I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. Our one elementary school building (K–6) and one combined junior and high school campus (7–12), along with the Catholic elementary school (K–6), were central to the community—structures that connected generations, a teaching staff that communicated local values, and a forum where community pride took shape in school events and the cheering on of beloved high school sports teams. It’s important to consider this rural context—deep pride in both place and people—before turning to a discussion of technology use within rural schools.
The strong connection that we rural residents felt for our locale generated dedicated educators who devoted their entire careers to a single school. Many of these educators were eager to find ways to use technology in their classrooms—though budgets often played a significant role in curbing any momentum toward acquisition of such technologies.
That being said, technology does hold boundless promise for rural education. Of course, running a fast broadband connection to every school and outfitting classrooms with laptops and iPads will not automatically accelerate learning in rural schools—but it’s a start. The need for creative thinking, the courage to try new things, and the necessity for close study to identify strategies that work has arrived like the first bell at the start of every school day.
Follow the Money
Small districts and communities often have small budgets, making modern and reliable district-wide technology initiatives a challenge for many of these regions. It’s time for these schools to get resourceful.
Search for grants and other funding sources by checking out websites like THE Journal. Take advantage of existing flexibility in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to more creatively utilize federal dollars. While the amount of money associated with Title I, Title II, or Title VI may be small for a small district, combining them could enable you to, for example, create a mobile lab that serves all the targeted program beneficiaries.
Prioritize Broadband Internet Access
According to EducationSuperHighway, America continues to make extraordinary progress in narrowing the K-12 digital divide; 39.2 million students, 2.6 million teachers, and 73.9 thousand schools are now achieving the minimum connectivity goal that gives students equal access to digital learning opportunities.
However, 6.5 million students are on the other side of the digital divide without access to high-speed Internet. This connectivity gap is particularly wide in the 1,587 rural K-12 schools that don’t yet have the infrastructure necessary to revolutionize the way teachers teach and students learn. Fixing this inequity is paramount for rural schools and communities to be able to fully leverage technology for learning. EducationSuperHighway’s website has a great deal of information to help you get started on securing greater connectivity.
Training for Technology
States can connect local education agencies (LEAs) to existing curated technology-based content and professional development. However, they should not reinvent the wheel as existing resources are plentiful.
The International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and the state and national affiliates of the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) offer regular webinars and other professional development around teachers and technology. Additionally, the Center on Innovation and Learning—a federally sponsored content center specializing in innovation in education—curates a collection of technology resources for educators on edshelf, including descriptions and educator reviews of different resources.
Shutting the Door on the Divide
We have to level the playing field for rural schools and communities to access the best instruction and content available for students and teachers alike. I believe that both federal- and state-level leaders have a strong supporting role to play in helping rural schools leverage technology.
We have to pull together now to ensure that rural communities can use technology to its fullest potential, simplifying the responsibilities of rural administrators, better supporting rural educators in their work, and enabling students to access diverse curriculum. When this happens, we will not only close the digital divide, but also shut the door in its face.
We have compiled many great resources to help you acquire, implement, and use technology effectively in your district, school, and classroom. Check out our resource library today!>>
This piece was written in conjunction with Charlotte Andrist, a communications guru who works with education publications and companies to better understand the trends and developments in education and education technology.