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Internet connectivity a challenge in increasingly tech-heavy school curriculums

  • Florence Rideout Elementary School third-grade teacher Samantha Dignan assists a student with a project on lifecycles using her classroom’s Chromebooks. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, September 04, 2017

More and more schools are moving to a model where students have access to computing devices both in school and out – but that effort can be hampered if a student arrives home and tries to do their school work with sub-par internet service.

“It’s extremely important,” said Wilton-Lyndeborough School Board Chair Harry Dailey, of students having access to high-speed internet at home. “We’re going to one-to-one computing, trying to make sure they have those devices, but if they don’t have the connectivity at home, that’s a problem.”

The Wilton-Lyndeborough district has a unique challenge, said Dailey, because in general, Wilton students have more access to high-speed fiber than Lyndeborough ones do, though the school hasn’t done a comprehensive analysis of how uneven that balance may be.

And there is very little schools can do to resolve the imbalance, either, said Dailey, although students are encouraged to go to their local libraries, where download and upload speeds are higher, or to use time after school if they have trouble connecting at home.

It’s a problem, admitted Dailey, but not one likely to go away, with schools only trending to become more reliant on technology, not less.

Warren Luebkeman, director of technology at the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, agreed that the low cost of online resources such as Google classrooms and technology such as Chromebooks, it’s become conducive for schools to integrate more and more of a web-based platform for their curriculums.

“In our district, it’s just growing and growing,” said Luebkeman, who said it’s the district’s goal to have a one-to-one student to device ratio for third grade up by the end of this year.

And the Internet is vitally important for that.

Jaffrey-Rindge even has a redundant system, so that if their main source of internet, Fairpoint, is knocked out temporarily, there is a second, comparable, network able to pick up that slack and allow coursework at the school to continue.

And like in Wilton-Lyndeborough, said Luebkeman, he’s heard in rural areas of the district where high speed Internet is intermittent or unreliable.

“That’s probably the biggest issue — quality, not whether there is access or not,” he said. 

According to ConVal High School technology integrators, in an email sent to the Ledger-Transcript by Principal Gib West, all of ConVal’s academic departments, including art and music, use online resources and computer-based technologies. 

“Instruction and learning activities can vary from no-tech to low-tech integration, all the way to full reliance on digital technologies,” the email read. For example, ATC students use engineering software from Solidworks to program a computer to control a manufacturing machine to execute the cutting of plastic and wood components.

While there may be instances of slow internet in the region, statewide, New Hampshire does well compared to other states when it comes to access to broadband.

According to BroadbandNow, New Hampshire is the 14th most connected state in the country, with nearly 95 percent of residents with access to broadband. About 8 percent are considered underserved by reliable broadband.

But there are still areas where the odd student doesn’t have that access, according to ConVal’s integrated technology team.

“Depending on where our students’ homes are located within the ConVal school district, internet access may be impacted by infrastructure barriers,” they wrote. “For example, a residence could have a road with few other houses around it, or its driveway is too long for a cable provider to connect to just one home, or the house is located outside the maximum service area of a digital subscriber line substation, even though residential landline telephone service is available.”

But the gap needs to close even in those areas, said Dailey, as high speed internet becomes less of a luxury and more of a necessity to everyday life.

Peterborough State Representative Peter Leishman has previously sponsored bills attempting to give town’s more options when it comes to internet service, namely by giving them the power to issue a bond for public works or improvements of a permanent nature, including broadband infrastructure.

The bill had been before the state house and senate multiple times in the last ten years, but it’s never passed. Internet service providers object to the bill, which would allow towns to pay for installation of infrastructure in areas where a provider is already present but is offering a service that’s not sufficiently high speed.

Leishman, who was a sponsor of the bill in the last session of the house, said that a new committee is being formed in the house to discuss broadband, and to hopefully propose new legislation that can help municipalities to fill the gaps, particularly in areas where service providers aren’t interested in building up that infrastructure because of low population volume. 

If that solution is still found to be allowing towns to bond to build their own internet infrastructure, that bill cannot be reintroduced until next session, said Leishman. But there may be other solutions that are found that could ultimately solve the problem. 

Dailey, who also serves on the Budget Committee in Wilton, said that the decision on whether or not to spend town funds on infrastructure should be a decision left in the hands of the towns. Though high speed Internet is more prevalent in Wilton, said Dailey, the town’s economic development committee is considering measures such as creating public WiFi on Main Street.

“I think local towns should have the ability to do what’s in the best interest of their town,” said Dailey. “While Wilton has many options, Lyndeborough has very few, and they should have the ability to vote and decide whether they want to spend town funds to have high-speed internet.”

 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.