BLOG POST BY PTAC BOARD MEMBER KAREY KILLIAN
The challenge of starting something new, like teaching in a virtual environment can be exciting. That excitement quickly disappears if one’s access to the internet is limited. In some homes across the Commonwealth, high-speed, broadband internet isn’t an option. In my rural area, cable is not available and “unlimited” internet gets throttled just a few days into the new cycle. I don’t know much about megabytes and kilobits, but, as a teacher and a parent who is reliant on internet, receiving this message from the internet provider feels like a punch in the gut:
“You’re all out of high-speed hotspot...Your mobile hotspot data speed has been reduced, so you’ll get up to 600kbps for the rest of the billing cycle (the next 19 days).”
What does this look like and sound like in our home? Streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are taboo in this household. We are thankful that we have DVDs and a few VHS relics to watch on family movie nights. When the frustration levels increase because websites are taking too long to load, we turn off the devices and play a game together. This was easier to do when school work wasn’t mandatory. Now that our two girls are expected to complete graded assignments, and I’m expected to submit classwork for my 900 students, we’re trying to find innovative ways to manage the data.
Managing data usage requires constant communication about what needs to be done for each person. Our 2nd-grade daughter uses a laptop connected to my husband’s hotspot on his phone. She uses about 4GB of data each day with the required videos and activities that her teacher has thoughtfully prepared for six classes. We have about 15GB of data per device and if you do the math, we have enough for 2-3 weeks. Our daughter in 11th grade uses the school issued iPad and connects to her phone if the home hotspot is too slow for her 10 classes. Her school, looking to create solutions, gave us a hotspot to use. Unfortunately, like in many other rural areas of Pennsylvania, it doesn’t work because there isn’t any service with that provider where we live.
Strategies that work for our family:
Moving forward, we realize that at some point this month we may not have any internet connection. I’m trying to prepare lessons that will last for my students in the event that I won’t be able to connect with them from home. We have spent a great deal of time and money trying to figure out how we can get better internet access for our family. We haven’t been able to find a solution that can keep up with the increased demands for all of us in this virtual learning environment from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing many inequities in our education system. There are many other teachers and families across the state who are in the same situation that we are. If we believe that education is opportunity, and that opportunity should be provided to all, then we must try to find solutions that ensure every student has access to high-speed internet - during this period of remote learning and in the future.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee