Rural schools still facing ed-tech challenges

“It’s important enough that it’s not just about schools and families; it’s about our kids being able to connect with a bigger community—that’s the next step,” Moran said.

Vince Scheivert, CIO for ACPS, said the district looks at funding in terms of what is in the best interest of students.

“Time is the most important commodity kids have, and we can’t really wait any longer to provide them these services,” he said.

The district examines its top priorities and takes sustainability into account when making spending decisions, ensuring that devices and services will fit within an operational framework.

“Broadband is key” in making sure that rural students have access to devices, said Chip Slaven, senior advocacy associate at AEE, speaking about the McDowell Project. The McDowell Project is an initiative to help reinvigorate and sustain a remote, rural West Virginia county that has been in decline. The county, which once had close to 100,000 residents during coal mining’s boom, now has about 22,000 citizens and ranks at the bottom of all West Virginia counties in terms of education, health, and income.

“One of the goals is high-speed broadband in all of the schools,” Slaven said. The initiative aims to connect 10,000 homes to fiber optics. Students who take online courses at school often say that their connections are slow and inhibit studying, and many students do not even have home internet access.

“The really important thing is the role that digital learning and technology can play in the schools there,” Slaven said.

Grants and fundraising are helping to build new homes to attract teachers, fund online learning projects and increase at-home internet access, boost medical services, and more.

Open educational resources

Open educational resources also hold potential for giving rural students free or low-cost access to educational content, but “we face a number of challenges with OERs,” McLeod said. “The biggest problem is curating good content into ways that work for teachers and students. There is a wealth of information, and lots of people are creating good resources. [Challenges lie in] organizing and coalescing things into meaningful collections that are of use to us.”

Laura Ascione

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