Jane Appiah-Okyere, a Functional Business Analyst at Syracuse University, as well as a doctoral student in the Doctor of Professional Studies Program in the iSchool, has received a 2022 Collaboration for Unprecedented Success and Excellence (CUSE) grant to help fund her research.
Appiah-Okyere is the principal researcher for the grant, with Lee McKnight, an associate professor at the iSchool, and Danielle Taana Smith, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences serving as co-principal investigators for the research. The title of their research is “Enhancing Teacher Training in Digital Skills in Rural and Underserved Communities in Ghana: Using the Internet Backpack as an Internet Connectivity Tool.”
The research centers on the Internet Backpack, which was co-invented by McKnight, as a tool to extend access to the Internet to people around the world. “It is a deployable network that provides Internet connectivity to create resource-sharing Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Smith. “The backpack utilizes an all-in-one edge routing solution that supports cellular based broadband, satellite, Wi-Fi and GPS. Each backpack has the capacity to provide up to 25 users and 250 devices with a quality Internet experience.”
During the research project, teachers in a rural area of Ghana will attend professional development workshops that focus on integrating online resources, provided by Ghana’s Ministry of Education, into their teaching. McKnight added, “It is very rewarding to work with exceptional doctoral students such as Jane. She is asking challenging research questions, which can make a difference in practice for some of the 37% of the world’s population still without Internet access. We designed the Internet Backpack as a sustainable ‘beyond the edge’ connectivity and mini-microgrid platform and look forward to Jane testing theory with data through her CUSE Grant study.”
“Through use of the Internet Backpack at the teacher professional development workshops, the teachers in the rural community will be better prepared to teach their particular subjects of expertise with online technologies, and students will have greater mastery of core technological skills at all stages of their educational development,” said Smith. “This project supports Ghana’s national curricular objectives by integrating online teaching resources into the curriculum in areas without Internet access. Our team has employed similar strategies in several low-and middle-income countries around the world, and we look forward to augmenting the process to other regions experiencing educational deficits and other forms of poverty.”
Introducing the Internet Backpack and teacher professional development workshops in rural Ghana will help provide opportunities to children who previously did not have access to the Internet. The research team plans for the Internet Backpack to remain at the community library, so that the entire community can have Internet connectivity.
“You teach the teachers, and the teachers will teach their student. The students can also teach other people in the community to learn how to use digital resources,” said Appiah-Okyere.
The researchers expect that the project will provide insight into the application of the Internet Backpack for those that still do not have access to the Internet. On a broader scale, this research will further examine the digital divide, the phenomenon of a sizable gap between demographics and regions with access to modern information and technology.
“In this digital environment, students in urban areas have access to digital tools, computers and other technologies – but these students in rural areas don’t. How do they compete with students who have access to these digital resources? They cannot compete, and so they struggle to get to the level of the other students, or they just quit,” said Appiah-Okyere.
This was Appiah-Okyere’s first time applying for a research grant, and she was thrilled to have received it. “The grant is a god-send, to provide funding for project expenses as we implement the teacher training workshops,” said Appiah-Okyere.
Appiah-Okyere also emphasized her gratitude to God and to both McKnight and Smith for their help in guiding the application process. She also extends her gratitude to Dr John Jordan who is the DPS program director for his encouragement and support. In the future, Appiah-Okyere is interested in research to help young women in rural areas of Ghana and other African countries.