School buses with Wi-Fi: A good idea?

March 27, 2017
by Mark Ollig

A student nervously sits in their school bus seat, worried about a research paper they haven’t finished for their first morning class.

The homework assignment is located on the school’s website; requiring online Internet access.

This student has their school-assigned laptop computer, but is unable to access the Internet to finish the assignment, because there is no Wi-Fi access while riding in the bus.

Each day, this student will be sitting inside the bus for over an hour getting to school, and another hour coming home from school.

That’s two hours this student could have used for their school assignments. Instead, it’s two hours of lost homework time.

Other, more fortunate students riding the bus, who own personal smartdevices with cellular/mobile data access, are able to connect to the Internet from inside the bus, and work on their school assignments.

Thus, we have a student digital learning divide, resulting in a “knowledge gap.”

A recent Pew Research Center report stated 5 million families with school-age children at home have no Internet access – so, many students depend upon their school-provided Internet access service.

This is 2017; it’s time we have broadband, online digital inclusion equality for all students.

For many students using Google Chromebooks, or other computing devices equipped with only mobile Wi-Fi accessibility, they are unable to access the Internet while riding on their school bus.

Each year, some 26 million students are riding in a school bus, per a statistic from the American School Bus Council.

Yours truly came across a recent story about a major online company providing free Wi-Fi access aboard 28 South Carolina school district buses.

I read an Associated Press (AP) piece written by Meg Kennard, who reported about the 28 Wi-Fi-equipped school buses in South Carolina’s rural Berkeley County.

The funding for equipping the Wi-Fi access onboard the school buses was provided by a Google monetary grant.

Google calls their school bus Wi-Fi initiative: Rolling Study Hall.

I thought this was a very clever title on Google’s part.

Google also supplied 1,700 Chromebooks (basic-equipped laptops) to the school district’s students for completing their online homework assignments.

This reminded me of how Apple Computer provided students with free Apple computers during the 1980s.

When those students became adults, guess which computer model they went out and bought?

You’re right.

It turned out to be a successful marketing strategy by the folks at Apple.

Of course, in the 1980s, there were no Wi-Fi hotspots – in fact, a public web browser for the new World Wide Web – called Mosaic - wasn’t begun to be widely used until 1993.

In the 1980s, we were using our computer-connected modems for dialup access over a telephone line to reach services such as CompuServe and Prodigy; not to mention all those independent computer BBS’s (Bulletin Board System).

But I digress to today’s topic.

The year is 2017, and I feel students unquestionably need access to the Internet for completing homework assignments, and for doing productive research – regardless of their location.

Having access to the Internet while traveling on their school bus can be time used to do their homework.

According to the AP, Google is hoping to provide Wi-Fi access to other rural parts of the country; especially in regions where its data centers are located.

Lakaysha Governor, an eighth-grader at St. Stephen Middle School in St. Stephen, SC, said, thanks to the Wi-Fi -equipped school buses, she can stay ahead on her homework assignments.

Rolling Study Hall was used to provide Wi-Fi access to Caldwell County students riding school buses in Lenoir, NC.

“More students are doing their homework,” said Governor.

She also mentioned the teachers are much happier.

One question people may be asking; “Will having Internet access on school buses actually increase student productivity?”

It will if the student uses the Wi-Fi access to the Internet for finishing their homework, and for furthering their educational learning.

In my readership area, how would students, teachers, and parents feel about having Wi-Fi-equipped school buses?

Should the pros and cons of this be an agenda item for discussion at the next school board meeting?

August 2016, The Minnesota Department of Education announced a total of $500,000 was available for their Broadband Expansion Off-Campus Learning Grant Program, which included Grant B funds for installing Wi-Fi hotspots on Minnesota school buses.

School districts need to research the current or future availability of any state or federal grants which could be available for funding Wi-Fi hotspots on school buses.

In Virginia, Fauquier County Public Schools set up their Wi-Fi hot spots to only be available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and others are blocked.

Of course, students using the Internet; whether on the school bus or at home, need to do so safely, responsibly, and securely.

Today, public Wi-Fi access to the Internet is becoming as indispensable a public service as are roads and sidewalks.

If you’re currently reading this column while sipping a delicious cup of coffee at your local coffee shop, or while riding on a Wi-Fi-equipped bus, visit Twitter to follow the daily messages posted by @bitsandbytes.

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