Providing equitable access to education in an inequitable world

All students are deserving of access to academic resources needed while receiving their education regardless of their major, economic status, location, etc. Unfortunately, earning a degree at a college or university has become a challenge for far too many students. They are tasked with having to choose whether they can afford the required educational materials and proper computing machines. Too often have we seen students unable to accomplish their coursework due to the lack of internet connectivity and their personal devices not having sufficient operating power. Collectively or independently, these obstacles restrict inclusive to students. The lack of equal access to education for students across the country result in decreased performance and deteriorate enrollment.

What is Equitable Access?

Equitable access is the notion that every student, attending any higher education institution in America has fair and equal access to a quality education regardless of their socioeconomical status, geographical location, or any other factor that may infringe their access to a high-quality education. Ultimately, equal access to quality learning projects is about empowering your students and ensuring they have the resources they need to thrive whilst earning their degree.

Providing Equitable Access to Education: the challenges

Although the factors negatively impacting equitable access may be external, providing the tools and the solution for inclusive access for all students is primarily the responsibility of the college or university. The challenges of equitable access primarily fall under the categories of finances, educational materials, and technology.

The modern student on average pays around $35,000 over 4 years on tuition alone. Add the costs of room & board, books, miscellaneous campus fees, and other living expenses the total can increase by $10,000 annually. After analyzing the finances allocated towards their education, it’s no surprise that many students struggle with obtaining a personal device fitted with the computing power their classes require.

Most commonly, students arrive to class with a computer lacking the requirements for their class’s software titles such as Macs, Chromebooks, or tablets. It’s also common for students to not have a laptop or computer at all when they come to campus. Rightfully so, they assume they will have easy access to computer labs to complete their classwork.

Continuously, the added burden from Spring 2020 also heightened awareness of unequal access when campuses around the world closed their doors forcing students to work from home. There were two primary concerns schools faced when they switched to remote learning: delivering classwork to students remotely and ensuring students can complete their classwork using the technology they had access to at home.

Colleges and universities around the world were all facing the same challenges, and all had the same overarching goal: to have class. The University of the South, commonly known as Sewanee, quickly pivoted their priority to the equitable access to all approved campus software for faculty, staff, and students. The College of Charleston, located in South Carolina quickly realized they needed to adopt innovative technologies at an unprecedented pace to provide equitable access to quality education projects. Other Higher Ed institutions such as Elon University, the University of Vermont, Pittsburg State University, Queen’s University in Canada, Wheaton College, Cornell University, and many more all realized they needed to make a rapid change, and colleges and universities around the world all faced the same dilemma. So… how did they do it?

How schools have utilized AppsAnywhere

For far too many schools, the unexpected switch to remote learning posed a huge dilemma for equitable access to education technology. For some, however, it wasn’t a challenge at all. Queen’s University in Canada, for example, future-proofed their campus in 2019 by making software available to all students on any device through AppsAnywhere. They recognized early on that accessing heavy-weight software titles was a hurdle for engineering students. The required apps and software titles for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences were only accessible through specialty labs. AppsAnywhere freed the apps (and the students!) from the computer labs, allowing access from their own devices through a single sign-on portal.

The University of Vermont embarked on a digital transformation in 2018 that set out to make educational technology accessible to their students and to make technology-based research more achievable. Like many schools, UVMs biggest drawback when trying to make software applications more accessible was finding the ‘silver bullet’ of delivery; there is not one single application capable of delivering to Macs, Androids, Chromebooks, etc. Their solution was a combination of existing VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions and AppsAnywhere. This recipe for success enables BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and remote learning to all students, anywhere, any time. As Dr. Simeon Ananou, CIO says “the software just works”. For the University of Vermont, equitable access to technology remains a top priority.

When the Elon University leadership team thought about their path towards equitable access they tasked Pat Donohue, Assistant CIO and Director of Campus Technology Support with creating a more innovative and accessible student experience. Pat did what few schools often do: he went directly to their student body and asked the Student Government Association exactly what they wanted. Elon University’s investigation revealed that students were frustrated with the limitations of access to software which negatively affected their outcomes. When access to required software is not equally available to everyone, students who are restricted suffer. Not long after Elon University implemented AppsAnywhere, students were accessing all their coursework with ease and were overall getting a better experience. When we asked Pat about this unique approach toward equitable access to technology at Elon University, he told us,

“you need to be where your customers are, and our customers are our students. It is essential to keep an eye on the modern students so we can keep up with the latest trends in technology. When our students are happy, it results in their academic success”.

BYOD and equitable access: creating a university without walls

When you consider the benefits of BYOD, it's no wonder why it's a strategic objective of forward-thinking CIOs across the globe. The ability to deliver all the services your students need in a flexible and on-demand way is sure to increase the user experience and productivity while supporting mobile or remote working. BYOD is the gateway to technological equity in the world of higher education.

Bring Your Own Device initiatives provide 4 core values to students and university staff:

Provide students with flexibility. BYOD gives students the flexibility to work wherever and whenever they want to, by making academic applications available on their own devices, on-demand. Whether they're at home, on-campus or in the coffee shop, BYOD initiatives provide equal access for everyone.

Increase retention & enrollment. Students who have easy access to their work perform better academically. When they no longer have the added stress of accessing their software apps and can work from their own, familiar device, they will have a better experience at school overall. Happy students return to campus the following semester. And prospective students are more attracted to an academic program that provides accessibility.

Free up space & save money. Outdated, overcrowded, and underused on-campus computer labs drain schools of their financial resources. Making software applications available from any device reduces the need for the prehistoric labs, saving time and money.

Reduce support ticket traffic. Access technology is only as impactful as the ease of use for the student. Enabling BYOD with AppsAnywhere provides not only an accessible experience, but an easy one too. After clicking the ‘Launch’ button, students will be able to use their apps in seconds on the device they know like the back of their hand. Simplicity of use for the students equals less time IT spends on answering support tickets.

The solution to Equitable Access in education technology

AppsAnywhere is an app-store-style platform that provides equitable access for all students to all the software and apps they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. The single point of access enhances schools' digital strategies by providing a simplistic and easy experience on any device, wherever, whenever the student needs. AppsAnywhere was strategically built and specifically designed for higher education from the ground up. It has all the tools Higher Ed needs to virtualize, provision, and deliver software apps to students and faculty, wherever they are at any time.

With the increasing variety of student laptops, tablets, and computers it is critical for colleges and universities to find a way to deliver all software apps regardless of the end device. With AppsAnywhere, all the students need are an internet connection. When software is launched, AppsAnywhere chooses the most appropriate technology to deliver it (based on location, OS and device), without the user needing to do anything other than click 'Launch'. IT departments can set up to 20 delivery methods for each app. The flexibility and accessibility provided by AppsAnywhere prevents students from needing to invest their money on a powerful machine or independently purchasing heavyweight software on their own devices.

Equitable accessibility doesn’t just stop at finances and fancy computers but extends to those who have disabilities or impairments that affect how they use software apps. AppsAnywhere provides equal access to educational resources with VPAT 2.0 compliance and accessibility standards. Research shows that nearly 20% of AppsAnywhere users utilize VPAT 2.0 standards making their apps fully navigable through keyboard, speech, and screen-reading functionalities.

Are you ready to embark on a digital equity journey at your school? Book a demo with us today! A product expert will show you through the software and how AppsAnywhere delivers any software to any device, enables BYOD, and helps re-purpose dedicated lab spaces into open-access learning areas; all at a fraction of the cost of traditional VDI solutions.

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