Integrating new technology into a classroom can be intimidating. Many teachers worry that they will need to spend hours learning how to use new technology before being able to successfully implement it in the classroom. That’s why it’s imperative that new technologies make teachers’ and administrators’ lives easierand not more complicated. This holds true for any school district, but in rural communities, where general access to technology is often limited, it is especially important.
At Piedmont City Schools in Alabama, simplicity is key to the success of the district’s 1:1 iPad program. Reflecting on his school's technology initiative, middle school principal Chris Hanson said, “(edtech) has made my life a lot easier when it comes to looking at the entire grade level of data… I can look and see exactly how long a student’s been stuck on a certain standard, how long they’ve been working on it, and if they’ve been stuck. I can make sure that our students are continuing to complete assignments.” Furthermore, Hanson noted that high quality edtech helps students, teachers, and administrators by making it easier to use student data to differentiate learning.
So, why is edtech so slow to catch on in rural education?
In 2014, Alabama received a D- on a Digital Learning Now state report card, a grade that was partially based on students’ access to high-speed internet and learning devices in school and at home.
In a state where less than 60 percent of people have access to high-speed internet, schools tend to shy away from investing in educational technology. Many rural teachers don’t want to create what policy-makers and education leaders refer to as a “homework gap” and are concerned that students who don’t have a reliable internet connection at home will fall behind their peers in classes that require online homework or digital literacy.
Piedmont City Schools addressed this challenge by using e-rate funding to provide free internet access to all Piedmont families within the city limits. Piedmont students that lived outside the city limits were given access to mobile wi-fi hotspots for $15-$40 a month. Piedmont leveraged its unique geographic location to provide free wi-fi for city residents, installing a Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) at strategic places in Piedmont’s Appalachian foothills.
The benefits of technology in rural schools are endless. For example, teachers can use live streaming or video conferencing to allow rural students to connect with people across the country or world. Even if a rural school is unable to offer higher level or AP classes, With the right digital resources, a high performing student can enroll in an online class and engage in meaningful learning.
Edtech is a necessity for rural education. If rural students are to succeed in an increasingly global job market, they need access to reliable high speed internet and classroom devices. As Karen Cator, president of Digital Promise, says, “Technology allows people in rural areas to reap the benefits of a rural lifestyle, while not sacrificing access to learning opportunities.