Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have become all the rage in education, but accessibility issues have the potential to bring the model to its knees.
The Fairfax County Public School grappled with problem as students struggled to finish their homework using an e-textbook because they either didn’t have broadband access at home or a fast enough connection, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. If a school district in a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., has students that have no or limited broadband access, how will less affluent districts or those in rural areas where broadband access is limited fare?
A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey last year found that only 66% of American adults have broadband access at home. Just one-fifth of elementary- and secondary-school teachers in the U.S. said that all or most of their students had access at home. In addition, many telecommunications providers have moved away from unlimited-access smartphone plans and Internet providers could just as easily move away from similar unlimited high-speed home options.
While some libraries are up to speed, many remain behind in the technology race, according to a 2012 study by the American Library Association. That research found that more than 40% of public libraries didn’t provide enough Internet access to meet the demands of patrons, while 65% reported not having enough public computers.
Of course, students can always head out to their neighborhood Starbucks, and maybe even their college store, since many retailers now offer high-speed access as a service to customers.
“The question is, ‘What is the new basic?’” said Martin Hilbert, research fellow at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, University of Southern California. “There will always be inequality. But 100 years after the introduction of the car, not everybody has a Ferrari, but everyone has access to some form of motorized transportation through buses.”