The first bookmobile hit the road in 1839 to serve students in rural communities far from any library. Today, school buses are bringing an even richer source of information — the internet — to students in underserved areas.
Nearly 200,000 Americans live in rural or urban areas with no broadband service, which the Federal Communications Commission defines as delivering a minimum of 25 megabits per second. Some studies suggest that the number of people with slow or no service is much higher — as many as 78 million — when factoring in government undercounting and those who can’t afford broadband.
School buses are helping bridge this digital divide. Districts in several states are putting cellular- and satellite-powered Wi-Fi access points on buses so students can do homework during their commutes. In other states, Microsoft is testing technology that uses the “white space” spectrum between TV channels to get broadband to bus APs.
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Some districts are going a step further by parking buses in neighborhoods where many households can’t afford broadband.
Those buses act as hotspots for the neighborhoods, enabling students to stay connected overnight and on weekends. Extend Learning Opportunities and Safeguards
In both Georgia and Pennsylvania, districts also are using bus-based internet connectivity to maximize the return on their one-to-one investments in computing devices for students. After all, school-issued tablets and notebooks are far less useful as educational tools when users have internet access for only 6.5 hours a day, five days a week while they’re in school.
The underlying strategy can be applied to a variety of other technologies. For example, in
Colorado and Florida, buses that have been transformed into mobile STEM and learning labs are bringing educational opportunities to students and the community at large.
Hotspot buses also have the potential to improve safety. A growing number of districts are
upgrading their campus video surveillance systems to read the license plates of vehicles as they pull up to schools. The system then checks databases of sex offenders and lists of people parents say they don’t want picking up their children, such as estranged family members. Mobile broadband can extend that protection to buses. For example, onboard cameras can use analytics software and other IP surveillance tools.
Some districts provide students with smart ID cards to support capabilities such as automated attendance records. Extending such investments to buses enables schools to track exactly when and where each student gets on or off and to make sure that each student gets on the right bus.
The Right Partner and the Right Roadmap
Those are just a few examples of why school districts should consider buses when developing a digital transformation strategy. Further, a technology partner can help school IT leaders to navigate all of the options. The ideal partner will work with a variety of vendors and can recommend a solution that best meets each district’s unique requirements.
For example, a partner can determine whether cellular- or satellite-based connectivity (or some combination of these services) is the most effective way to deliver broadband to buses. A partner with extensive education experience also can ensure that bus-based systems comply with regulations such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act — and in turn extend a safe learning environment into students’ lives outside the school building.
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