Rural schools still facing ed-tech challenges

Rural students often lack access to high-speed internet.

Educational technology stakeholders tout the benefits of mobile devices, broadband internet, and technology in the classroom—but in some rural schools, even the most basic ed-tech access is still a pipe dream. However, digital tools and persistence on the part of school leaders can help rural students achieve the same “connectedness” found in more populated parts of the nation.

Statistics indicate that rural high school students are less likely to complete advanced math courses and are less likely have access to Advanced Placement courses. Many have never visited a college campus or talked with a guidance counselor about attending college, according to Terri Dugan Schwartzbeck, a senior policy associate for the Alliance for Excellent Education, during a webinar focusing on educational technology opportunities for rural schools.

Often, there exists a “disconnect between these students’ aspirations and the resources available to them to reach these goals,” she said.

Many stakeholder groups maintain that today’s high school students need to hone problem-solving and critical thinking skills to stand out in college and the workforce. Hands-on learning opportunities and connecting with adults to learn about real applications of classroom lessons are not always readily available to rural students.

Digital and technology-rich opportunities—including AP courses, virtual field trips, virtual conversations with experts, and expanded professional development—have so much potential for students and teachers in rural areas.

But successfully integrating technology into effective instruction is hard work, Schwartzbeck said. During the webinar, a panel of experts shared their tips, challenges, and successes when it comes to making sure rural students have the same ed-tech opportunities as suburban and urban students.

“We know we are facing the challenge of how we connect our kids,” said Pamela Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) in Virginia. ACPS covers 726 square miles and includes an urban area—with challenges stemming from high poverty and English language learners—right outside of Charlottesville, a suburban middle-class population, and then a very rural population bordered by mountains and, at times, quite isolated. The district’s school buses travel 12,000 miles a day shuttling students among its 26 schools.

“We really serve students who represent every demographic,” Moran said. “That’s a challenge for us, but it also allows us to be a test bed.”

Laura Ascione

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