Broadband alone isn’t enough – students need laptops

Through the pandemic, I saw lots of generous vendors and schools get hotspots into the hands on people and families who needed them, especially to access broadband for homework. The big question (asked by Brain Whitacre and Amanda Higgins) is whether hotspots alone are enough to make a difference or might laptops have been the special sauce to get students to do homework. It turns out they may have been onto something!

Here’s the abstract from the report

Much has been made about the “homework gap” that exists between students who have access to the Internet and those that do not. Policy-makers increasingly recognize the connectivity aspect of this issue but typically fail to acknowledge the importance of computer ownership. We use a small-scale randomized controlled trial (n=18) to test whether the provision of Internet access by itself — or in conjunction with a laptop computer — improves educational outcomes of alternative high-school students in the U.S. Our results suggest that the combination of Internet access and computer ownership is more effective than Internet access alone for positive educational outcomes.

They had a small sample but for folks in the field and their sample precedes the pandemic (2017/2018(, I think this is a practical assumption. Here’s their conclusion…

The results of this small randomized controlled trial suggest that simply providing alternative high-school students with Internet access is not enough to have a meaningful impact on student performance over the course of a semester. Rather, a combination of Internet access (hotspots) and tools to take advantage of that access (laptops) are more effective at generating improvements in scholastic achievement. The group assigned both of these devices was the only one to show measurable increases in the number of credits earned, and to display a positive trend in GPA (although not statistically significant). We also highlight the significantly higher proportion of Internet time spent on homework for this group (Figure 2); those in the hotspot-only group spent roughly the same percentage of Internet time devoted to homework as did the control (around 30 percent).

And a few of the graphs outlining the specifics:

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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