A connected classroom provides so much more than just additional learning tools and opportunities. For some students, a broadband connection means more hours in the day for learning and not travel to places that have WiFi. Access to broadband can also ease the burden for teachers who might need to act as their own technology coordinator when their school district lacks that resource. But in 2012, 70% of schools lacked internet connections fast enough to support basic administrative and instructional needs (100 kbps per student).
EducationSuperHighway is a nonprofit that helps schools connect to broadband Internet via available infrastructure. They assist schools with research and technical guidance, and provide advice on grants that enable connections in more remote locations. Once that connection is made, EducationSuperHighway tracks the associated costs and provides that information to schools so they can make more informed decisions about their own efforts. Seven years after their launch, the number of students with broadband that enables them to take advantage of digital learning in their classrooms has catapulted from just 4 million in 2012 to 46 million in 2019.
How EducationSuperHighway used technology to exceed goals and help 46 million students access broadband internet
VP of Marketing and Communications Meredith Bradshaw says the group is down to the last one percent of the schools in need of an internet connection upgrade, and they’re getting ready to close their doors for good. Marketing Manager Alyssa Cubello adds that their work has transformed over time: from initially providing a speed test that let schools assess available Internet technology, to helping schools set up plans for grants and offering guidance for state and federal funding. These steps can range from helping urban schools connect to existing resources to compelling companies to install services in rural locations. Bradshaw says that a few schools may never be connected, due to cultural concerns or extremely remote locations. However, those that manage to get connected can take advantage of outstanding opportunities:
- New Mexico tribal communities use broadband connections to access online learning tools and help preserve and revitalize the use of their native language
- Prince William County Schools in Virginia use iPads to share real-time info on diabetic students with parents in order to prioritize learning time over phone calls
- Putnam County Schools in Tennessee can take their students on virtual field trips around the world
- Spring Lake Park Schools in Minnesota can host in-classroom lessons on an orchestral piece with the actual composer via video chat
Students in North Little Rock High School, Arkansas, are able to access computer science and coding courses thanks to their broadband upgrade.
Since 2016, EducationSuperHighway has used Salesforce tools to help them focus and maximize their efforts. Nonprofit Cloud acts as their main source of truth for all of their outreach efforts, helping their consultants automatically review school districts that need to upgrade and match them with providers based on location. The implementation of Salesforce reduced consultant workload and allowed them to prioritize their time advising school districts on technology options. Their ability to track data related to their outreach efforts ultimately helped their consultants work with more school districts, increasing the number of schools with access to broadband to 99% across the country. Salesforce also helped maintain accurate contact records for school district representatives – a hefty challenge when you realize that some staff leave over the summer.
EducationSuperHighway used Lightning Platform dashboards and web components to manage their programs and act to keep the lines of communication open and productive. As a result, they were able to double the amount of school districts they worked with in pursuing upgrades to scalable broadband connections. An app on the Salesforce AppExchange provided access to information that helped EducationSuperHighway consultants know when districts submitted federal applications for grants to upgrade. This enabled them to create customized emails and survey questions regarding the services requested. This step increased response rates from 10 percent to 17 percent and reached almost 1000 more districts. Finally, EducationSuperHighway used Heroku to deliver their apps. They also were able to host both their internal reporting tool and Compare & Connect K-12, which helps districts monitor both available Internet providers, saving the schools both time and money.
EducationSuperHighway engineering staff have been critical to developing and maintaining the applications that enable them to support school network upgrades across America.
Bradshaw says that due to their tremendous success and impact, EducationSuperHighway plans to wind down their activities by August 2020. Salesforce remains a vital component in helping account owners track 20 to 50 school districts and their upgrade efforts. From all internal research to helping with proposals, their entire game plan is mapped out in Salesforce. She adds that these tools provide granular access to where each district stands in their process, from research to outreach to networking review. Even after EducationSuperHighway wraps up their efforts, Bradshaw says they will leave a tool that school districts can continue to use. This will enable them to continue to have insight into what other successful schools have done and the costs associated, ensuring that broadband access remains as accessible and affordable as possible.
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About the Author
Amelia Cady is an Associate Manager, Nonprofit Customer Marketing and Events at Salesforce.org. With prior experience in philanthropy and an education in social welfare, she is passionate about how technology can be used to enable nonprofits to thrive and provide more opportunities for all people.