More off-campus broadband access. New ways of engaging with families. Growing concerns over digital equity and the silos that exist within school systems.
These are some of the trends that emerged in a recent survey of district technology leaders, reflecting the dramatic changes and unprecedented demand that school-based technology teams experienced during the pandemic.
The survey, which the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has administered annually since 2014, this year included questions about video conferencing, home internet access and parent engagement, hoping to shed light on some of the ways that the pandemic has challenged school systems and their technology operations over the last year. The resulting report, released Wednesday, illuminates their realities.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, about half of districts provided some off-campus broadband services to their students, helping connect them to the internet from their homes—most often through the use of mobile hotspots. This year, that number has soared to 95 percent of districts. That may come as no surprise, given that nearly every district in the country had to make learning happen at home for some amount of time in the last 14 months. But the jump illustrates just how dramatic a change it was for schools.
Relatedly, survey respondents—who represent about 400 rural, suburban and urban school systems across the U.S.—described digital equity as a pressing concern. Nearly all (97 percent) said they worried about students’ access to devices as well as high-speed internet during remote learning. Many said that while most of their students have internet access at home, at least some of them lack robust access. Just 6 percent said that all of their students have home internet access.
One respondent, whose district has a small but meaningful number of students without broadband, explained the plight. “We hit the ground running, then realized that we have a lot of equity issues with technology at home, mainly broadband.” The person went on to say that, although it affects only a small portion of the student population in their district, that it affects anyone is not acceptable.