For over twenty years, educators have been keenly aware of the “Digital Divide” — the gap between those with access to the Internet and those without. It is a persistent issue in the world of EdTech and many would say that the divide is widening. For as long as teachers have been utilizing digital learning and Internet-based assignments, technological inequity at home exists for so many students around the country.
Nationwide, more than five million K-12 students don’t have access to broadband Internet once they leave school. This technology breach puts them at a distinct disadvantage from their more digitally-connected peers. This disadvantage is known as the “homework gap.” The homework gap often forces students in these households to head over to the public library to squeeze in an hour of homework after school instead of going home. Some students venture out of their homes to commercial locations or coffee shops with free Wi-Fi access in order to complete and submit classwork. Unfortunately, many others are simply unable to complete their work.
Dupo School District in Southern Illinois is addressing the homework gap head-on. District leaders have decided to narrow the gap for their students by deploying a mobile hotspot lending program. It has been a collaborative effort bringing together district administrators, technology staff, teachers, and library staff.
Being a 1:1 school district, Technology Director Leonard Aldridge and Educational Technology Director Mike Treece report that Dupo teachers had approached them with a desire to create and assign more technology-rich curricular material for students. This would certainly present a problem for students who lack reliable broadband Internet access at home. It was at this point that Dupo Superintendent Kelly Carpenter brought a promising grant opportunity to her team as a possible solution. Wireless Internet provider company, Kajeet, provides one-year grants to school districts to obtain their mobile wireless hotspots free of charge. In the summer of 2018, they wrote and submitted a grant for ten “smartspot” mobile access points and got it!
Working with administrators and the library staff, Leonard and Mike developed a lending program for the mobile hotspots that they implemented during the 2018-2019 school year. So far, it has been greatly beneficial for students and staff alike. Convenience is an important factor in the program as well. Dupo students simply check-out and return a hotspot just like a book from the library. The length of the check-out time is dependent on the demand for the devices. Librarian Kellie Kloess states that no students have had difficulty acquiring a hotspot when needed. She said that students have been consistently checking them out each week since the inception of the program.
When it comes to student access to the Internet, obviously digital safety and security are of the utmost importance. While using the Kajeet hotspots, even at home, students remain behind the robust content filter, so any potential safety, security, and content issues are greatly alleviated. Both tech directors say with much relief that maintaining the security parameters on the devices is simple and fairly foolproof.
All-in-all, the program has been a great success for the students, staff, and community of Dupo and certainly represents proactive thinking regarding digital learning. The program truly is the result of the unified vision of all involved.
When asked what will happen when the grant ends after one year, the Dupo team reports enthusiastically that the program will continue, as they have already included the Kajeet subscription fees into next year’s technology budget. They all agree that it is money very well-spent!
- G Suite for Education
- Promethean boards in every classroom
- Desktop labs in all buildings
- HMH digital curriculum
- Read 180
- Fastt Math
- STEM Scopes
- 3D Printer
- Photoshop and Adobe Suite
- CAD software for Robotics