Dec 07 2021

4 Barriers to Achieving Digital Equity in 2022, and How to Overcome Them

The digital divide may be diminished, but lingering issues persist.

Nearly two years after the transition to online learning, digital equity remains a critical issue in higher education. A recent EDUCAUSE QuickPoll found that 61 percent of students still had difficulty completing coursework due to unreliable technology. More than one-third of respondents said they had lost internet access during classes, exams and other synchronous learning activities this academic year.

To fundamentally tackle digital equity, researchers at the University of Michigan say universities and colleges cannot “solely depend on the temporary benevolence of corporations to address physical access.” Here’s a look at some of the most common digital equity issues that remain, and how universities and colleges across the nation are working toward a more comprehensive approach to closing the gap.

Click below to learn how San Joaquin Valley College completed a major wireless upgrade.

1. Take a Holistic Approach to Expand Internet Access

About 87 percent of QuickPoll respondents said they experienced unstable internet connections during the fall 2021 academic year. "My Wi-Fi. It literally gives me so much stress,” a student said.

Schools are working to overcome this challenge by providing hotspots and enhancing broadband connectivity on and off campus. At Midland University in Fremont, Neb., the IT team has retrofitted classrooms and residence halls with updated equipment to provide full Wi-Fi coverage throughout the campus.

And at Coast Community College District in California, the colleges are still providing hotspots to students who can’t attend classes in person.

FIND OUT: What other tech trends will influence higher ed in 2022?

Meanwhile, Kent State University has taken a holistic approach to adding resiliency and agility to its network by automating and streamlining the monitoring of wired and wireless infrastructure.

After completing the network overhaul, connectivity improved for both online and onsite students. Whether thousands of remote students are accessing digital resources or the same number of students are using multiple connected devices to log on to university systems on campus, Kent State’s flexible network is designed to handle the traffic.

Click the banner below to learn how Kent State modernized its network.

2. Advance Mobile Learning Experiences

To get around tech failures and connectivity issues, a growing number of students are turning to mobile learning. The EDUCAUSE QuickPoll found that while over 80 percent of those surveyed rely on laptops as their primary learning device, 56 percent use a smartphone as a secondary device. “Sometimes my Wi-Fi doesn’t work, so I use mobile data on my phone,” a respondent said.

Moving forward, a key technology trend that institutions may expect to see in 2022 is the growth of mobile learning, which will require more mobile-friendly learning management systems and learning apps with device detection capabilities.

"Students are likely using mobile devices as their primary way of interacting with the world. And frankly, ed tech is not very mobile friendly. We are still desktop- and laptop-first,” says Bryan Alexander, a Georgetown University professor and author of Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education.

Moving forward, Alexander says, IT helpdesks should be prepared to serve students who need smartphone support.

EXPLORE: Three cloud security trends to watch for in higher ed in 2022.

3. Improve the Quality of Tech Support for Students

A College Innovation Network survey found that only 56 percent of students said their institution was helpful in resolving technology issues during the academic year.

Nationwide, a number of universities and colleges have taken steps to provide better technology support.

At Princeton University’s Forbes College, for example, students have a dedicated support line connecting them with technology consultants. Students can also receive real-time support via online text chats.

Student Perspective: Here's what I found engaging about asynchronous online classes.

Northeastern University, meanwhile, has expanded its tech support services in recent months. Students can stop by the Tech Bar to get help or use a mobile app to request technology services. A tech services portal also offers answers to general questions and additional support.

For institutions that use Intel-based devices, such as DellHP and Lenovo laptops, IT departments can work with a partner to activate the Intel vPro feature, which enables IT staff to remotely log in to a user’s laptops to fix issues. Even if an operating system fails, IT can still remotely log in to the device, wipe it and reinstall it.

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4. Work Around Supply Chain Delays for Continuous Device Access

With the rapid expansion of one-to-one and two-to-one programs, most students have devices they can use to connect to classes. But what happens when those devices break or become outdated?

As recent supply chain issues made clear, universities and colleges should rethink conventional approaches to procurement.

Higher education leaders may want to plan technology refreshes several months in advance. Strategies such as preordering and buy-and-hold can also help institutions ensure that technologies are available for students when they need them.

Moving forward, as universities continue to regroup in the wake of the pandemic, strategic investments like these can help students receive equal access to the benefits of an increasingly tech-centered education. By improving connectivity, tech support and access to devices, colleges and universities can move toward a more equitable future.

Photography by Viktor Solomin/Stocksy

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