Technology and Rural Education

Bryan Hassel, Stephanie Dean – March 2015

Bryan Hassel and Stephanie Dean of Public Impact believe that technology holds great potential for rural schools—from extending the reach of great teachers and expanding course offerings to the potential cost savings of flipped classrooms and blended learning. In Technology and Rural Education, Hassel, a ROCI Task Force member, and Dean propose a set of approaches for using technology to transform rural education and ameliorate some of the unique challenges that these schools confront as a result of their rural locale.

Hassel and Dean believe that one of the areas where technology holds the greatest potential to transform rural education is also one of the most important: ensuring that every child has access to great instruction, year after year. Rural leaders can re-envision the way that schools access quality instruction through the use of communication technology and digital learning resources. For example, students could take an online course from an excellent physics teacher who lives where she chooses and teaches remotely. Students gain access to excellent instruction, and the district is able to offer physics without hiring an underqualified teacher or drawing from a small or nonexistent candidate pool.

Although they believe in the promise of technology, the authors have several cautions for those eager to adopt new technologies:

  • Rural schools and communities need a more robust technology infrastructure.
  • Policymakers need to build quality assurance mechanisms to ensure that technology actually enhances the quality of instruction.
  • Rural schools and students need more flexible policies—such as seat time and line-of-sight requirements—to tap into the full potential of technology.
  • Finally, the success of these approaches depends on the quality of both in-person and online aspects. It will be necessary to ensure that both sides meet a high bar.

These barriers can be overcome with the help of policymakers and philanthropists, who have important roles to play in ensuring that rural “edtech” is more than just “shiny objects.” Hassel and Dean recommend:

  • Policymakers should make policy that promotes quality-focused rural education by expanding broadband access, developing quality control mechanisms, and removing barriers to innovation such as class size and seat-time requirements.
  • Philanthropists should focus their investments on innovation, quality, and scale. Possible projects could include funding an elite remote teaching corps and helping to support districts’ transitions to new models.

Full Report

Op-ed by Hassel and Dean at

Blog Post by Andy Smarick