Buses as Tech Hubs: Way More Than Just Wi-Fi

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Education Week. June 21, 2019
By Michelle Goldchain @goldchainam

When students in a San Francisco neighborhood were afraid to walk to a community learning center because of the threat of gang violence, an effort was made to bring the learning to them—by bus.

A nonprofit called Five Keys arranged to have a vehicle loaded with Wi-Fi, as well as other tech tools that students can use to meet a variety of academic needs, roll into impoverished communities throughout the city. 

The idea of delivering internet connectivity to students and communities via buses is not new. But over the past few years, the scale of those efforts has increased as the mobile tech hubs have been transformed—gutted, reconfigured, and reimagined—so that they provide students with a much broader array of tech access and services than just internet connectivity.

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The buses delivered by organizations like Five Keys are staffed with educators who provide academic support for students in different subjects. In some cases, the buses offer full-fledged computer laps where students can prep for the SAT or take part in anti-bullying programs. Some of them come with desks and swivel chairs.

School districts and other organizations see the buses as one of many options for closing the so-called "homework gap": the inability of students, especially those from poor backgrounds, to access reliable internet service away from school. Those barriers to connectivity prevent many students from doing online work away from school, at a time when lessons are increasingly being delivered via technology.