Equity & Access

  • Overview

    An essential component for learning is a comprehensive infrastructure that provides all students and teachers with the resources they need anytime, anywhere. The underlying principle is that infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, policies, and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, hardware, software, and administrative tools. A robust infrastructure enables schools to expand learning options, empowering students to create content, participate in virtual courses that may not be available on their campuses, and to collaborate with experts or other students remotely.
    Planning for the acquisition of robust broadband and wireless connectivity is essential as districts and schools transform to a digital learning environment. Rapidly changing technologies and new ways of using technology for learning suggest that this is an ever evolving process. Districts can expect to almost always be in some phase of planning for technology needs. Planning for technology is an iterative process that is alive, kinetic, and never truly complete.
    Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning is a guide that helps districts address the planning and leadership demands associated with technical upgrades, identifies the key questions for assessing conditions in schools and districts and sets technical goals for the future. Using this and other tools, state and local leaders can build capacity for infrastructure by coordinating efforts and engaging in strategic planning.

    Facilitator Guide

    connectivityThe Facilitator Guide – Connectivity provides education leaders with the information and resources they need to conduct a professional learning session. Participants will:
    • Learn more about procurement and RFP management
    • Identify procurement challenges and success stories
    • Collaborate with colleagues and develop solutions for challenges
    • Discuss how changes in state/local policies can improvement the procurement process
    • Develop and maintain relationships with other district and state leaders
  • Broadband

    Easy access to reliable, robust and cost-effective broadband provides the opportunity for students’ school experiences to include creating engaging text and multimedia projects such as videos, collaborative research with students on the other side of the state or the world, access to online courses not available locally, and the ability to talk directly with authors and experts. Teachers can collaborate with colleagues, participate in professional development online, and immediately analyze the results from online assessments to personalize instruction for each student.

    High-Speed Broadband

    High-speed broadband is essential for equitable access in schools for all students, as bandwidth capacity determines which digital instructional materials and educational applications students and educators can effectively leverage in the classroom. Reliable connectivity, like water and electricity, is foundational to creating an effective learning environment. The importance of designing high-capacity and widely available networks, including the utilization of wireless networks is essential for meeting our learning powered by technology goals.

    Quick Facts

    • Cisco predicts that global internet traffic will be over 50,000 Gbps by 2019, more than triple the current traffic rate.
    • Education Networks of America (ENA), based on its experience delivering connectivity to over 5,500 schools and libraries, continues to observe and projects into the future an internet growth rate of 65% per year.
    • EducationSuperHighway predicts that the typical school district will need to triple its bandwidth in the next three years.
    • CoSN’s Infrastructure Survey states that
    • 39% of districts report projected growth in the next 18 months between 50% and 499%.

    From the Field

    ReflectionThe goals of Lamoille Union Middle/High School’s Lancer One Project; Universal Access, Spontaneous Learning, Equity, and Personalized Learning, were established to help meet the needs of students in rural Vermont where 48% of the population qualifies for free and reduced lunch and changes in teaching and learning were needed to increase student success. The district upgraded the school’s broadband infrastructure and provided each student with a tablet to help meet these goals.

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    The students played an important role in the development and implementation of the Lancer One project, advocating for the project to the school board, guiding the decision-making, logistics and support of the devices. This initiative shifted instruction to more of a project based focus that gave students a new vision of learning. A review team collects data from teachers and students through interviews, observation, and surveys to support a continual improvement process. In the classroom and at home, students describe their opportunities as transformative. Students have increased access to teacher and classroom materials, they have taken ownership over learning, data and grades are shared more frequently and students find easier access to opportunities and connections outside their school community. In the February 2014 survey, 85.4% of students responded that they could, “find information, and learn new skills anytime, anywhere”. Only 40% of our students responded that they could do this prior to the Lancer One program.

  • Wi-Fi

    The Wi-Fi gap in U.S. schools is a concern that federal, state, district and school leaders are addressing nationwide. The increase in the number of devices available on campus (both district and student owned) coupled with the increased dependence on digital content requires dependable, high speed, Wi-Fi access. Providing access to robust connectivity is critical to ensuring today’s students are college and career ready. As such, federal, state, and district-level leaders have dedicated a significant amount of time, effort, and resources toward improving our schools’ external broadband access, including both Internet access and wide area network (WAN). The integration of digital tools such as mobile devices, adaptive learning software, and real-time analytics has heightened the need to expand the broadband imperative to include access to high-quality, ubiquitous Wi-Fi access. The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) addresses this need and recommends that “students and educators have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity.” State education departments are taking note and evaluating the internal accessibility needs of their schools and generating policies and funding pathways to support their growing demands.
    The State Wi-Fi Leadership for Fostering Digital Learning Ready K12 Schools explores the steps states are taking to address the wireless equity gaps that exist among their schools. Leaders from Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Utah outline the planning, policy, funding, and management approaches their state agencies or education technology leaders are adopting regarding Wi-Fi, and they share their recommendations for promoting and/or creating equitable access opportunities to high-quality Wi-Fi connectivity.
    Highlights from this paper include: State Perspectives on Building Broadband and Wi-Fi Connectivity Support, State Action Plans for Fostering Digital Learning-Ready Schools, Wireless Challenges and Concerns, State Vignettes for IllinoisNew_MexicoNorth_CarolinaUtah, Lessons Learned, Pathways to High-Quality Wi-Fi Connectivity, Recommendations_Checklist, Conclusion & Key_Considerations.
    As districts and schools consider Wi-Fi access, planning is essential. Districts that have had substantial experience with Wi-Fi and companies that assist districts with networks and Wi-Fi agree that a 5-year plan with updates every year can provide a solid basis for a network that is effective. Following are some interconnected questions to consider as you begin to plan for high-speed Wi-Fi across schools and districts. The answer to one most probably will affect the answer to others.

    Key Questions

    • How many devices will the Wi-Fi network need to support now and how many devices in the short and long term future?
    • How will those devices be used in the near term and in the longer term?
    • In addition to tablets or laptops what other types of devices on campus will need Wi-Fi access (printers, digital media players, microconsoles)?
    • How will Wi-Fi access in “common areas” (cafeteria, hallways, courtyard, fields, etc.) on school campuses be used?
    • What levels of access and permissions will be needed for students, teachers, administrators IT staff and guests?
    • How will BYOD be handled?
    • How centralized will the management of the network be across the district?
    • Can the IT department implement the Wi-Fi network or are outside vendors required?
    • Is the WLAN architecture sufficient to handle the requirements among schools?
    • What type of new or upgraded equipment will be required to implement or increase Wi-Fi access?
  • Homework Gap

    Learning does not stop at the end of the school day, and access to digital learning resources should not either. However, many students do not have adequate access to the internet at home—often referred to as the “homework gap,” the gap between students whose internet connections at home are slow or non-existent—and those who have home connections with adequate speed. This is a problem disproportionately common in rural and underserved communities.
    As more and more educators use digital devices and digital instructional materials for learning, connectivity at home for students is an essential component of a 21st century education—not something merely nice to have. Access to technology tools and resources offers new learning opportunities to support deeper learning and best prepare students for college and careers. When students have access to high-speed reliable internet both in and out of school, they can take online courses, complete online homework assignments, participate in virtual activities and collaborate with peers.
    Ensuring this needed resource for students outside of school can be difficult, especially in rural areas. The federal program, Connect2Compete (C2C) helps to provide K-12 students affordable internet and devices to students and families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. C2C is offered in partnership with leading cable companies, including Cox, Bright House Networks, MediaCom, Suddenlink, Comcast’s internet Essentials and others. Eligible customers receive internet for as low as $9.95 per month (plus tax).  Some districts have worked with local internet service providers to support home access. Others provide subsidies to families in the district to assist with the cost of access to the internet at home, while still others support and rely on other publicaly accessible institutions to provide access to the internet. While many commercial establishments such as coffee shops and restaurants do provide internet access, relying on them to provide internet access to students outside of school can raise a host of ethical problems.[/su_expand]

    Facilitator Guide

    Homework gapThe Facilitator Guide – Homework Gap provides education leaders with the information and resources they need to conduct a professional learning session. Participants will:
    • Learn more about the homework gap and its impact on digital equity
    • Strategize solutions with peers
    • Collaborate with colleagues on best practices
    • Develop and maintain relationships with other district and state leaders
  • Policies

    Districts and schools implementing digital learning environments should adopt policies related to responsible/appropriate use of the network, devices and content. Schools and districts typically implement acceptable use policies (AUP) for students, parents and faculty members that have access to school devices and/or the school- based software or broadband services to help ensure student safety and security and to help protect the school’s equipment and servers. AUPs vary based on school and district implementation programs, and should be customized based on the user groups. Each school or district should review annually current policies, templates and supporting documents related to device usage and management, broadband access and permissions and contact forms.
    Below, are sample documents that may help to manage user expectations by establishing policies for responsible internet use examples:
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