Saturday, February 13, 2010

One way of dealing with idleness among rural youth: a wired school bus

Scholars and policy makers have identified idleness among rural youth as a serious problem (see here), and as a somewhat related matter, Sam Dillon of the New York Times has written previously (see here) about the long bus rides endured by school children in western states. But Dillon's story on the intersection of these issues in yesterday's paper had a more positive spin. The dateline is Vail, Arizona, population 2,484, which Dillon refers to as an exurb of Tucson. Turns out that the Vail school district is a far flung one, with 18 schools and 10,000 students spread across 425 square miles of southern Arizona. Dillon reports that the district installed a router on one of its buses earlier this year, making Wi-Fi available to students riding it. Here's an excerpt focusing on some of the positive consequences of the move:
The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.”

School district officials indicate that equipping the bus with Wi-Fi was "part of a wider effort to use technology to extend learning beyond classroom walls and the six-hour school day. " Indeed, Dillon buys into this theme, as reflected in the story's headline: "Wi-Fi Turns Arizona Bus Ride Into a Rolling Study Hall." As one who sees some downsides to too much technology too much of the time, I'm wondering how it is school officials think students are--for the most part--using this Wi-Fi access. With only anecdotal evidence about students emailing assignments to teachers, I'm skeptical about serious educational benefits, though the disciplinary improvements alone may justify expanding the practice.

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