
on the DCP's Network Planning Liaison Team."We built the network
back in the early days with 56kbps lines, and we got a lot of buy-in
from the superintendents. We said, 'You're going to love the Internet
when we find the applications for it.' From that, we just generally
built the thing up, and sure enough, that's what happened. That's
where [CENIC]is today, saying, 'We need to put in a robust network
for you guys, because you're going to love Internet2.'"
Blackney says the economic chasm is too wide for that kind of leap
of faith. "I have more of await-and-see attitude than one that
this is going to be the best thing in the world," Blackney
says. "Obviously, broad bandwidth is something we've never
had before. It's going to evolve into something, and God knows what
Piping It In
Blackney also worries that T1 lines won't be sufficient for the
applications that will eventually materialize, and the cost of DS-3
installation doesn't look appealing to him. "For me to get
the connectivity my county says I have to have, I need fiber,"
he says."And when I talked to Verizon, my vendor, they said
it'd cost $287,000 to get fiber in here. Then there are monthly
recurring charges of $14,456 a month,and the install charge is $2,513.
That's on a three-year term if I sign upon a year-to-year
basis, it's $18,921 a month."
Those are commercial prices,undiscounted. But for comparison, the
district's current connectivity cost of$5,000 per year starts at
$20,000 annually undiscounted, a far cry from the DS-3 quote
"You're asking me to encumber my district for what is roughly
$400,000, maybe half a million dollars,on the promise that there'll
be some content," Blackney says. "I think it has a lot
of potential, but when you ask me to do that kind of bandwidth and
that kind of cost on the promise that there might be something there,
I can't do it. I look at what other kinds of resources I can bring
to children [for that money], because this game is not about how
much bandwidth we can have; the game is about how much we can teach
people. From my district's perspective, I can't justify the costs
Vaille says upgrades won't have to be so sudden, and that schools
won't have to immediately abandon their T1 lines.
"That would be irresponsible," he says. "We really
do have to help them move incrementally up this ladder."
Vaille says that initial DCP applications, in particular, would
run well on a T1, which is a relatively slow connection in an Internet2
world. Eventually, upgrades will have to happen. While no one thought
the upgrade path was going to end at the T1, there's still no clear
route to paying for higher connectivity.
"Well, the simple answer is that the schools will have that
challenge," CENIC's West admits. The DCP, he says, just wasn't
funded or directed to go that last mile. "We hope to be able
to identify the gaps and help stimulate how that can be resolved,
but it probably is a separate project, or a series of separate projects."
"That cost has to be borne somewhere, a combination of school,
district, state sources, but many of these services are discounted
through E-rate," Vaille notes. "So you can start writing
E-rate plans that reduce the cost. And simultaneously, we're working
to support a move to get DS3s and higher added to the state's telecommunications
fund [that] discounts services to schools."
John Hodges says the project would inspire more confidence at the
K-12 level if plans for last-mile connectivity were in place, and
more expertise outside the UC level were being employed.
"The true technologists in this state are the classroom teachers
in the absence of leadership in the state in technology, the teachers
had to take that on and run it," Hodges notes. "I would
form immediately a steering council of perhaps 10 of the hottest
K-12 classroom teachers I could find."
Then he'd do the same with industry leaders. "A retreat should
probably be created of two or three days, with some of the best
practitioners on the development side, in the music business, the
visual arts business, the textbook business. There are experts in
Barnes and Noble, eBay and other organizations that are so far ahead
on how[advanced technology] is going to work, it'll make your head
The state Legislative Analyst office questioned the DCP's plans,
as well. In a February report, the office withheld approval of the
DCP's funding, citing unanswered questions, including the last-mile
issues, some revisions to the DCP's original plan with appeared
to represent a scaling down of the project, and apparent delays
that left the project behind schedule.
Vaille said that the DCP's reply to the analyst's report addressed
those questions. On the schedule issue, he said the DCP isn't far
off, and blames slippage on issues that arose during the network
"Where we are is just 15 days behind, or by another calendar,
maybe 30 days," he says. "When you make a plan, you try
to be realistic, but you also try to be aggressive."
Then there was the matter of fewer hubs for the same money.
"Remember, the original plan was written before anyone got
into any real network architecture,"Vaille says. "Well,
we got into network planning and the teams found it was better to
have fewer hubs, but with more redundancy, more security. So what
happens is, we just did a redesign. Now, some of the circuits cost
more than we thought, but if you take more expensive circuits, more
circuits, but fewer hubs,you get the same cost. But we think you
get a better network."
In early March, the full legislature had not moved on the issue
yet, but a Senate review of the state budget spoke well of the DCP's
"The Senate Appropriations Committee went through the governor's
budget and hacked out about $2 billion," Vaille notes. "DCP
was left intact, so it is still in the governor's budget proposal,
and it's passed through the Senate committee,anyway."
Vaille and West say the project is on-target to have most counties
in the state connected in time for the fall term. What the network
will offer, and how it'll get into the classroom, will be the next
Brian McDonough is a freelance writer in
Internet2 is a not-for-profit consortium led by more than 180 U.S.
universities, with more than 60 leading companies, developing and
deploying advanced network applications and technology to accelerate
the creation of tomorrow's Internet.
Not a separate network or an eventual replacement for the current
commercial Internet, Internet2 brings together institutions and
resources from academia, industry and government to develop new
technologies and capabilities that can then be deployed in the global
Internet. This would include new applications such as digital libraries,virtual
laboratories, distance-independent learning and tele-immersion.
Derived from the Internet2 online FAQ sheet www.internet2.edu/html/faqs.html#
The DCP is the second major project of the nonprofit Corporation
for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), founded
in 1997 by California's major research and academic universities.
For more information about the Digital California Project, log
on to www.cenic.org.