5 ways IT can help bridge the digital divide on a remote campus

Expert Insight

5 ways IT can help bridge the digital divide on a remote campus

As higher education institutions across the world are adapting to serving students remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, new challenges seem to arise each day, if not by the hour. Of those challenges, one foundational need stands out -student access to technology and the internet. Across the past few weeks, EAB has kept their ears and eyes open for ways that IT can help bridge that digital divide in order to ensure student success on a remote campus. Below are 5 ways that IT units can help:

1) Utilize parking lots for drive-in wifi access

6%

of students were without internet access, in a poll by Sacramento State at the beginning of the pandemic
of students were without internet access, in a poll by Sacramento State at the beginning of the pandemic

Expand wifi coverage on campus to parking lots so that students and faculty living on campus or nearby can come and access the internet to submit assignments, when needed. Ithaca College has created a map of outdoor spaces with wifi access here. Institutions should also consider pointing students towards libraries, parks, and other community spaces that offer free public wifi, keeping in mind places where they would feel safe doing so.

2) Implement a laptop loaner program

Not every student will have a working laptop or desktop computer to complete online classes with. Among the students who do have a working device, there will be some who only have limited access as they could be sharing it with other family members who are also home during this time. To uncover this need, IT units can send a survey to determine what students are in need of a working device. Institutions don’t need to buy a new laptop for each student, as there may be a sufficient number of laptops not being used on campus right now, such as classroom laptops and other devices across campus used for student events.

3) Communicate resources for free and low-cost internet access

For students who don’t have private access to the internet at home, there are other options, many of which students are unaware of. Keep your campus in the loop on what offerings internet providers have, including the ability to enable hot-spots for free from a mobile device, open public hot-spots, and places with free wifi access that you know of.

4) Publish tips to optimize internet performance

Many students may not know that you can easily check your internet connection for optimal performance, or that there are multiple ways to connect to the internet. Small tips and tricks, like those suggested by Ithaca College, could go a long way in ensuring that students have efficient access to complete online coursework and stay engaged with the virtual campus community. Similar to faculty and staff, not all students have used the tools institutions are relying on for remote learning. IT should consider offering technology training for students, not just for faculty and staff.

20%

of U.S. college students have difficulty maintaining access to technology, according to a study published in Communication Research
of U.S. college students have difficulty maintaining access to technology, according to a study published in Communication Research

5) Coordinate a single message and avenue for students to get IT support

Students should know where to go when they need help with technology or internet access. To ensure this, all departments on campus should be educated on the type of resources and services IT has to offer. Students may be going to student affairs, academic advising, the teaching and learning center, or their resident director with IT-related questions. Creating a process for staff to communicate these questions to IT will help streamline support and ensure all students have the resources they need. Alternatively, IT can create a central place for all internet and technology requests, such as a dedicated email address like at Slippery Rock University.

Sources: Amy L. Gonzales, Jessica McCrory Calarco, and Teresa K. Lynch. Forthcoming. “Technology Problems and Student Achievement Gaps: A Validation and Extension of the Technology Maintenance Construct,” Communication Research. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650218796366

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