At Washington Middle School in Green Bay, Wis., library media specialist Kristin Brouchoud has 11 mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices to lend to students who want to take the Internet home with them. One recent day, they were all checked out.
The devices are part of a districtwide experiment to make sure that students have handy access to the Internet outside of school hours for homework or research. In past years, students without home service might have had to seek out a coffee shop, a McDonald's, or a library or community center to do their online work. But the 22,000-student district is quietly trying a new approach this year.
"A lot of our teachers have changed the way they teach, and their lessons are all digital," Ms. Brouchoud said. "It's important for us to provide that service so we're not giving some students an advantage while others are at a disadvantage."
Students can take home those hotspots—a Kajeet MiFi device—for short-term and long-term use. Each of the district's 10 secondary schools have up to 25 Kajeets, which are often paired with netbooks to be checked out.
Sixty percent of the district's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and there are many families that don't have high-speed Internet access, or a device, at home, said Diane Doersch, the district's chief technology and information officer.
The district does not have a 1-to-1 device program, but it generally has about one device for every 1.5 students, Ms. Brouchoud said. "We are very sensitive about saying you must do this kind of (online) work at home," she said. "We know we have families that don't have that access and we don't have enough devices for absolutely everybody."
Cost is an issue for families. To bridge the gap, the district has invested in about 200 Kajeet MiFi devices and the data to use them, at a cost of about $20,000, Ms. Doersch said.
The Kajeet devices attach to Sprint or Verizon networks and have automatic filters and settings that a district can keep or customize, said Linda Kerr, the director of marketing for McLean, Va.-based Kajeet. For example, some districts allow students to access sites like YouTube and social networking, while others don't. Each device costs about $120, and data is purchased separately, Ms. Kerr said.
When we started Kajeet in 2003, we wanted kids to be agile with technology, to be empowered and safe, and we wanted to help them respond with confidence to what's happening in their world. Not incidentally, we want parents, educators and guardians to be involved too. Being part of the mobile world is not just fun, it’s a shared responsibility.