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The nation's equity gap is growing--but school districts are partnering with tech companies to ensure students have access to high-speed internet connectivity

How 5G connectivity supports K-12 innovation—now, and in the future


The nation's equity gap is growing--but school districts are partnering with tech companies to ensure students have access to high-speed internet connectivity

Key points:

Having reliable, high-speed internet access isn’t a privilege—it’s an absolute essential right for students if they are to have access to the digital learning resources and tools that will help them build skills for future success.

At ISTELive 23, Dr. Kiesha King, senior education administrator for T-Mobile and a former educator, sat down with educators in districts partnering with T-Mobile to examine how 5G connectivity is working in schools and districts across the nation.

“We’re not talking about doing something that’s optional for kids. We’re talking about changing the landscape of how they do education, changing the impacts of the future workforce, changing the way kids interact with their learning environment,” King said.

When we talk about student connectivity it has to be within the framework of how it’s going to drive overall student success, how can we align that with our district’s strategic plan and our instructional model, and grow that from there. What have you done with T-Mobile from an innovation perspective and where is it going in the future?

“I always say we live in the age of the connected students. Students who come to Morehouse College are already connected to 5 devices” including their TVs streaming, game systems, laptops, desktops, tablets, Apple watches, and cell phones, said Dr. Muhsinah Morris, Metaversity director and professor at Morehouse College. “They’re already really connected in every way to some network.”

Morris gives students yet another device when she hands out Metaquest headsets to students in her course—and those devices need connectivity.

“If we’re in a broadband desert, that presents a huge problem. Our servers were only built to sustain 2,200 students on their devices. Since COVID, students have returned to campus and have more devices than before, and we’ve added a device to their arsenal. That’s put a real strain on network,” she said. “One of the things T-Mobile did was save us from that–in order for our students to have a good experience learning in immersive VR, there can be no latency, no lag, no drops. That make students not want to be a part technological solutions.”

When they’re in the Metaversity, students are actively learning by doing and using all their senses. “The experience is only as good as the connection, and we found that that’s foundational. When students were hybrid, we didn’t really see those issues. When they came back, it changed the game and kept our program running,” Morris said.

“When I started, the T-Mobile partnership was instrumental in going forward. In 2020, the district was not one-to-one—seven to 10 percent of our population couldn’t do anything at home because they didn’t have connectivity and access,” said Andrew Allen, the executive director of information systems/CIO in the East Aurora School District 131.

“Making sure we have internet access and training, teaching kids how to get on Google Meets, teaching them how to meet with teachers, and helping teachers figure out that process–without T-Mobile’s assistance in getting to that point, we wouldn’t be one-to-one and we wouldn’t have been successful in that rollout. We had the devices; we just weren’t there yet. It’s imperative that we had that rolled out and done.”

“Connectivity is just as important, if not more important, than having a device,” said Dr. Kermit Belcher, the chief information officer for Jefferson County Schools. “Our superintendent says it’s a moral imperative for students to have those resources. And it takes the superintendent having that mindset. It’s easy to buy a device, but changing mindsets is one of the hardest things to do.”

During the pandemic, the district’s superintendent challenged district leadership groups to come up with a vision for the district’s future state of education. To achieve this digital transformation, the district took some major steps forward.

“We knew we needed to close the access and opportunity gap,” Belcher said. “We decided as a district that every student would have a device; every student would have connectivity at school and at home. We decided to work with [T-Mobile] on the connectivity, the digital resources, and the cybersecurity. It shouldn’t be up to where you live, what school you go to–this is the baseline every student should have.”

Related:
Private wireless is the key to K-20 digital transformation

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