‘Bandwidth Divide’ Could Bar Some People From Online Learning

Think the digital divide is behind us now that personal computers are ubiquitous? Consider the recent failure of an e-textbook effort in a wealthy school district outside of Washington, D.C.

The e-textbooks used in the project, run by the Fairfax County Public Schools, worked only when students were online—and some features required fast connections. But it turns out that even in such a well-heeled region, many students did not have broadband access at home and were unable to do their homework, sparking complaints from parents that led the school system to approve the purchase of $2-million in printed textbooks for those who preferred a hard copy.

As more colleges rush to offer free online courses in the name of providing educational access to all, it’s worth asking who might be left out for lack of high-speed Internet access to watch video lectures.

Only about 66 percent of American adults have broadband access at home, according to a survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

And only one-fifth of elementary- and secondary-school teachers in the United States said that all or most of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home, according to survey results released by the group last week. In some developing countries—where leaders of massive open online courses hope they will have an impact as well—broadband Internet access can be far harder to come by. <Read more.>

Via Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.