Friday, October 7, 2016

Ideas For Providing Internet Access At Home

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

When I was an Instructional Technology Director one of the challenges I faced was working to ensure that students, no matter where they lived in my district, had access to the same tools and opportunities. I could provide technology that could be used in the schools, and provided high speed network access while they were in schools. However, when students went home there was no way to guarantee they’d have any access to high-speed internet when they got there.

For schools considering 1:1 initiatives, Bring Your Own Device or other digital rollouts, ensuring that students have access to a high-speed internet connection outside of the school building is key. Often, much time and decision making power is spent on the device chosen, rather than if it can be used at home.

Access to the internet and digital resources is now easier than than just a few years ago. We carry around, many times in our pockets, a portal to the proverbial information superhighway where we can find just about anything we want to know.

It’s not like it was back when I was high school when this was a familiar sight.

However for many students there is a struggle to provide that access at home so they can access those digital resources away from the classroom. Be it because of the cost is out of reach, the geography or topography is preventive or some other factor, the reality is many students go home and don’t have the access they need.

In a new whitepaper from Samsung, they outline if we want to further shift classrooms to being more digitally centric we have to focus efforts on ensuring students have access to digital resources at home.

“Technology has transformed education, but the initial focus was to equip schools with high-speed Internet access and students with devices. Now, “the biggest challenge is the at-home piece,” says Brent Legg, vice president for education programs at Connected Nation, a nonprofit committed to bringing high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.”

Samsung, along with other companies, are working with districts across the U.S. to help figure out the best ways to overcome this digital divide and get that access to where it is needed the most. I encourage you to check out the whitepaper to learn more.

What can be done? Is there anything schools and districts can consider when it comes to providing access at home? I believe there are 3 considerations.

Throw Open The Doors-Because of initiatives like ConnectEd and others, many schools are now able to provide faster and faster connections in the classroom. While there is still work to do (as you can see in this report from Education Superhighway) progress is being made. After about 4pm in most schools the doors are locked up for the night and everyone goes home. That internet connection just sits there unused. If we want to make schools the center of our communities again, why not throw open the doors and keep the schools open a few days a week giving the community access to that connection? Sure libraries and community centers already do this but why not add additional locations that have good equipment and are already set up? Staff it with volunteers and classes in basic technology skills, digital citizenship or other necessary skills could be offered.

LTE Access-One of the ways I was able to provide access at home to students who needed it was to purchase devices with data plans built in. I was able to secure a grant to buy hundreds of devices and to pay for the data plans for a year. Each device had unlimited access and I had a deal with the data provider for a low cost plan after the grant ran out. This worked great for my high school students who needed the devices at home to complete senior projects, apply for college or study for entrance exams. There were some students who abused the devices and the plans but we had reporting set up to make sure we could intervene with that student and have a conversation. This may not work for every district. It can get expensive and may be out of reach but even offering something like a hotspot (like the NY Public Library does) could help to close that digital gap.

Partners, Partners, Partners-Another way we worked to provide that access home was to partner with local ISPs and businesses to reduce the cost as much as we could to high speed internet connections. Families could apply for a discount and receive that connection at near to no cost. The program was supported by the ISP and many businesses chipped in as well. Start by talking to the major internet providers in your area and see it they have a program like that. If not, maybe you can start one!

I know some of these solutions may seem over simplified. Providing internet at home is a challenge in many locations for a variety of reasons. There are many barriers and factors to providing that access. These are just a few options to consider to help provide that access to those that need it the most.

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