Rural school districts have always faced certain challenges from long student and/or teacher commutes to school and extracurricular activities to a lack of diversity in courses (particularly AP, foreign language and non-core classes). Leaping into the digital waters presents both opportunities (distance learning, for example) and challenges.
–Buses Become WiFi Hotspots (Center for Digital Education)
–Tap into Your Community to Narrow the Digital Divide (ISTE)
–Rural Kids Face a Homework “Internet Gap”. The FCC Could Help. (Wired)
The Changing Landscape
The US census has historically defined rural areas as those area that are not urban. Since the early 20th century, the definition of what constitutes an urban area versus a rural area has change. The early definition focused mainly on total population, while the current definition uses a combination of total population, density, land use and distance. The graphic to the right shows the key elements being used.
In 1910, more than half the US population at the time (about 50 million people) lived in rural areas. In 2010, the number of people in rural areas was about the same but represented about 19.3% of the total population.
One of the primary challenges schools face when taking the digital leap is access to the internet for students at home. In rural areas, low population density as well as the landscape can make installing the infrastructure needed to provide high speed broadband access untenable for private investors. When access is available, the cost may be prohibitive to some families. Cost is noted as the top reason families do not have internet access in the home.
What are schools doing to close this digital divide?
Bridging the Digital Divide
Portable Wi-Fi hotspots
Students checkout hotspots through the school library or another school office to use at home.
A Wi-Fi hotspot is installed on a bus or buses. Students using that bus can use the hotspot to connect and do homework on long commutes home or to extra-curricular activities
Ask vendors to provide content that can be accessed when working offline
Work with businesses, churches and libraries within the community to provide safe, welcoming areas where students can go to access the internet and do homework.