Friday, June 14, 2013

Online courses: Only for those who can pay for it?

Teaching online courses I've encountered many student issues dealing with technology. From using the right browser, to understanding the LMS. The most persistent problem though was not with specific programs or websites, but basic connectivity. A good number of my students were stealing wifi to take their online course! Those that weren't either had basic internet, or were going to places where it was free.

So I wasn't surprised when reading this article from Mercury News about high-school students taking online courses, that their biggest issue was students having internet access at home. From the article:
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.
 With the drive to put more courses online, there's always an assumption of connectivity to the Internet. In my experience, a good portion of high needs students don't have this connectivity, and thus won't view these courses as a viable path. The reason for this lack of connectivity? In my view, cost.

There are numerous studies and papers showing that the U.S. pays more for their internet than comparable countries. By keeping these costs up, telecommunications companies won't just slow innovation, reduce our competition, and limit the internet-based products and services we have, but also education. With MOOCs, CCSS testing prep, and more online courses, the demand for faster, stable, and wide reaching internet services will only multiply and grow. Having a low-cost option would enable everyone to take part in the unequivocal revolutions that are happening within education. Hopefully, someone will take up the torch and offer nationwide wifi with new spectrum. Hopefully.

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