Participate: Access to the Digital Community Quest

posted May 16, 2016, 7:57 AM by Emily Kroutil   [ updated May 19, 2016, 7:58 AM ]
I used my school address for this quest because I live in a different county from my school and I wanted to look at the data of my current students.  My school attracts students from all over the district, but there a quite a number of them that live close by, so I thought this was appropriate.  I couldn't get the speed test on to load, but I was able to use the other speed test and got the following results:

Then I looked at my county's rank among the state:
Even though we tend to struggle quite often with the internet at my school, we are actually doing pretty well!  The only counties whose internet speed ranks above ours are in the Atlanta metro area.  So, that's not too bad.  Then, I looked at the speed vs. demographics section of the site.  This part was pretty interesting since we are considered a High Poverty district:
I looked mostly at wireless internet because that seems to be what most people tend to use for their devices (tablets, smartphones, laptops, etc), but if you're curious, the section that has been cut off at the top is the "wired" data.  Even though our median income is below the national average, it's not that much lower.  Also, our percentage of high school graduates is pretty close to the national average too.  I don't know if this should make me proud of our county or sad for the country....

When looking at the ESA report, Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States, I found the following figures quite illuminating:
I think it would be interesting to see how this has changed in the last 6 years.  I'd expect, based on what I see in my classroom, that the Handheld device only AND Handheld device and personal computer sections would increase and the sections with no computer AND personal computer only would decrease.  I see a lot of tablets and smartphones in my classroom.  A lot of these same students have laptops, but students rarely have laptops that don't have a smart phone or other similar device.

I bet this figure has also changed a lot in the last 6 years.  I would HOPE that the "no internet use" section has decreased significantly.  I know among my students, I've seen fewer and fewer complaints that students do not have internet at home in my 7 years of teaching.  In fact, I expect my students to be able to get online frequently because I've flipped my class and I haven't had a student mention that they don't have access to the internet at home except for one student that was in the process of moving and they hadn't set up internet at her new house (I made her a CD of the videos during that time).

This graph was perhaps the most telling.  It seemed obvious to me that the higher the household income, the more likely they were to have internet access at their house.  If you're struggling to put food on the table and keep the lights on, access to the internet is considered a luxury and not a necessity.  After looking at the demographics on the previous website, I learned that the average income in my county is about $50k.  This means that my students should fall somewhere between the second and third bar.  That means I should expect anywhere between 12-24% of my students to not have a computer and between 16-31% of them to not have the internet and an additional 3% have dial up internet at their home, which in this day and age of graphics/video-intensive websites is almost effectively no internet at all.  This is a huge barrier to digital learning that teachers, especially teachers of 100% online classes need to be aware of.  I don't see this much at my school, but because I have students from around the district, my school isn't average at all.  This is important barrier to consider, though, when assigning online homework and assignments.  Students may be able to access the internet at school and at the library, but not at their homes.  It is important to have procedures in place for students lacking this technology to complete these assignments, whether it is making them a CD of the media so they can access it online or give them additional time to complete the assignment since all work will need to be done at school or a library.

When looking at web accessibility for those with disabilities, the principles of accessible design were quite intriguing.  As someone whose husband is a software developer and as someone who tries to curate content on the web for my students, it would be helpful to review the sites I have for my students and make sure that they follow these principles:
  • appropriate alternative text
  • appropriate document structure
  • headers for data tables
  • ensure all forms can be completed and submitted
  • ensure links make sense out of context
  • caption/provide transcripts for all media (Khan Academy does this, YouTube sometimes does this)
  • ensure accessibility of non-HTML content (the site mentions Flash; it's important to remember that Apple iOS devices cannot play Flash, so if the majority of your students are on those devices, don't expect them to be able to interact with Flash media)
  • allow users to skip repetitive elements (useful for anyone, really)
  • do not rely on color alone to convey meaning (remember The Dress?)
  • Make sure content is clearly written and easy to read (every website should do this!)
  • make JavaScript accessible
When looking at these elements, I noticed that principles of accessible design are also principles of effective design of any site, regardless of the audience.