Internet Access is the “Toll Road to Equity”
By Lydia Dobyns
While access to technology and the internet are not silver bullets per se, the absence of these critical tools and resources present significant impediments to achieving “college and career readiness” for students.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: “Most schools have about as much internet bandwidth as your house,” during a conference in Washington, D.C. “We are denying our teachers and students the tools they need to be successful. That is educationally unsound and morally unacceptable.”
In my travels throughout the country, I’ve visited many schools where teachers are constrained in the resources they can provide their students. For these students, it’s not only about the lack of resources; this has the additional unintended consequences of impacting students’ abilities to conduct research instantaneously, collaborate easily with their peers and take advantage of learning opportunities outside the classroom day.
Here’s what I mean about powerful learning fueled by the use of technology and broadband access. At Columbus Signature Academy, a public district high school in Columbus, Indiana, a DNA project was launched in partnership with Professor John Cavaletto of the Purdue University Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Professor Cavaletto not only helped initiate the project and stayed connected with students using online video tools, he also provided students access to a robust research database. Students actually discovered a new strain of yeast, thanks in part to this embedded use of internet-based resources.
According to a policy brief from the National Education Association (NEA), researchers are finding a clear link between technology utilization, student achievement and student motivation. There’s a significant difference between studying theory and learning first-hand what is relevant. Motivating students with coursework that is real and relevant fosters the type of education where students are truly engaged ─ and engaged students succeed. Freshmen and sophomores at Meridian Early College High School in Sanford, Michigan, worked with Merrill Technologies to produce a cart for use in manufacturing. The project combined science, technology, math and engineering to solve a challenging and complex ‘real-world’ problem. Merrill Technologies went on to produce this cart that now helps to solve a very real workplace challenge.
Investing in technology and access for students should not be viewed as discretionary spending. We need state and federal funding mechanisms that recognize access to technology and broadband is fundamental to providing equal learning opportunities for all students. Otherwise we risk perpetuating a “have” and “have not” educational system. We should want a better America. Our national aspiration ought to be that every student, regardless of zipcode, not just graduate from high school, but graduate “college and career ready.”
Access to technology and the internet in everyday educational experiences can be as transformative as Gutenberg’s printing press was when his mass-produced Bible marked the beginning of a shared knowledge revolution. How can we expect our students to compete globally when technology and internet literacy are considered basic “college and career” entry skills? These days even so called “blue-collar” jobs require some “white-collar” skills.
Technology as an embedded part of a comprehensive education strategy just makes sense. An iPad is not a cure-all, nor is the lack of technology the reason we fail to meet student needs. Successfully reinventing education calls for system-level response, and that response needs to include providing students and teachers with the resources that are found in today’s workplace.
Lydia Dobyns has combined careers as a technology entrepreneur and executive, with education policy and non-profit service. She served two terms as a school board member, led an education foundation and directed replication strategies in the non-profit education sector. As President and CEO of New Tech Network, she directs strategy, new initiatives, product development, and school development services. Among the chief initiatives for New Tech are expanding its network of 160 schools, working with districts and communities for systemic change, further development of the learning management system, NTN Echo and expansion into K-12.
Her entrepreneurial and executive career featured work in the high technology, online services, consumer products and health care industries. Previous roles for Lydia included CEO of goodcompany.com, VP and General Manager for AOL and VP of Corporate Marketing for Ashton-Tate. She graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.