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4 Ways Institutions Can Meet Students' Connectivity and Technology Needs

Many students have struggled with reliable internet access during the pandemic, according to a new report from Educause. The association for IT professionals in higher education surveyed 8,392 students from 54 United States institutions about their experiences with technology in fall 2020 — their learning environments, instructors' use of technology, problems with devices or connectivity, and more. Overall, 36 percent of respondents said they sometimes, often or always struggled to find an internet connection that met their academic needs; that share jumped up to 62 percent for students in unstable housing situations. And students in rural areas had more connectivity issues than those in suburbs, towns and cities.

While 99 percent of students reported having access to a reliable computing device for school, more than one in four (28 percent) had experienced some kind of device issue that impacted their schoolwork. Common challenges included using a device that's outdated or unable to support the software and apps needed for a particular course, and having to share a device with other household members.

Educause recommended four steps institutional leaders can take to help address students' technology and connectivity needs:

1) Provide more support for reliable internet access. That includes allocating funds for student mobile hotspots, expanding financial aid packages to cover connectivity needs, and boosting WiFi coverage on campus.

2) Expand investments in device-lending initiatives. Scale up laptop and tablet loan and rental programs to make sure students have access to up-to-date devices that are equipped to support coursework requirements.

3) Encourage faculty to presume students are under-connected. Asynchronous, low-bandwidth approaches help give students more flexibility in accessing course content in the face of connectivity challenges.

4) Increase campus technology support services for device and internet connectivity. Recommendations here include expanding help desk hours or contracting with managed services providers to provide wider access to support. Institutions must also ensure students are aware of the available support by promoting services across campus e-mail, social media, advisers, faculty, IT websites, the learning management system and more.

The full report, "Student Experiences with Technology in the Pandemic," is available on the Educause site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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