Lack of Access to and use of Technology in Rural Areas.


A wide-ranging discussion is taking place now in the English Language CoP on professional interests or needs that current LINCS groups may not address. I encourage you to take a look and join in.  (5461 views and 38 comments to date!)


Lack of Access to and use of Technology in Rural Areas

Below is a summary of one of the recent threads of that discussion on lack of access to and use of technology in rural areas. I am posting parts of it here because I think it may be of interest to those in both the Technology and Learning and Program Management CoPs. I hope you will join in here with your thoughts.

On December 5, 2015, Robert Wessel wrote that from his experience rural volunteer adult literacy programs don't have Internet access, that EveryoneOn coverage is non-existent for most of the region in which he works, and that other hotspot solutions are prohibitively expensive. He wrote that for many adult learners, “their smart phones are their only computing device and means of Internet access. There are ways to work around this, but this requires a certain level of technical expertise on the part of the tutors…”

On December 18th, Dorothea Steinke wrote, “I second Robert's comments. In the Rocky Mountain region, you have the additional problem of no cell phone reception in some areas.”

On December 23rd, Robert wrote:

Printing on Vellum

Had Gutenberg’s movable type had to rely on vellum and town criers, we would be living in a very different world today. Alone, this transformational technology would not have had much effect; it needed an inexpensive source of paper and a means of distribution to have any meaningful effect. This is true for all transformational technologies: certain preconditions need to be met before they can become truly transformational. Pointing this out is not being negative; it is being realistic.

I couldn’t find the article I was looking for, but this one does a good job on what happens when the prerequisites aren’t considered in advance:

And I have thrown “used, ten year old computer in my car and deliver it to someone, along with CDRoms of different programs, my own CDs included.” I’ve cannibalized 10 junk computers and built minimally-functioning computers of the working parts. I’ve used up a tank of gas and two afternoons driving around my region with a trial version of EveryOne on to see if it worked at any of our sites. (We returned it, because the best we got was 2G at only 2 sites.)

Recycling old computers sounds great in theory, but that too comes with a number of preconditions. For example: Not only are components of older computers (hard drives, power supplies) more likely to fail, but even if you could afford new replacement parts, it might be difficult or impossible to find them. This would require keeping an inventory of spare parts, a place to store this inventory, and someone who can repair the older computers as they break down. Even in urban environments, the last might be the most difficult to find, because people generally want to learn how to use the new technologies, not the obsolete ones. Pre-Internet solutions are better than nothing, but the real power of computers is the access they provide to the Internet. Even if the learner does have Internet access, older computers are likely to run Windows XP, which is n-longer supported by Microsoft. An alternative would be to install Linux, but you’ll need to find someone who knows how to do it (it’s not hard), and, because older computers are likely to be 32-bit and have less than a gigabyte , you’ll also need to a 32-bit version of LInux that runs on low RAM, which is becoming hard to find. And then there’s all the hand holding that needs to be done. It’s like trying to print on vellum.”

In a second post that day, Robert continued:

If the older computers are in good working order

To add to my previous comment, you can do many things  with an older computer as long as it’s in good working condition and has adequate RAM and processing power. Even without the Internet, you can do a lot. For example:

Even though many businesses use Microsoft Office, a figure I see often is that 80% of users use only 20% of the features. Any good office suite will have that same 20% of features. They may seem different because they have different user interfaces, and if you understand what you are doing in one office suite, switching to another is mostly a matter of finding the locations of the various tools in the menu bars. In other words, 3-year’s experience with any other office suites equates to a little less than 3-year’s experience with Microsoft Office. This means a learner can use free software to develop the skills associated with using an office suite.

Software for audio creation and editing and for photo editing can also be used offline

IF COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS ON A WEBSITE DO NOT PREVENT IT, you can use something like HTTrack Website Copier ( to download websites. The site can then be burned to a CD and run offline as if you were actually connected to the Internet. I’ve grabbed sites from the local schools and governments to use with learners.

WordPress blogging software can be installed on a computer and run offline, and, for learners who are really advanced, you can even develop and use entire websites offline.

Of course, the prerequisites to doing this are having volunteers with the skills  (which increase dramatically as you go down the list) and a place and a place to do it. Having reliable Internet access would be much simpler.”

Susan Jones added:

“I'm wondering whether we should consider putting into our "Community Education" repertoire a workshop on just how to take advantage of open source things with the computer you have.  It's not *that* easy to figure the stuff out if you're not tech savvy but a little support can go a long way.”

Paul Rogers replied:

“The question is:

Where the adult students are poor, and where there is no Internet service in the area, and the adult education agency has no money and no staff…what steps can be taken to start the process of bridging the digital divide? And here I am talking about non-formal programs run by community based agencies that do not receive government funding and are not obligated to maintain certain standards.

My experience is limited but worth writing about. First, I worked as an independent teacher in a city not a rural area.

I taught classes in peoples’ houses. I used my Pumarosa website or a CD-ROM of the site, and my texts, CDs, DVDs and audios. Pumarosa is a good introduction to computer basics, mainly because there is no typing or registration, and all the student has to learn to do is use the mouse.

At one point I had 50 students, all adults between 25 and 60, all low-income.

About 10 students had no computers, so I went to a local Second Hand store and bought used computers for an average of $50 each. These computers had been cleaned up and were guaranteed for 30 days.

I then brought them to these students to use. I think one computer did not last long, so I brought it back to the second hand store and donated it and then bought another.

Eventually some of the students reimbursed me for the computer, some returned the computers to me and then bought new computers from a store on a payment plan.

If I had been working with an agency I would have made a “deal” with the Second Hand Store, which also provided ESL and Citizenship classes in one of its facilities.

There are programs called Computers for Families which donate used, re-furbished computer to low-income families. Once I tutored at a library, which had a connection with a CFF program that donated 20 Laptops to the library that I could use in the class.

The organization called is very helpful.

I would call the above as an example of what can be done minimally to start a Tech-based adult education program, especially ESL. We all learn everything from the ground up, from the simple to the complex, and slowly but surely this kind of program can grow.”

Edward Latham replied:

The changing nature of Internet access requires changes

The Pew Research Center has been tracking some data on who has Internet access at home and how they are accessing that Internet. Here is some data from 2013 and if you look through it you will see that there was a shift starting two years ago to more and more Internet access is shifting to smart phone use, primarily because data packages today are so much cheaper than home access. See this report from this year...68% of Americans have a smart phone of some sort.  It turns out that cell phones have much better data coverage areas than broadband as well. Perhaps all of our discussions in this thread about getting more funding for hardware may be missing the trend of more of all of our population finding easier access to the Internet through cell phone technologies. I am curious if we think adult educators are more knowledgeable of computer use (desktop/laptop) vs smart phones? In talking to adult educators I work with, I am finding much more ignorance and discomfort with smart phones than with computers. The divide between the materials people are gaining access to and the comfort level our educators have with those technologies seems to be growing and that is an alarming trend. In some states and some programs, the ideas of tech integration in education is still in the discussion phase while learners are running around texting circles around educators every day. I am not convinced that we need more money or more hardware access. We may need more support for our educators to not only learn about these technology shifts (over 35 - 45% population shift in smart phone/ tablet use in only 3 years...) but to learn ways we might adopt and easily use these shifts to increase learning opportunities. In short, our rate of adopting technologies is creating a larger divide between the technology our staffs are comfortable with and the technology our learners have access to. Internet access may actually be increasing across all technologies, but broadband seems to have hit it's plateau in the last few years and may be suffering soon unless costs drop dramatically or we in some way get smart and call it a public utility.  

In reading all the wonderful comments over the last week on this thread, I just wanted to share this Pew data indicating some changes in Internet access that we might all be able to appreciate as increasing learning options, if we are aware of them and ready to use those methods effectively. 

What do you think about these shifts in Internet access vs our ability to shift educator comfort and pedagogy quick enough to "keep up"? Perhaps we need more money invested in our people instead of hardware to increase learners' abilities to benefit from the Internet?”

On December 24th, Robert Wessel replied:

PCs, tablets, smart phones


I am writing this reply on a 7" tablet -- 1 finger. I could also probably do it on a phablet. My smart phone screen would be too small.

As opposed to a few years ago, when the choice was between Windows and Mac desktops and laptops, we have a much broader range of choices. And among those choices, different devices are more suitable for some uses than they are for others. Mobile devices are good for content consumption and light content creation. (Typing this out on a tablet with one finger is a real pain, although a Bluetooth keyboard would help some, but not completely.) Desktops and laptops are better for content creation.

I think the reality is that we will need to know how to use a variety of devices. Sometimes smart phones will be appropriate. Sometimes, tablets. And sometimes traditional desktops and laptops (and maybe Chromebooks).

Personally, I use my tablet and eBook reader more than I use my desktop and laptop.

I will end now because it's difficult to develop ideas when typing on a small screen with one finger. This would be better done on a PC.”

And then added:


I had a chance to read the Pew reports on a larger screen. As I suspected, they address raw computer and Internet usage (what kinds of devices do people own and what kinds of Internet services do they use), not the purposes for which they are used. The reports themselves acknowledge this.

This topic reminds me of an article that appeared on the BBC site about a month ago. It’s entitled “Tablets 'eroding' children's digital skills,” and discusses how “[t]ablets and smartphones [are] making children competent at using many forms of online communication . . . at the expense of those other skills emphasized by the curriculum.” The link to the article is:

Each type of computing device has its strengths and weaknesses compared to other types. They are tools, and like any other tool, if used appropriately, they can amplify your abilities, but used inappropriately, can become major time wasters.”

Edward Latham replied on December 24th:

Speech to text ... FTW (for the win)

I agree that each device has some easy applications that seem more efficient. I am always learning neat tricks that are busting down my assumptions of what a device may be good for. As an example, I have felt that tablets are nothing more than consumer devices for most of a year. I was a bit jaded by the apple products and how their marketing is all around "buy this cool stuff" rather than helping students "make some cool stuff". Then I got an android tablet and started really pushing to see what I could do (for free) in terms of creation. As an android device I was pleasantly surprised to see all of my google resources already synced up at any time (documents, calendars, presentations, pictures, music ...). Then I got to play with the speech commands and the speech to text capabilities on my tablet and I immediately wondered why any student would feel the need to learn to write any more. In fact, I brought my device to a gentleman that has been illiterate for over 50 years of his life, but he really wished to read and write. I set my tablet up to read any text he clicked on and I taught him 10 minutes of how to speak clearly to get the voice to text working correctly. BOOM! Like a kid in a candy shop he was on fire and as giddy as a new parent may feel when their child is born. He dove into his passion for story telling and was composing his stories in a google doc he could share with his many grandchildren. In less than an hour, I had helped to give this man the gift of some form of literacy he had longed for for 5 decades; finally, the technology and support were there to help him unleash his wonderful stories to share with his family. 

I will agree each device seems to have advantages over others, but I would counter that the more we get to play and experiment with any one device, we may be shocked by what we discover as possibilities. Asking our learners to share what they know can often help us discover these precious nuggets as well. If we wanted to share our nuggets with each other, is there a "best way"? Would it be just text in forums like this? Would we want/need video demos and where would those be shared so they are easily accessible and sort-able?”

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning, and Program Management CoPs