Meeting the access-to-technology challenge

pandemic remote computing

It’s been a sudden and drastic shift, but the University of Washington Bothell is meeting the challenge of giving students access to the technology they need to continue their studies remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

UW Bothell’s Information Technologies has been redeploying resources, making emergency purchases and accepting donations. While some students simply need computers, others need WIFI hotspots and specialized software to do their assignments.

To meet the immediate need, 15 laptops from classrooms and 27 from the Makerspace were repurposed to lend to students. Then, the Student Technology Fee Committee approved the purchase of 50 laptops and 50 hotspots. Recently, the University also received a donation from Microsoft of 100 gently used laptops.

Team effort

Information Technologies spearheaded the new laptop and hotspot lending program in collaboration with the divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs and with the UW Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library.

Student Affairs leadership also coordinated with the STF committee and the Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell to help improve student access to technology resources.

The ASUWB revised its bylaws to allow the committee to spend nearly $100,000 for the 50 laptops and hotspots, which arrived at the beginning of April. The committee authorized up to an additional $100,000 if necessary, because the students on the committee saw the need to ensure student access to a remote learning environment.

“While many students have personal laptops they can take with them throughout the day, not every student does. Many families also don't have enough computers for every person in their household to have their own computer for work, college or K-12, or anything else,” said Aaron Jacobson, chair of the Student Technology Fee Committee.

“The committee also strongly believed that we had to ensure that students had enough internet bandwidth to participate in classes,” he said, “because a laptop without internet isn't useful in terms of ensuring access to online classes.”

For students who normally use special software in campus computer labs, UW Bothell IT implemented the LabScout Remote Computer Access service.

“It has been amazing to see all of this come together. The care and generosity our community has expressed, especially student government organizations and Microsoft, in support of our students has been inspiring,” said Christy Long, assistant vice chancellor for information technologies and chief information officer.

To connect students with the technology, software and other resources they need to succeed, the staff in IT also created a new Student Help for Learning Online webpage.

IT matters

As a senior in his final quarter, Jacobson said if he didn’t have access to classes online, it would delay graduation.

“While I personally don't need one of the laptops, one of the things I've learned from being a student at UW Bothell is that not everyone is like me. There are many different reasons why a student may not have a laptop and high bandwidth internet connection right now,” Jacobson said.

“The loanable laptops at the library have been very successful and are always in demand in normal times with in-person classes,” he said. “The need for them has only increased because of the shift to online classes.”

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