Q&A: Internet access for all students

A: According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, as of 2009, 90 percent of U.S. children, ages 8 to 18, had home access to computers, and even more--93 percent--reported using the Internet at home. But even in our pervasively wired world, educators can't assume that all students are "showing up" online without applying a few tools of their own.

(1) Most online classes have basic technical requirements. A high speed broadband or cable connection is usually one of them. Administrators often require parents to submit a copy of a current cable, DSL, cell phone or satellite bill as proof of Internet accessibility. This allows you to see what Internet connection speed your students are working with; a dial-up modem or shared wi-fi may not be fast enough for all coursework.

(2) Once you've established that a student does in fact have Internet access, ensuring that the student actually "shows up" is another tact you can take. Taking attendance in an online classroom is obviously different from looking up to see who is seated in front of you. But once you get the hang of it, it is really no more difficult. In fact it has its advantages--instead of looking out over a sea of students who may have changed their appearance, or their seating preference, you have access to an alphabetized list of names.

Your school may have its own system of attendance verification, but it's generally as easy as logging on, and checking the log-on list for any given class. You can see how often and for how long, any student has been "in class".

(3) Other ways teachers can invite and confirm student presence and participation in online learning include:

  • A Discussion Group where students can introduce themselves to the class.
  • Daily or weekly discussion groups on a specific topic. Students participation (or lack of) will be evident.
  • You might require a daily or weekly email from each student with a summary of "What I Learned This Week."

Carolyn BuchananCarolyn Rogalsky-Buchanan has worked with educators in developing online content for elementary and middle school students. As a journalist who covers parenting and education issues, she has followed the evolution of this increasingly popular education strategy, and has firsthand knowledge of its successes, as well as its challenges.