<p>Onboard Wi-Fi, such as the SmartBus solution provided by Kajeet, gives all students the chance to complete their homework during the ride. It also can reportedly be considered an instructional expense, and the router can accommodate other technologies, such as GPS. Photo courtesy School Bus Safety Co.</p>

At a recent meeting that addressed how technology will impact the future of school transportation, one of the many interesting topics that came up was on extending connectivity to all students to enhance their ability to learn.

Michael Flood, vice president of strategy at Kajeet, which provides mobile broadband solutions that connect students to the internet outside of school, discussed with attendees at the IC Bus Next Stop Innovation Summit, which was held in Chicago in February, how the school bus of the future can become an extension of the classroom, helping all students learn more effectively.

Kajeet offers two broadband solutions for schools. One is the Smart Spot, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that a student can take anywhere. The other possibly the more cost-effective option for school districts, since every student aboard can access the service at once, is the SmartBus solution, a Wi-Fi router on the bus that students connect to from their mobile devices. The connection is managed by Kajeet on behalf of the school district.

Kajeet limits use to educational purposes, filtering out content that isn’t child-appropriate and blocking entertainment such as Netflix and Spotify, keeping students on task and saving bandwidth, which keeps costs down. The SmartBus solution is currently in 40 school districts' fleets, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The internet technology gives all students aboard the bus the chance to potentially finish their homework on the ride home from school, leaving time for extracurricular activities or — what is seemingly unheard of these days — unstructured fun.

For students who do not own a connectable device, such as a phone, tablet, laptop, or digital notebook, some school districts who install the technology on their buses have a one-to-one computing program in which they issue all students a device. Others have a checkout program in place to provide devices to students who don’t have them.

Some districts have seen homework completion rates go up for students with the Wi-Fi access, Flood said. Additionally, since the company can put more robust antennae on the buses, it can pull stronger signals than students can get on their phones, so students in more remote, rural areas can also reap the benefits.

The bus can also be equipped with a connection kill switch for the driver to use in case of emergencies, Flood said.

Another benefit is that onboard Wi-Fi could shift some of the cost burden away from the transportation department to instructional departments. For districts with school buses that serve Title 1 schools, that funding can be spent on this service because it falls into the instructional category, Flood pointed out.

It could also potentially add up to 150 hours per year of Wi-Fi access for students to work on homework for the cost of about $10 per student or even less, he told School Bus Fleet in an interview.

Although there isn’t yet a capability to push bus stop information to students through the Wi-Fi system, that is on the way, Flood said.

Flood also noted that keeping the students on the bus occupied in this way can improve behavior by reducing anxiety. He shared a story of a bus driver who drove a route with serious behavior incidents and threatened to quit. Three weeks after the technology was deployed, the route saw a significant decrease in behavior incidents, changing from about three to five write-ups per week to none.

Wi-Fi access, even if only available for schoolwork, can make the school bus ride more attractive to students, which cuts down on their requests to have their parents drive them to school.

Another interesting benefit of installing the technology, Flood said in the interview, is that the router can serve other onboard technologies that also need an IP connection to the internet, from low-bandwidth applications, like GPS and telemetry, to high-bandwidth applications, such as the driver’s tablet and surveillance cameras.

With all the potential benefits to students, the technology seems like a win-win, if it can be implemented cost-effectively. Have you installed Wi-Fi on your school buses, or used them to provide “homework hot spots?” If so, what has your experience been? If you have held off, what have your reservations been? Tell us in the comments section below.

About the author
Nicole Schlosser

Nicole Schlosser

Former Executive Editor

Nicole was an editor and writer for School Bus Fleet. She previously worked as an editor and writer for Metro Magazine, School Bus Fleet's sister publication.

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