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Education Test

With Broadband Still Lacking, Monongalia County Schools to Issue Chromebooks to Students

mountains, sunset, clouds, valley
Jesse Wright
West Virginia Public Broadcasting file photo
In rural West Virginia, sparse populations coupled with the state's mountainous terrain make broadband access an expensive investment for providers.

In an effort to combat students' low access rates to high-speed broadband, Monongalia County Schools will issue Chromebooks to all of its students in the third grade and above in November.

A Chromebook, a laptop and operating system by Google, will allow each student to download web pages using the school's WiFi  to use for homework at home, where he or she may not have internet access. Clay-Battelle High School already achieved one-to-one last year, after a project to distribute broadband to its students for free using abandoned television and radio channels stalled.

"Some of our students don't have access to a computer," said Clay-Battelle High School Principal David Cottrell, who estimated that 15 percent of students don't have access to broadband at home. "The further away from Blacksville, in the outlying regions, some of our students don't even have internet."

According to a 2015 Pew Research Study, five million households with school-aged children do not have access to high-speed internet at home, creating a "homework gap" - or a learning disadvantage for those without broadband access. Broadband is hard to access in much of rural West Virginia, because sparse populations and hilly terrain make the area an expensive investment for internet providers.

The state Department of Education says that in Wirt, Kanawha and Raleigh counties, test scores went up in English and math after they implemented one-to-one technology. But researchers dispute whether technology itself helps students succeed. Deven Carlson, a professor who studies education policy at the University of Oklahoma, said how the technology is used is more effective than the technology itself, and that the stronger argument for digital classrooms is not better test scores, but the digital literacy students gain. 

"Students who don't have access to this technology, they come in at a disadvantage," he said. "Just think how much financial aid is filed online for college, and how much you can learn about college post-secondary options online. I think that's perhaps the strongest argument for providing technology access in the classrooms." 

Cottrell said that the Chromebooks have allowed teachers to create new learning experiences for students, like taking virtual tours of museums. Computerized state testing also went smoothly because students were already familiar with the technology. Now, Cottrell said they're awaiting test scores from last year to get an idea of the Chromebooks' effectiveness in helping students bridge the homework gap. 

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