Breaking down digital barriers one click at a time
For universities in recent years, much of the focus has been on removing barriers by expanding recruitment, and then on providing educational support to students as they transition from secondary to higher education.
As higher education has become increasingly digital, with information technology reaching all areas of study, we must recognize that some of the barriers students face are digital.
whereas the use of software and applications was previously largely limited to curricula in the fields of science, technology and mathematics; information technologies are now present in all fields of learning, from languages and physiotherapy, to architecture and qualitative research in the social sciences. Digital transformation has also seen on-campus lab computers largely replaced by user-owned devices (BYOD); replacement of on-premises ICT infrastructure with cloud ICT infrastructure; and installable software giving way to browser-based software, apps and learning platforms.
One of the main contributions of digital transformation is that these developments have facilitated greater flexibility in learning and teaching at university. And flexibility is increasingly valued and expected by students and staff alike. Nearly 40% of students say flexibility is something to consider when applying to college.
Flexibility has a positive impact on the learning experience of students and the work environment of staff, and is also strongly linked to inclusiveness. Flexibility in how, when and where to study and work is important for parts of the population previously excluded from higher education – for example, people with disabilities or people with family responsibilities.
But in a context of flexible and blended learning, and broader digital transformation, how do you ensure no one is left behind? University students have significant differences in the resources available to support their studies; and have had distinct pathways to higher education, enjoying a wide range of levels of support and training along the way. There is also a wide variation in the types of computers and devices they use. So how does a university ensure that all of its students can make the most of the digital resources it offers?
While getting a computer and internet access into the hands of students is the crucial first step, it’s only part of the story. Once you’re sure a student has this laptop, how do they install the software they need for their course? Who do they turn to for help when they’re away from campus and the app they need for a project requires a license code to install?
The complexity and lack of support around digital resources is a big problem for students and staff. A study for the Chronicle of higher education found that “more than a quarter of students say they need to connect to two or more platforms to access what they need to succeed every day.” And about one in three staff members say their facility uses multiple technology systems, making it difficult for them to do their job effectively. This is a large number of students and staff for whom overly complex and inaccessible ICT configurations make it difficult to study and work.
“The complexity and lack of support around digital resources is a big problem for students and staff”
How to give students and staff access to digital tools in an accessible and equitable way that is really useful for their studies, their work and their future career; but also safe and profitable?
Academic Software was developed to meet these challenges. Academic Software is a SaaS platform that centralizes and integrates all of an educational institution’s software, cloud, and web applications, automates licensing, and distributes resources through a variety of deployment methods.
The Academic Software Platform can help institutions in concrete ways to protect and deepen inclusiveness around digital resources:
- Institutions benefit from Academic Software’s economies of scale and Academic Software’s position as a broker, which means they have access to software and application licenses at competitive rates.
- Academic Software also supports the helpdesk, offering any direct assistance users may need to access and install digital tools. The educational institution can thus be assured that its students and staff have all the support they need, but the institution’s own resources are freed up and can be allocated to other strategic and social objectives.
- Through the platform, students can access a wide range of software and applications (including open source software) for free or at deep discounts. And institutions can also offer completely free access to students who could not afford certain software they need for their studies.
The simplicity of the Academic Software platform for the end user is remarkable – almost any user who wishes to access software or a web application through the platform can do so immediately without additional assistance. But anyone who can’t install or directly access something can get real-time assistance from Academic Software Support, which will follow through until the app or software is installed. Support is available in the user’s language, outside of school terms, and will resolve deployment and licensing issues for any device the user is on.
We believe the Academic Software Platform provides a model for pursuing inclusivity in digital transformation, supporting the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of an easy-to-use self-service solution for licensing and deployment, with support guaranteed support. More generally, we argue that licensing and deployment must be an integral part of any strategy to develop digital inclusiveness. Let’s remove a potential barrier to education and make software access something no student ever has to worry about.
About the Author: This is a sponsored article by Arne Vandendriessche, CEO of Academic Software, the global leader in licensing and deployment solutions for education. Academic Software works daily with schools and universities in more than 17 countries, ensuring that no one is left behind in a world where digital transformation brings powerful new ways of learning.