Thursday, October 15, 2015

Closing The Connectivity Gap For Leyden Students

Leyden High School District 212 is now in its fourth year of being fully 1:1.  Every student is issued a district-owned Dell Chromebook to use both at school and at home.  The students even keep their devices over the summer.  We've learned and grown a lot over the past four years and have been happy to share our experiences with anyone interested (check out some of our resources and events here).  One obstacle that we had not decided to eliminate, until now, was the lack of connectivity for some of our students when they are at home.  We certainly knew going into our first year of 1:1 that some of our students didn't have connectivity at home but chose to apply some band aides like extending our school library hours, compiling a list of free WiFi locations in our communities on a Google Map, encouraging students to visit the local libraries, pushing the low-cost Comcast Internet Essentials program for free or reduced lunch students, and training students about Google Drive's offline access on their Chromebooks.  This seemed to be adequate for a while, but we recently decided that adequate was no longer good enough.  Over the last 6 months or so, we have been researching permanent solutions to close the connectivity gap for our students.  Through the Sprint ConnectED grant, we are moving forward with issuing mobile hotspots to those students that do not have connectivity for their Chromebooks in their homes.

Here's how we are finally closing the connectivity gap for Leyden students:
  • We applied and got accepted into the Sprint ConnectED grant.
  • We asked all students to fill out a Google Form to indicate if they can connect their Chromebooks to the Internet when they are at home.  The results came back suggesting that just over 17% of our students do not have connectivity at home.
  • We mailed a letter to the parents/guardians of the self-identified students describing our goals and plans for closing the connectivity gap and informing them about mandatory meetings during our parent/teacher conferences to learn more, validate their student's response to not having connectivity at home, and to sign off on a contract to allow their student to receive a mobile hotspot.
  • The technology department reviewed the available devices through the ConnectED grant and chose a device that will allow us to pair each hotspot with one student Chromebook and disable the ability to manually reset those devices.  This will prevent the family and friends of the students from using the hotspot and gobbling up the allotted monthly data.  This should also prevent the possibility for families with Internet access to cancel their accounts in order to get a hotspot from Leyden.
  • We do not have to worry about any extra content filtering as all of our Chromebooks are already filtered everywhere they go.  A CIPA-approved filter would be available through the hotspots if we need it.
  • As the parent/guardian contracts get signed and the devices begin to arrive, we will start contacting the students with instructions to bring their Chromebooks to a location to have a hotspot linked to their Chromebook and officially checked out.
  • Should a student with a hotspot need to turn in his/her Chromebook for service, we will either ask that student to bring in his/her hotspot to link it to the loaner Chromebook he/she gets assigned or possibly just issue a loaner hotspot with the loaner Chromebook.  We are still thinking about this one and may experiment with both options.

With all of the time and effort the Leyden teachers and students have put into adapting to Leyden's 1:1 digital teaching and learning environment, this next step of closing the connectivity gap for our students when they are at home is the right move for District 212.  We are excited to see how this plays out!