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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.

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