Unexpected Issues in Online Education Deal: The Bandwidth Catch-22

June 20, 2013 at 1:09 am 5 comments

Interesting issue came up in the efforts to provide online education through San Jose.

“I get this call from San Jose State: ‘Uh, we have a problem,'” recalled Mark Ryan, superintendent of a charter school in Oakland that was taking part in the project to offer for-credit online classes to students, including high school students. According to the newspaper, “It turned out some of the low-income teens didn’t have computers and high-speed Internet connections at home that the online course required. Many needed personal attention to make it through. The final results aren’t in yet, but the experiment exposed some challenges to the promise of a low-cost online education. And it showed there is still a divide between technology-driven educators and the low-income, first-generation college hopefuls they are trying to reach.”

via Unexpected Issues in Online Education Deal | Inside Higher Ed.

So why isn’t there better bandwidth everywhere? The NYTimes says that it’s an issue of “digital literacy.” Which creates this interesting Catch-22 problem: How can we use online education to improve digital literacy if there’s not enough bandwidth for online education because of too little digital literacy?

The major causes for low subscribership, as extensive survey research shows, are low interest in the Internet and minimal digital literacy. And too many American households lack the money or interest to buy a computer. As a result, more Americans subscribe to cable TV and cellphones than to Internet service. Our broadband subscription rate is 70 percent, but could easily surpass 90 percent if computer ownership and digital literacy were widespread.

via No Country for Slow Broadband – NYTimes.com.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  June 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    How can it come as a surprise that a lot of kids don’t have the money for computers and high-speed internet, when even food and shelter are beyond their means? I always get annoyed when teacher-bloggers assume that every teen has a smartphone with a data plan, or that every household has high-speed Internet.

  • 2. poisefreak  |  June 25, 2013 at 6:45 am

    This is something i have always stressed in my discussion with online education enthusiasts, it is wrong to assume that all students have the means to procure a smartphone or portable computer; these things are either too expensive to own or just totally out of reach, especially in areas where technology is not yet seen as the answer to so many things.

  • 3. fredZ  |  June 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Most Public Libraries, including a small library in Richmond Maine have at least several computers available for student use.

  • […] We’ve heard about this problem before: Online courses don’t reach the low-income students who most need them, because they don’t have access to the technology on-ramp.  This was an issue in the San Jose State experiment. […]

  • […] between Internet access and age. These results speak to the promise of and limitations of MOOCs, as was also seen in some of the San Jose State reports.  Low-income users often access the Internet via the library or cellphone, which changes […]


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