Virtual Classes | Resources

Pandemic Privilege: Access to Online Classes and Laptops

MasterClasses, The Internet, and Devices for Grades K-12

Jessica Bolaños Vanegas
7 min readApr 13, 2020

As I sat on my golden throne one morning watching an Instagram video ad on my phone of Malcolm Gladwell’s MasterClass on Writing, I assumed I saw it in my feed because of AI and algorithms. Awesomely Luvvie posted an IG story about reading his book the day prior and I had responded in a DM about it.

That’s fine, I thought, I’ll read anything Gladwell. I don’t mind him popping up in my feed — this is ad targeting done right. I’ve bought and read all 5 of Gladwell’s books, listened to his TED talks, heard him speak at SXSW, cold-contacted for a shot at working with him while he was in Houston on tour to talk about his new book, Talking to Strangers — yeah I can see why I’m a target. Touché Instagram (and Facebook).


The class itself cost $90. But for $180 — there was access to 30 other MasterClass instructors featuring a myriad of really interesting people like Bob Iger, a media executive, film producer, and Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, teaching Business Strategy and Leadership. As of April 2020, there are at least 80 instructors on the platform.

I got an annual pass and renewed my annual membership to the classes when it was up to expire. In my opinion, it’s worth it even if you only watch one class. I’ve dipped into some 16 classes / 116 lessons and so far all have been top notch. Other instructors on the platform that stood out:

  • Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue and Chairwoman of the Met Gala teaches Creativity and Leadership
  • Margaret Atwood, Author of the Handmaid’s Tale teaches Creative Writing
  • Jeff Goodby & Rich Silverstein, the minds behind the “got milk?” campaign and the Budweiser lizards teach advertising and creativity
  • Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator teaches the art of negotiation

To be honest, Gladwell’s class alone was worth it. It inspired me to work on my first book and to think about writing in new ways. There are 24 video lessons in his class alone on research, selecting and developing stories, interviewing, language structure, tone, titles, drafts, revisions and 15 other topics and case studies. Each lesson is about 10–15 minutes long and there are learning materials to go with them.

I’m blessed to be in a position where I can shop online for a writing class given by my favorite author and then sit down at my desk to write about it in the middle of the day by the grace of technology and online companies.

Like many others I know. We are in a place of privilege — temporarily living and working from home with access to the internet. There are many other people around the world that don’t have access to the internet or classes anymore. People who don’t own laptops or smart phones and can’t even go to the library or school to get online anymore because of COVID-19 shut-downs.

When we first started Goodspero, we were a crowdfunding team that was leading online fundraising campaigns on Indiegogo to get books and access to educational materials to students in remote places around the world without access to them.

Those projects took us to places like small remote islands, a school at the top of a mountain village, and a catholic orphanage. I’m talking Colombia and El Salvador in South and Central America, not coastal and northern states in North America.

El Salvador, November 2013, Goodspero Crowdfunding Project

Now we’re in this global pandemic where students all around us here in Texas and around the U.S. don’t have access to the internet and educational resources anymore — just like the students we met a few years ago 2,000 miles away from here when we were on a mission to support education in places with few resources.

So what can we do now? For one, share information from others in and around our communities to help connect students to resources during this pandemic.

Here Are a Few Resources:

  1. Region 4 Education Service Center (Region 4) has information on Internet Access for Students at Home.

Comcast, Verizon and other companies are supporting students and their families by providing free/low cost internet and pledged not to disconnect services due to non-payment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Xfinity gave EVERYONE access to 1.5 million xfinitywifi hotspots for free.

These hotspots are normally located in business areas, retail locations and transit areas. To find your nearest hotspot, enter your zip code…Once you are at the location, follow the instructions at to join the hotspot.”

You may already have access to Xfinity’s WiFi from inside your home and may not even have to go to another location to get a signal. Look for the WiFi networks in your area by clicking the WiFi signal (usually at the top right hand side of your screen). There are A LOT of hotspots.

According to Pew Research Center (via Fast Company):

“For households that make under $30,000, the story is very different. Only half of these families have access to a computer at home. A majority rely on their smartphones — and the number of low-income households that use their smartphones to connect to the internet has doubled since 2013. Forty-four percent of low-income Americans still don’t have home broadband today. “ — Mark Wilson, Senior Writer, Fast Company

Fast Company:

Even though a lot of schools have converted to online classes and internet companies are giving out free internet for students to get through the pandemic from the safety of home, the reality for many families is that they’re having to share a phone or two between multiple family members that need to join online classes, do homework, and work.

What about families that have several kids and not enough phones to lend out? Parents who aren’t able to lend their kids their phone(s) for a large portion of the day?

3. CompuDopt started giving away 60 computers a day to students and then switched to a weekly computer lottery due to high demand.

If you have a K-12th grade student enrolled in a school in Harris County, your eligible to get one computer for your household. You also can’t currently have access to a working tablet, desktop or laptop at home to be eligible. Lottery drawings are every Friday at noon (Central Time). Just register once and your eligible to win each week,

Here Are a Few Schools Who Need Resources:

The latest story of students in need of laptops I read was by Olivia P. Tallet, a Reporter at the Houston Chronicle who wrote about the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA), a nonprofit with two charter schools for Latinos in Houston, who are in need of donations to get their students laptops compatible with the school’s learning software.

“…the Chromebook laptop, preferably the latest models to avoid compatibility issues, the school administrators said. Companies and people interested in providing support can call the phone number (713) 929–2322.” — Olivia P. Tallet, Houston Chronicle

I also received an email from our partners and friends at YES Prep Public Schools last month on March 17, 2020 where CEO, Mark DiBella said,

“After reaching out to families and students to assess their access to technology, we have currently identified more than 4,100 students who do not have access to a laptop and nearly 1,000 who do not have internet access.”

To make a donation in support of YES Prep’s COVID-19 response efforts: Click Here.

If you work for an organization, or if you know of any organizations or groups that are helping families and individuals get access to laptops or computers during this time, please connect with these organizations and/or leave a comment below with any resources you may have for others.

And if you’re privileged — meaning you have a laptop, a phone, and/or a tablet with access to the internet at home, but you don’t know anyone who could help and can’t afford to help financially at this time, please share this with your networks — there’s always someone in our extended networks that can help or knows someone who can. Spreading the word is important too.

Happy Quarantined Easter Sunday 2020 World.

Tomorrow is a new week — lets help some students go back to school. ❤



Jessica Bolaños Vanegas

Digital + Video + Social Impact. Storyteller. Documenting history as it unfolds. Co-Founder @Goodspero. TEDx-er. Former Contributing Writer @HuffPost. She/Her ❤