Education Disconnection, Part 02: Great Expectations Realized

My first year of college at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley (UNC), was made far more difficult than it needed to be for lack of reliable Wi-Fi service and Internet connectivity. I was often left with jacking to my mobile phone or waiting to get access to an Ethernet cable. Relatively speaking, I was lucky. Teachers, students, and faculty struggled to use the Internet, and even avoided using important applications such as PowerPoint, Moodle, and Blackboard. Occassionally, you could find good, but limited spots for Wi-Fi around campus. Most students took to pen and paper, as they were unable to dabble online during class.

My second school, Mount Holyoke College, north of Springfield, MA, has starkly better broadband. I brought an Ethernet cable just in case, but haven’t needed to rely on it. Students and faculty are guaranteed a good Internet connection from anywhere on campus — even from the coffee shop across the street! (The school has much more tech-friendly policies. For example, students can check out laptops, chargers … even headphones.

Even though Mount Holyoke is about two hours from Boston, four colleges are nearby: University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Smith College, Amherst College and Hampshire College. With four colleges sharing the same broadband, it is expected that more than 30,000 students will be online at the same time. While there are other colleges located in western Massachusetts, interestingly enough, the region seems to be at an economic downturn. Holyoke and Springfield, two larger cities, used to produce textiles and paper. Between the two cities, unemployment rates range between 6.6 to 7.5 percent1. However, in 2013, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute created MassBroadband 123, which now consists of more than 1,200 miles of fiber-optic network that reaches 123 communities in western and northern Massachusetts. This project (over $87 million) was partially funded through the Broadband Technology Program.

Back in Greeley and surrounding Weld County, an influx of petroleum companies had driven unemployment down to a reported 3.3 percent by the end of 2015. Despite the growth of workers and tax revenue in Weld County, UNC, a public college, hadn’t improved its broadband. UNC is in a nice, though relatively less populated part of Colorado compared to Springfield and Holyoke, MA. There are a lot more last miles around Greeley, and its revenue growth is relatively recent (since 2010).

Though Mount Holyoke has such strong broadband, a vast majority of my professors refrain from using technology in the classroom — and often restrict or discourage students’ use of laptops or tablets during class.

I have come to understand why professors discourage classroom technology use: clearly, it can be a distraction. In a traditional classroom set up, with desks in rows and the professor at the front, it may be harder to monitor where students’ eyes were roaming, since it could be hard to see everyone clearly. But in a smaller, intimate classroom settings, such as a roundtable, we can all see each other. Sometimes, it can be obvious that students are not listening or participating in class.

Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder why professors do not take advantage of the school’s great connectivity. So many resources would be available to students. For example, during the advertisement unit of my philosophy course, we watched up to ten ads per period, then analyzed them as a class. We were able to use the technology that our school provide, making the most out of our resources.

While I do savor the idea of having such a strong, uninterrupted connection, when it comes to the classroom, sometimes it’s better to power down and put away your electronics. The pen-and-paper method has always been my favorite approach. (Still, it’s nice, on occassion, to check up on Instagram or Twitter in between classes.) |||||


Amy Yoelin is a freelance writer.