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Wireless connectivity is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. Devices like smartphones, the Amazon Kindle, and the iPad keep us connected to the internet wherever we are. And more and more wireless hotspots are popping up throughout the city. All of this in an effort to keep us “connected” to the essentials: Email, news, social networking, YouTube, and the other boundless wonders of the Internet. In fact, just over 75 percent of the U.S. population has regular access to the internet. And while people between the ages of 18-44 make up half of the internet users in the United States, their rate of adoption is much lower than those between the ages of 12 and 17. In fact, over 93 percent of teens are online. So, it should come as no surprise that schools are finding more ways to incorporate online connectivity into their students’ lives.
Last November, the Vail School District, a 400 square-mile territory in the Arizona desert, began testing a new initiative by installing wireless routers on some of their buses, essentially turning the bus into a mobile hotspot for the students onboard. With students spending up to 2 1/2 hours on the bus each day, the new distraction, or study aid depending on your point of view, provides students with an opportunity to get started on their homework or simply keep entertained during the long commute. Jerod Reyes, a freshman riding one of the internet-equipped buses says: “Let's say you have a world history project you need to get done. If you have to do research or get pictures for a PowerPoint you're making, just go on the Internet and get it instead of having to wait until you get to school.” Granted, when he’s finished he sometimes goes on to play online games.
But the district administrators claim that they don’t mind that the students use the internet for non-academic purposes, so long as they’re accessing appropriate content. In response, Autonet, the company that makes the mobile routers, has created a set of filters that prevents the students from accessing adult content. And while administrators don’t know if the pilot program has had any impact on the student’s grades, bus driver J.J. Johnson seems to be a strong supporter. He claims that because the students have less idle time during the commute, there have been less behavioral issues including fighting and spit wads. In fact, as word has spread of about Vail’s program, about 25 other U.S. school districts have signed up for the service.
While the technology seems to be taking off, it seems that its biggest obstacle in the coming years will be the issue of whether or not families can afford laptops. Although some districts are providing laptops for their students, the question could be a significant factor in the technology’s rate of adoption. In the meantime, students who are fortunate enough to enjoy Wi-Fi during their commute will be faced with the tough decision of whether to work on next week’s history project, watch the funniest videos on YouTube, or play World of Warcraft.