STRATEGY: Create a plan to provide ubiquitous internet access at school and in students’ homes.
In October 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported that access to technology is an important component of equity within U.S. schools. Given the amount of time students spend outside of school, there are concerns about a “homework gap” between students whose home internet connections are slow or nonexistent and students who have access to high-speed internet service. In this era of digital learning, schools and districts must look beyond the responsibility of connecting schools and students to high-quality internet and toward the next challenge of connecting all students to internet access outside of the school building. Teachers increasingly assign homework that requires internet access, and not being able to take advantage of online resources for that homework equates to not having a textbook. When students lack high-speed internet outside of school walls, the digital resources that serve to close opportunity gaps, such as online tutorials, widen those gaps. Therefore, schools must take steps to leverage existing technological resources and programs to increase off-campus connectivity.
Ensuring that students are college and career ready requires a robust and flexible learning infrastructure that provides access to the tools that help students deepen their content knowledge and build their skills. Since many of today’s learning tools are online, having consistent internet access is necessary for all students. As Terrance Ross wrote in the Atlantic in 2015, “Technology’s integration into nearly all aspects of education has made Internet connectivity, whether at home or school, essential for kids. Any student without access—namely connectivity that’s sufficiently fast—inevitably falls behind. While in the recent past having Internet access might have been necessary strictly for research purposes, these days many home assignments can only be completed via online software.”
A robust infrastructure for learning starts with an understanding of the goals and desired outcomes that support engaging and powerful digital learning experiences for students, and many schools and school districts take a first step in this work by collecting data to understand the struggles some students face with spotty or no internet connection at home. Although ubiquitous connectivity alone does not ensure transformational use of technology, lack of connectivity almost certainly precludes it. In addition, the infrastructure plan should help guide access to learning devices and high-quality learning content, which is designed to engage the learner and extend learning.
First Steps to Consider
- Survey students and parents to get a better understanding of the technology challenges facing families in the school community. Ensure that surveys capture information about students who struggle with spotty connections or shared devices.
- Coordinate with local government entities, engage local businesses, and take careful stock of existing assets to formulate a plan of action.
- Provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and students to become proficient with digital learning.
- Equip school buses with wireless internet and create hotspots at community centers and other anchor community locations such as neighborhood churches.
- Support the use of openly licensed educational materials to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners.
Complexities & Pitfalls
- There are times when the system is set up but there is not enough bandwidth to offer ubiquitous access.
- Coordination or engagement with community leaders is critically important to ensure ubiquitous access.
- Sustainability plans must adequately address infrastructure upgrades.
- Technologies must be accompanied by additional resources in order for them to benefit traditionally underserved populations.
- Digital learning is likely to benefit students differently depending on their personal circumstances and those of their school. Schools and districts need to take these potential differences into account when developing a plan for ubiquitous internet access.
- What is the current state of the physical infrastructure? What is the current network capacity?
- What is the vision for learning that the technology infrastructure will support?
- What digital learning content, tools, and resources will be supported?
- Where will the funding come from?
- How many and what types of devices will be supported?
- What kind of professional development will teachers need to become proficient with digital learning? What do students need to know?