North Carolina is taking strides to close the digital divide for its residents. Earlier this year, the state launched a portal to crowdsource internet speeds around the state with the aim to build out a more pointed broadband strategy that seeks to close gaps in connectivity. And as a testament to the state's aim to expand internet access, North Carolina has already embarked on a mission to provide high-speed internet to all public schools in its jurisdiction.
This is because, while schools increasingly find success in providing high-speed internet to their students, costs still prevent districts from achieving 100 percent access.
Soon, this will no longer be the case for schools in North Carolina. By 2018, the state will finish its digital initiative to give all students in all schools access to broadband internet, EdSurge reports.
The impetus behind the equity initiative is explained in a report developed to help other states follow North Carolina’s example:
In 2005, government leaders in North Carolina saw an opening to combat educational inequality in their state. Many students living in rural North Carolina lacked access to the same quality of education as students in Charlotte or Raleigh, simply because of their geographic or economic circumstances.
With support from the lieutenant governor, the state underwent a strategic education policy change to put technology in the hands of each student and expand students’ access to high-speed internet, the report says.
Thanks to governmental leadership, a strong infrastructure (both technical and intellectual) and a plan for the future, North Carolina is poised to achieve digital success. Here are three lessons to glean from that success.
1. Start IT Leadership at the Top
For the initiative to be successful, state leadership had to rethink its role in the education system.
“Its role would be to enable and empower forward-thinking teachers and administrators to use their school and district resources to innovate while the state secured sustainable funding, advocated for critical policy changes, and provided technical and administrative support,” reads the report.
While state leaders need to hold the reins, North Carolina’s initiative is effective because of the team work at all levels.
“It’s been successful because the leaders who put the educational initiative in place involved everyone across a broad swath of the educational system from the outset, from the grassroots to the grasstops,” reports EdSurge.
2. Train Educators to Use the New Tech
Part of this inclusive approach is making sure that educators are prepared to teach with new tech and utilize new high-speed connections.
In 2009, North Carolina helped facilitate the development of one of the first teacher technology training programs in the country.
“This yearlong program was created to help education leaders develop the core competencies they need in today’s learning environment and to ensure they are using technology in the most effective and productive ways,” reads the report.
Also as part of their drive to create a shared vision, the report indicates that state leaders recognized the importance of keeping stakeholders — schools, districts, teachers, parents, administrators and students — involved in the initiative at all levels.
In addition to professional development, another key component of digital success is installing a “digital learning–ready Wi-Fi connection.”
At this point, more than 70 percent of North Carolina schools have such a Wi-Fi connection, which allows educators to explore digital learning and be more innovative in the classroom.
3. Plan Tech Around What’s Next
With all schools in North Carolina expected to be digital ready by next summer, the state is looking at how adding devices can transform the classroom.
“Recognizing that all students learn in their own ways and require different levels of support, the state remains committed to delivering personalized learning options to students and expanded instructional opportunities for teachers and instructors,” reads the report.
The report indicates that the state is ultimately working toward giving all students and teachers access to technology to support these options.
In a tumultuous political time, state initiatives for transforming learning, like this one and the personalized learning programs in Rhode Island, have become integral to supporting students and teachers.
“North Carolina’s success amidst a discordant education and broader political environment offers hope for sustained change when leaders take the time to create collaborative public-private partnerships and win strategic support from both sides of the legislative aisle,” reports EdSurge.