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Networking & Wireless | News

Alabama District Taps Wireless Mesh, Differentiated Instruction as Part of 1-to-1 Initiative

A rural district in Alabama is promoting its use of a city-wide wireless mesh network and a tool for differentiated instruction as part of a 1-to-1-program that began in 2010. Piedmont City School District, with 1,200 students, began issuing every teacher and student in grades 4-12 a MacBook as part of a transformation initiative the district calls mPower Piedmont.

Since then, mPower has adopted a number of online education programs, including:

Rena Seals, director of technology, said she recognized that a digital divide was keeping many students from being able to exploit their devices outside of school because families couldn't afford the Internet access at home. The district applied for and received a grant through a pilot program being run by the United States Department of Education that allowed the school system to set up a city-wide wireless mesh. Now students can access wireless services in town from multiple locations, including their homes. Plus, noted Seals in a video about the project, the infrastructure will help "support economic development for our city."

mPower Piedmont is "much more than simply a one-to-one initiative," she said. "To achieve our goal of transforming the community around education, it had to be education for all, not for a select few, not based on whether you had the means to afford it. We wanted to level the playing field, close the digital divide, so that everyone in Piedmont had equitable access to technology."

Odyssey is a Web-based K-12 learning system that includes reading and language arts and math programs that align with state and Common Core standards as well as content for other subjects. The program assesses a student's abilities and prescribes a personalized learning path with content. It also generates reports on student work, school progress, and district level outcomes.

The Alabama district has applied Odyssey content in multiple ways. It's being used in regular classrooms, as well as for credit recovery, distance learning, and advanced placement. Also, during first period, all students in grades 10-12 are in an online class. They individually choose when, where, and how to finish the coursework for that class and the only stipulation is that they maintain a B average.

"We want every student in Piedmont to graduate ready to compete on a global playing field," said Seals. "And even though they may have to go away for a four-year university education, we want them to come back home to Piedmont and invest their time and their abilities and their skills back here where they grew up."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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