Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S5
EDUCATION WEEK n
April 15, 2015
Blended Learning: Breaking Down Barriers > www.edweek.org/go/blended-barriers
Fatuma Shoka, a
9th grader at Auburn
School, uses the
at the Birch Creek
The center, through
a program supported
by the Kent, Wash.,
school district, offers
a kiosk emitting free
Wi-Fi so students can
go online to complete
Businesses Sign Up
To Give Students Online
Access After School Hours
By Sean Cavanagh
for Education Week
use of new digital resources. Many students in the district come from poor
backgrounds: More than half qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
When the district launched a 1-to-1 student-to-device program districtwide
during the 2008-09 school year, 30 percent of students didn't have access to
reliable broadband. Since then, that number has fallen to about 4 percent,
Mr. Nguyen said. Today, the district's 1-to-1 program extends across grades
7-12, and students are allowed to take their devices home.
The Kent district developed the Student Technology Access & Resources,
or star, program to address some connectivity issues, providing refurbished
laptops to qualifying families and mapping out district Wi-Fi hotspots along
with those offered by local organizations and businesses. Initially, many
students' only options for finding Internet access amounted to heading out to
a government building, a coffee shop, or a business that offered connectivity,
said Mr. Nguyen. He saw those as stop-gap options.
"It's not realistic to expect them to walk miles and miles to a library, and no
Starbucks is going to let students hang out there for hours without buying something,"
he said. "It's not a real, viable option for everyday and extended use."
It hasn't all been smooth sailing with the kiosks. So far, there are only nine
of them, with three placed in the community. Sometimes, the kiosks get unplugged
by cleaning crews, and the machines have difficulty rebooting, leaving
the Wi-Fi down for some period of time.
But in other respects, the placement of the kiosks is having the desired
effect, Mr. Nguyen said. Data collected from the stations show both districtPAGE
ustomers who roll into the Donut Connection in
Cumming, Ga., most mornings tend to know what
they want. There's no denying the appeal of the
chocolate-frosted pastry with sprinkles. Or the lure
of the bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, chased down with a
But for the past few years, one particular class of clients-teenagers
from nearby schools-have been settling
into the shop's tables at different times of the day, drawn
by something that's not on the official menu: free Wi-Fi.
The donut shop is one of about 50 businesses and facilities
around the 43,000-student Forsyth County school system
that have agreed to have their names and locations
listed as part of the "Free Wi-Fi Zone," a network of places
that offer Internet connectivity for students to tap into.
The listed hotspots include public libraries, sub shops,
sit-down restaurants, and even dentists' offices. Businesses
agree to have their locations put on an online interactive
map, and they can display a "free Wi-Fi" sticker in their
windows, as both a badge of participation and a signal to
students that connectivity is available.
The Forsyth County Wi-Fi program, created two years
ago, is one of a scattered number of efforts by districts
around the country aimed at building informal networks
of Wi-Fi across entire communities, as a way to help students
who lack online connectivity at home.
Kirk A. McConnell, the owner of the Donut Connection,
said the Wi-Fi has been good for his bottom line-increasing
business by an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent. He
also said it gives him the chance to support local schools,
several of which are located within a few miles of his shop.
And because Mr. McConnell's wife is a high school English
teacher in the school system, he's seen how ingrained
online learning has become in lessons.
"It's something that the students can count on," he said
of the free Wi-Fi. "I know firsthand how much teaching
has changed because of the Internet."
Workers at the Donut Connection arrive at 3 a.m. to begin
preparing pastries for the day. Later in the morning, before
the school day starts, Mr. McConnell sees clusters of students
busily typing away on laptops, doing homework. When
students show up after school, their activity tends to be a
mix of work and play-meaning a lot of social media, based
on the owner's observations.
The Forsyth district, north of Atlanta, made the integration
of technology into lessons a priority. It put in place a
"bring-your-own-technology" initiative that allows students
to use their own computing devices at school, said Jennifer
Caracciolo, the district's director of communications.
It also set up a task force to find ways to promote digital
about $120, and data is purchased separately, Ms.
The popularity of the Kajeet devices to help schools
bridge the divide between students who have Internet
access at home and those who don't is growing.
In 2013, about 10 districts were using the hotspots.
That number is now 56, Ms. Kerr said. "Schools are
bringing in all this technology, whether for state
assessments or blended-learning programs," she
said. "All of a sudden they think, 'Wow, we've got a
problem because there are students who can't get to
what they need when they go home.' "
The devices do have data limits and other restrictions,
and students need to learn how to manage
their data use, Ms. Doersch said. Students using
the devices can't stream Netflix, for example, and
the district has kept Kajeet services that filter out
certain websites in place.
Managing data use is "a skill for the 21st century,"
she said. "We're teaching kids that the learning has
to come first."
So far, the district has not heavily advertised the
MiFi units, but over the summer, there are plans
to look at how well the program worked and to expand
and promote it so more parents and students
are aware of the option. Ms. Doersch said some parents
decided to install home Internet service after
seeing how beneficial it was for their children who
used the Kajeet devices at home.
At Preble High School, also in the Green Bay district,
library media specialist Lori Barber said she
has students who rely heavily on the devices. Several
students taking Advanced Placement classes,
for example, do not have the Internet at home.
"Those kids can't live without" the hotspots, she
said. "I see this as extremely important. In school,
there isn't always time to do everything if you want
to do it well." n
equity, and the idea for the Wi-Fi zone grew out of that initiative.
Like some other districts, Forsyth also makes mobile
Wi-Fi hotspots available to students on loan.
Demand for after-hours connectivity among students is
high and growing, Ms. Caracciolo noted. Data the district
collects through its learning-management system show a
spike in online usage between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The Wi-Fi zone is in many ways still in its experimental
phase, and it's far from perfect. The district can't control
the quality of the Wi-Fi connections offered by individual
businesses, Ms. Caracciolo pointed out. And businesses
aren't required to filter content to keep students focused
on schoolwork, as the district's online systems do, she
said. (The district warns parents of those security limits
on its website.)
And while the district has spread word of the Wi-Fi zone
through local business associations, the online map has a
lot of dead zones. The district is planning more aggressive
outreach to sign up more businesses, Ms. Caracciolo said.
As it now stands, "if you have food at [a Wi-Fi] location,"
the district spokeswoman said, "you're likely to have more
students there." n
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
District Establishes Wi-Fi In Local Community
K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.
District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Contents
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S15
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S17
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S18
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S26
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S27
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S28