As more school districts launch 1:1 initiatives and invest in digital curricula, the issue of Internet access at home for students becomes more important than ever. Whether your teachers are assigning homework that requires online research or you’re encouraging students to pursue their interests and take charge of their learning, having reliable Internet access outside of school has become a necessity.
Closing the “New” Digital Divide
Across the country, districts are figuring out how to get more Wi-Fi into their students’ lives. Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida placed Kajeet Education Broadband™ in many of its school buses so that students could make better use of their commutes. Duncanville Independent School District in Texas built computer kiosks with free Wi-Fi and is putting them in city parks, low-income housing units, and local businesses. Maine Township High School District 207 in Illinois is asking community members for financial donations (ideally, $100 a piece) to sponsor Wi-Fi hotspots for students without Internet access at home to sign out for overnight use.
Some cities and states are addressing this issue via public libraries. In Washington County, Maine, there’s a brand new “Check-out the Internet” pilot in which students who are part of the statewide 1:1 program, Maine Learning Technology Initiative, can borrow mobile Wi-Fi devices from their public library for one month at a time, or longer.
Chicago recently launched Internet to Go, a pilot project to lend out Wi-Fi hotspots at seven of its public libraries. Recipients must be an adult resident of Chicago with a public library card; hotspots can be checked out for three weeks.
And New York City Public Library’s new Library HotSpot program loans hotspots to students in its adult literacy or out-of-school-time educational programs for up to one year.
Schools are seeing the benefit to the check-out model for home broadband for a variety of reasons. First of all, it gives teachers the confidence to assign online homework and know that everyone can complete it. Allowing students to check out Wi-Fi hotspots also helps stretch district dollars by serving more students with the devices, since you can determine the actual need within your district.
It also gives districts the ability to check-in with students, just like they are doing at the Affton School District in Missouri. Dr. Robert Dillon, the Director of Technology and Innovation, asks students who borrow Kajeet SmartSpot® devices—filtered Wi-Fi hotspots— to check in with the tech department every two weeks. He wants to be sure the devices are optimally functioning, but—even more important—he uses the check in as a way for adults to connect with the students. “As a former middle school principal for 15 years, I know that you can’t surround children in need with enough adults. We can have a quick conversation with a child when they return the SmartSpot, but the point of that talk is more about checking in on an emotional level.”
With Kajeet, It’s Easy to Sign Out a SmartSpot
For districts that allow students to check out Kajeet SmartSpot devices for the night or the weekend, Kajeet developed a streamlined system called Media Center. Through Media Center, a librarian or media resource specialist can quickly check the devices in and out, assign appropriate filtering, keep track of the devices, and run reports to see how the devices are being used.
“A lot of our students live in the country where Internet access is either unavailable or extremely expensive,” says Lisa Smith, Instructional Technology Specialist for Gilmer Independent School District (GISD) in Texas. “They need access to use online textbooks at home and be able to complete their homework.”
As an administrator, Smith loves that she can bring up Media Center and quickly see who has a SmartSpot and when it’s coming back in. The district loans out Dell tablets to students who do not have devices at home, too, and the librarian can just add a note in the system to indicate if that’s the case.
For Smith, Media Center’s filtering and tracking functionality is also key. “I like being able to see which websites students are going to and which sites were blocked. Family members can use the hotspots to connect as well. It’s a community service for us to offer this.”
As a tech grant recipient, GISD needs to submit progress reports to Texas Education Agency. In fact, one of the reasons the district selected Kajeet was because it eased the tracking process of determining who has what device. “The librarians are so happy they don’t have to barcode everything and check it out through their library software.”