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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Monday, April 24, 2017

Digital Divide Strategy #2: Hotspots on Buses

Digital Divide Strategy #2:  Hotspots on Buses

Many efforts around providing access revolve around sending students to access points in the community.  Some school districts have found that providing individual hotspots to families is just too costly to do on a large scale.  The Coachella Valley Unified School District in Southern California is just one of several districts nationwide that is experimenting with providing wifi hotspots on school buses.

Image result for coachella school bus wifi

Of course, having access on the way to school (especially for district's that provide devices to students) is a great way for students to get homework completed.  This is especially relevant for routes in rural areas where rides are often over 30 minutes.  But does this really help?  Can students really focus on homework while riding the bus?  

Coachella and other districts have taken the wifi bus idea one step further:  they park buses overnight in highly impacted areas so that students can access the internet from home.   Hotspot range at this point in time is about 100 yards round the vehicle.  Parking in or near a trailer home park, for instance, can provide access to multiple students and their families.

Image result for school bus wifi  The Coachella project faced some initial challenges.  Initially, the hotspots drained the bus batteries and the buses wouldn't start in the morning.  This issue was solved by putting solar panels on the tops of the buses.
To read about the Coachella bus project, click this link.   A few other districts who have gone down this road are 

Bus hotspot projects seem particularly effective in rural America.  They can be a cost effective way to provide outside the school day access to a large number of families.  With that said, though, one limitation is that it is still difficult to provide access for all students.   This is a creative solution for certain types of districts who are willing to innovate in order to strive for digital equity.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Digital Divide School Strategy #1: Wifi Community Collaboration

Digital Divide School Strategy #1:  

Wifi Community Collaboration

Sometimes, the needs of students and our families seem overwhelming.   At times, it seems like schools are called upon to solve deeply rooted problems that are systemic in nature.  Districts have been finding success in upgrading connectivity in schools and many have made significant progress in providing more machines/access points throughout their schools.  However, when it coat mes to students getting connected outside of school, the problem seems greater than most districts can handle (or even consider).   The vast majority of districts do not have plans for how students get connected outside of school, and this has led to great inequities in education.  As teachers move to digitalize curriculum, provide class websites and/or school management sites, and assign group electronic projects, those students that are not connected at home suffer from a notable disadvantage.  Sometimes, students will say that they are "connected" when asked, but this might simply mean that they can access the internet via a parent's smartphone if need be.   For many innovative and collaborative projects, this type of connectivity just doesn't fill the need.

One creative solution that Mountain View Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon implemented was creating a collaborative Community WiFi map.  The school approached local businesses and mentioned the need for student access after school and on weekends.   As Oregon is notable for it's rainy weather, the businesses were asked to let students sit and work inside and use the wifi.  In this proactive manner, many businesses were more than happy to help.

One a list of wifi community points was collected, Mt. View created a flyer (in both English and Spanish) that is given to students, families, and businesses.  It has turned out to be a win win and an example of a healthy school/community partnership.

Although this is a significant step in the right direction, it is still important to note that access to community wifi is not the same as having internet access at home.  Many students have obligations after school and can't get to their homework until later in the evening.  Parents are often reluctant to send their children out to a local wifi access point when it is dark and/or raining -- especially in the younger grades.  Still, providing information to students and giving options is an important way for schools to note that they are considering the challenges of access for students and families.