By Leanne Ozaki. As UCI transitioned to a fully remote learning environment, many students found themselves unable to access essential course materials due to their reliance on on-campus resources. Without personal desktops, laptops, or reliable internet connections, students faced difficulties connecting with professors and classmates, viewing recorded lectures, submitting assignments, and so on.
Recognizing the need to support its students, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) partnered with Student Success Initiatives (SSI) to establish the Student Equipment Loan Program to Support Remote Learning. With this program, OIT and SSI looked to provide free laptop and equipment loans to students who lacked access to key remote learning tools.
At the outset of the program, 250 laptops were allocated for respondents of the Student Technology Access Inventory Survey who did not have the equipment to support online exam proctoring, who were based in Southern California, and who were low-income. As more laptops became available, the program expanded to include first-generation students and was eventually opened to all students.
One student who was invited to participate in the program was Juergen Riedelsheimer. As a member of SSI’s Student Parents & Families (SPF) Program, Riedelsheimer received an email asking if he was interested in the loan program. As he had been struggling with some of the software required for remote learning, he immediately jumped at the opportunity to use one of UCI’s laptops. Up until this point, Riedelsheimer had made frequent use of the equipment available at UCI’s computer labs. With the campus going remote, he explained, “Since we don’t have that access to UCI, it was a logical transition to kind of bring that technology home with me. Now I’m able to be competitive and do the things I need to do.”
To date, the program has allocated approximately 500 laptops for free student loans through the end of Spring Quarter. Of these, 425 have already been distributed to students. The program is still accepting loan requests, and interested students can learn more here.
In addition to laptops, OIT and SSI also received 100 internet hotspots to provide to students in need. Free of charge, these included both the hotspot unit and unlimited data. Currently, the program is on-track to finish distributing 80 of these hotspots to low-income undergraduates and is working with the Graduate Division to distribute the remaining 20. UCI expects to receive 200 more hotspots in the next two weeks and is hoping to help more students in need. As demand for hotspots is causing nationwide shortages, gaining access to hotspots for student use remains an ongoing challenge.
To ensure that qualified students received their equipment loans as soon as possible, UCI undertook a massive distribution effort. Operating out of Student Services II, Room 1010, several members of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and OIT teams worked to assist students. To maintain social distancing protocols, student pickups were staggered throughout the day.
When discussing the laptop distribution process, Riedelsheimer explained that the turn-around time was extremely fast. After receiving his invitation to the program over spring break, he was able to pick up his laptop during the first two days of Spring Quarter. Riedelsheimer estimated that the entire distribution process lasted about five minutes from start to finish, even with social distancing measures in place.
Between staff wearing personal protective equipment and minimizing contact with students, Riedelsheimer confirmed that “they were doing all the necessary things to protect themselves and the students in the community.” Riedelsheimer also explained that the pickup process was “well thought out and very smooth.” Students were asked to take their laptops outside and verify that all programs, adapters, and other systems were functioning properly. If there was a problem with their laptop, students could go right back in for help. When describing the process, Riedelsheimer emphasized that the whole system was clearly designed to accomodate students and avoid further delays.
“UCI did really well,” Riedelsheimer commended as he reflected on his experience with the Student Equipment Loan program, “I’m so proud to be an Anteater. I mean, honestly, I think attending UCI is the best choice I’ve made.”
SSI is facilitating the ongoing distribution of equipment by reservation. For students who are unable to make it to campus, hotspots can also be shipped out free of charge. Laptops are not eligible for shipping and must be picked up in person. To apply for an equipment loan, schedule your pickup appointment, or for general inquiries, please send an email to email@example.com for assistance.
This article originally appeared in UCI OIT Home Page News, April 30, 2020 and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.