Student access to the internet is an issue in face to face classroom but when we are talking about online classes, this changes the obstacle significantly. While access to devices and internet is growing it is still unevenly distributed. The statistics do show, however, that the majority of homes have at least one device- be it a computer, cell phone, laptap, or e-reader- and most of these homes have internet access. The access to a digital device has gone from 2% of American adults in 2009 to 29% in 2012; this is huge growth.
Schools have reached 100% access to at least one computer with internet access and, in fact, there is a 3:1 ratio of students to device with internet access in public schools alone. Some schools are going about internet access in a different way and some of those ideas are outlined in the graphic to the right (digitallearning.com).
When discussing internet access, my assumption would be that the most common issue would be income based. Looking over the statistics, this is not the most significant issue. The chart below is a list of Georgia counties in the order of quality internet access numbered 1-159 (1 being the county with the best access) with the counties' median income as the variable on the chart.
It is true that the spikes in income begin to dwindle on the lower end of the graph, possibly signifying a correlation between lower income and unavailability of internet access. However, there are counties with significant income that have very limited access.
As an online teacher, it is important not just to understand what types of issues could stand in the way of internet access, but to have an idea of where internet issues most likely occur. I am no techie and definitely not an expert in the area of technological jargon, but I do know that without internet accessibility is reliant upon providers and what they offer in our areas. Looking at the list from the Federal Communications Commission, I created a map of Georgia coding by color the counties and by their access ranking. The rank is listed to the right with the name of the county; number 1 being the county with the best internet access, highest bandwidth, and most providers to choose from. I find this important because we have students spread not only across the state, but sometimes across the country or even the world! If the distribution is this uneven just within the state of Georgia, it is obvious that the accessibility issues will go much farther. It is common sense that internet access will not be 100% consistent in different areas, but this visual really brings it to life.
Other obstacles to access
There are many other issues that can stand in the way of accessibility to what is available on the internet, and it took this WebQuest to make all of these things come to life in my world. The testimonials by students with disabilities were amazing and made me feel inadequate as an online instructor. While students with IEPs are always afforded the accommodations that they need, there are many aspects I have not taken into consideration for students. For example, when I post News Announcements as images, I do not put a text only option for those that need it. This would be important for students with visual impairments, but it could also be important for someone with lower bandwidth and the inability to view large images. This is something that I will need to change as an online instructor. This is only one example of a disability that would affect internet accessibility, but there are many more. The modifications to our regular routine would depend on what the needs of each student are, and the only way to know that is to take the time to get to know each individual student. The last resource I am providing here is a video that discusses accessibility of the internet for people with disabilities as I believe it opened my eyes to an important matter; everyone should be exposed to this information!