Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Wifi on Wheels: Internet-Enabled School Buses Keep Students Connected on the Road, in School Parking Lots and in Their Own Neighborhoods

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Wifi on Wheels: Internet-Enabled School Buses Keep Students Connected on the Road, in School Parking Lots and in Their Own Neighborhoods

Article excerpt

School buses used to serve one purpose: getting students to and from school. But driven by a mandate to provide Internet connectivity to all students, some creative districts have deployed mobile wireless technology to transform their buses into moving WiFi zones, stationary hotspots or both.

Among the students at Coachella Valley Unified School District (CA), 24/7 Web access is not a given. According to Superintendent Darryl Adams, "Only about 60 percent of the student population has Internet access at home." To solve the problem, he put his own spin on the concept of mobile learning. "They're putting WiFi in cars now," he said, "so I thought, 'Why not put it on a school bus?' "

CVUSD rolled out its WiFi-enabled school bus initiative in October, using three buses to provide WiFi to students on their way back and forth to school (and for field trips and sporting events). The buses are also parked overnight in neighborhoods where Internet access is not otherwise available. Adams said that trailer parks and tribal reservations were among the district's first choices as locations to provide WiFi via its buses.

The district invested in its rolling hotspots not just to allow students to work on their way to and from school, but also to level the playing field with students from more affluent homes. With nearly half of its student population unable to access the Internet while at home, Adams felt that CVUSD pupils were at a disadvantage in today's tech-centric world. "I went in and talked to the school board about this and about how we really needed a way to get everyone connected," Adams said. "In the 21st century, if you don't have access to information you're going to be at a disadvantage. Access denied is education denied."

Limiting Access, Maintaining Power

CVUSD kicked off its WiFi initiative by equipping its three vehicles with Agility WiFi routers that relied on the buses' batteries for power. Students have a specific protocol installed on their laptops or mobile devices and have a username and password to log in. "If the device doesn't match the protocol, they can't use it," said Adams. "This ensures that only our students can access the school buses' WiFi system."

It didn't take long for CVUSD to realize that powering mobile WiFi with the buses' batteries was not a viable solution. "The batteries lasted only about an hour and left the bus unable to start the next morning," said Adams. "We thought about installing toggle switches or running extension cords out of the buses, but that would have incurred more costs." The district found the solution it was looking for in solar panels. Installed on the buses, the panels provide the juice needed to keep the routers running.

When the buses are on "overnight duty," parked in neighborhoods and on reservations where Internet access is unavailable, the WiFi is available all night, only accessible to student users who are located within about a 100-yard radius of the vehicle. "Some of the neighborhoods have a clubhouse where we can park the bus, and where students can congregate to use the service," said Adams.

Adams said the pilot has gone so well that the district now plans to roll out WiFi service to 97 more buses. And while all 100 buses won't be used every night, he said the district will use a selective process of figuring out which locations will provide the most access to the largest number of students. …

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