Close the Homework Gap with a local Wi-Fi Map

The Homework Gap”

If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it refers to the fact that so many school-age children must now rely on Internet access to complete their homework. Even though access is provided within the school grounds, once the school day ends, homework can’t be completed by students with no Internet at home. There’s literally a disconnect between what’s expected and what they are actually capable of. These students are seriously disadvantaged and fall dangerously behind.  To illustrate this growing problem, watch this entertaining video:

The best solution for schools and public libraries is to check out Wi-Fi hotspots (See our post for more info). If you’re a school district, you can also put Wi-Fi on your school buses or even install Wi-Fi kiosks throughout your community.

But sometimes checking out hotspots is either not feasible (due to funding or network availability), or it is feasible, but demand is too high with many students left out and unable to take advantage of the service.  That’s why schools are trying out an additional solution: Community Wi-Fi maps and decals.

Maps & Decals

The homework gap can be further closed by leveraging the existing free Wi-Fi in the area.  Schools can reach out and partner with local businesses who become powerful allies, offering to share their Wi-Fi so students can complete their schoolwork. Or if the businesses don’t have Wi-Fi to share, schools can provide them hotspots to use for maximum benefit.  Maybe not every student without access at home can check out their own personal hotspot. But with this solution, they can go to places in town with a school-purchased hotspot or already free Wi-Fi in place. 

It then behooves schools to make their students aware of these safe spaces in the community to utilize this approved Internet access.   Businesses are asked to display a decal, usually with the school’s branding, that signals to students it’s a good place for homework to be completed. 

Decal example
Example of Decal (Source)

Then, using existing free Google Maps tools, schools can pinpoint exactly where these approved Wi-Fi spots are in their communities. By embedding the map on their web pages, it becomes easily shareable via mobile device. Students can then navigate to the most convenient safe space when needed.

Texas is on the map for being one of a few states with school districts creating community Wi-Fi maps and decals, and even supplying businesses the Wi-Fi hotspots to make it happen and help close the Gap. 

Here are a few examples I found:

1) El Paso ISD (El Paso, TX)

Map: Free WiFi sites in the El Paso TX area

Screenshot of El Paso ISD web page showing WiFi map

2) Weatherford ISD (Weatherford, TX)

 Wi-Fi “HopSpots” Program (their mascot is a kangaroo – get it?)

Weatherford’s HopSpot Decal

3) San Marcos ISD (San Marcos, TX)

News article and video from 8/27/2018: San Marcos CISD students encouraged to use WiFi at local businesses



Video of news report
Decal for local businesses
Photo of decal being applied

OK, but what about Public Libraries?

Public libraries need to be part of this community partnership if they aren’t already!  They need to ensure they are included on any local Wi-Fi maps and are displaying the decals their school districts are creating. Or, if map and decals don’t exist, they should make them!

Public libraries should be the first place schools partner with to help address the homework gap problem. Not only do they provide free Internet as part of their mission, they also have supportive staff available to assist students.   

Photo of Marathon Public Library's Internet sign
Sign in front of Marathon Public Library (Marathon, TX)

(And one is never obligated to buy anything like in a coffee shop or fast food place.)

Further reading

It’s International Digital Inclusion Week!

We are celebrating International Digital Inclusion Week here at TSLAC by publishing our first digital inclusion statement, inspired by a similar effort by our colleagues at the Arizona State Library, with special thanks to ASL’s Digital Inclusion Librarian, Nicole Umayam.

By publishing this statement, we hope to share TSLAC’s strategic efforts to assist libraries in creating a more digitally inclusive environment for all Texans.   Read on after the statement to find examples of Texas libraries leading the digital inclusion charge and find more resources on digital inclusion.

Texas State Library and Archives Commission Definition of Digital Inclusion

We define digital inclusion as the ability of individuals to access and use information and communication technologies (ICTs). Digital inclusion is achieved through affordable, robust Internet services, digital literacy skills, quality technical support, access to hardware and software, and opportunities for resources and services that augment inclusion efforts.

Libraries are Partners in the Digital Inclusion Effort

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) and staff believe all people have the right to barrier-free access to library and information services that meet personal, educational and professional needs.  This guiding philosophy is at the heart of digital inclusion and the core of the professional mission of library services.

Libraries work towards digital inclusive communities through access and engagement efforts:
Access

  • Libraries provide high-speed internet access to ensure community connectivity to online resources for multiple literacies, workforce readiness and social inclusion.
  • Libraries receive quality technical support to maintain public access to hardware and software that underpins the library’s digital inclusion efforts.
  • Library staff receive continuous training in digital skills and digital literacies to assist in digital inclusion efforts.

Engagement

  • Libraries commit to identify underserved communities and eliminate digital inclusion barriers.
  • Libraries prioritize digital inclusion efforts to advance the delivery of library services and improve the quality of and access to library and information services.
  • Library staff assist users in building their own digital literacy skills to reach individual goals and participate in civic life.

TSLAC Commitment to Digital Inclusion

The TSLAC vision states that Texans will have access to information they need to live informed, productive lives. We are committed to developing the ongoing growth of local library capacity to serve as community hubs for technology and digital inclusion[1] and will do so through five focus areas:

  1. Awareness
  • Identify and propose solutions to topple institutional and societal barriers to access as an effort to close the digital divide.
  • Support and communicate programming which targets services to underserved urban and rural communities and libraries.
  1. Broadband
  • Secure local and federal government support, partnerships and tools in support of technology planning, such as Libraries Connecting Texas and the Edge Assessment.
  • Provide knowledge and expertise for library staff via resources, tools and consultation with TSLAC staff.
  1. Digital Literacy Skills
  • Assist library staff with proactive technology training, such as the You Can Do IT program.
  • Provide responsive consulting, resources, and tools in the areas of emerging technology and library technology.
  1. Funding
  • Promote, investigate and award grants supporting local initiatives for digital equity and inclusion.
  1. Hardware and Software
  • Provide software for patron access of library digital content and services at a cost-savings for libraries, such as Ploud website-hosting.
  • Provide shared online resources for patrons at a cost-savings for libraries, such as TexShare and TexQuest.
  • Provide services that assist libraries in collection sharing for patrons at a cost-savings, such as Interlibrary Loan Navigator.
  • Provide free library services for Texans with blindness or visual, physical, or reading disabilities through Braille and Audio Recordings Download (BARD), available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped via TSLAC’s Talking Book Program.
  • Sustain and grow the Texas Digital Archive, a central depository of state government information for use by Texans in all parts of the state.

[1] Goal 6 of TSLAC’s 2019-2023 Agency Strategic Plan: https://tinyurl.com/y9gz72y6

Doing Digital Inclusion in Texas

Your library is likely already doing digital inclusion in small ways, such as lending internet-enabled devices like WiFi hotspots and providing hands-on learning opportunities for community members with low digital literacy skills.  Check out the Digital Inclusion Resource Library to download training materials for your own programs or find policy and research articles to keep you current on national and global digital inclusion efforts.

Texans have a great local leader to look to when considering large scale digital inclusion efforts. Through the creation of the San Antonio Digital Inclusion Alliance, San Antonio Public Library is leading a collaborative digital inclusion effort with organizational partners to extend the library’s reach. You can also watch the recorded stream of San Antonio’s first Digital Inclusion Summit here.

If you’d like to take part in International Digital Inclusion Week or need some ideas about how to highlight your digital inclusion efforts, you can take some tips from the National Digital Inclusion Week held just this past May.

Leave us a comment with your thoughts on the TSLAC Digital Inclusion Statement or share how you’re doing digital inclusion at your library.