Hardly a day goes by anymore without some new technology breakthrough or some reinvention that shakes things up. In the world of pupil transportation, Google is attempting to do just that.
The tech giant strongly believes that access to a computer and the internet, as well as knowledge about how to use these tools, are the linchpins of learning, and therefore education, both now and especially in the future.
While many of us take for granted that computers and cell phones are ubiquitous (how often these days do you see someone not looking down at a cell phone?), there are still millions of people who don’t have either, including far too many students. Google argues that this lack of connectivity has the greatest impact on students from low-income families living in rural areas. To its credit, the company conceived an innovative way to do something about it.
The idea behind Google’s “Rolling Study Halls” program is turning commute time into learning time. It’s not just a drawing board concept, but a reality with the potential to add value for some children and families we serve.
Google has been financing pilot programs over the last couple years in North and South Carolina. Participating school districts receive mobile Wi-Fi routers, data plans, and Chromebook laptops for students to use going to and from school on their school buses.
In addition, each bus gets an “onboard educator,” a special proctor to help students with both school assignments and any technology issues. Wow!
What about students using the laptops and Wi-Fi to access social media sites? Google sets up the onboard system to block those, limiting students’ Wi-Fi use to educational sites.
Preliminary results from the pilot projects look very promising. School bus drivers like it because, with students occupied doing class assignments during their rides, there is less need for driver attention to maintaining order and discipline on the bus. Students in the program are showing improvements in reading and math proficiency as well as knowledge of the digital world that many of them lacked beforehand.
Google is therefore expanding this project to 16 more rural school districts in 12 states: Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
The concept of a “rolling study hall” may not work as well for students with short bus rides. But increasingly because of budget challenges, many school districts are requiring longer rides, and these have long been common in rural areas. The idea, therefore, seems to make a lot of sense.
On the flip side, there are a variety of issues like data collection, data ownership, and personal privacy, which are front and center these days. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent nearly 10 hours answering questions from U.S. Senate and House lawmakers on April 10 and 11, a lot of people who had been unconcerned about these issues suddenly took notice. Now, the landscape seems to have shifted. Look up #DeleteFacebook to see what I mean.
Also, you may be interested to know that Google recently teamed up with Facebook, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to try to kill a proposed privacy law that’s being considered in California. The five companies each donated $200,000 to create a $1 million fund to oppose the California Consumer Privacy Act, a ballot proposition that could be voted on in the November 2018 state election. (Facebook and Verizon later dropped their opposition to the proposal.)
If approved, the California Consumer Privacy Act would make it easier for consumers to find out what information is collected about them and to opt out of the sale or sharing of any personal information, which is both the heart and soul of the “big data” concept (analyzing extremely large data sets to identify patterns, especially in human behavior) that gave rise to Google and Facebook in the first place.
What does all this mean for school transportation? I’m not sure I know. Why don’t you tell us what you think by visiting NAPT’s Facebook page (!), www.facebook.com/NAPTHQ, and leaving a comment.