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IITS Helps Bridge the Digital Divide

Technology increasingly underpins curricular design and pedagogies, and yet CSUSM students, like many students across the country, often face challenges such as unreliable internet access, intermittent access to a device, and lack of privacy for video calls. These challenges have been greatly exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, with the digital divide (the gulf between those with easy access to technology and those without) increasing dramatically across the country. IITS quickly took on that challenge to ensure students have the support they need. As Dean and Chief Information Officer Kevin Morningstar pointed out, "from the very beginning of COVID-19, we never wanted technology to be a barrier to student success."

CSUSM is dedicated to providing students the technology tools and collaborative spaces they need to thrive, and the campus wanted to ensure that the shift to virtual instruction would not widen the digital divide given the lack of access to on-campus technology. IITS has been at the forefront of most of these efforts, which have succeeded in possibly narrowing the gap even further than prior to COVID. When the campus went virtual in spring, IITS sprang into action to provide our students the technology necessary for learning at home. By repurposing existing technology across campus, IITS has loaned out over 400 laptops and hundreds of other necessary technology items (webcams, headsets, etc.) during the spring semester alone, with no request going unmet. IITS has also provided over 100 wireless hotspots, another important part of the campus' effort  to ensure everyone learning virtually has reliable internet access.

This distribution effort required an all-hands-on-deck approach from IITS. "It's not widely known, but IITS managers and staff have come to campus every week since March to keep the Help Desk open for equipment loans for students. This speaks to the personal commitment of the IITS team to be here to serve the students who need technology to continue their progress to degree in the current learning environment," Dean Morningstar said. 

Technology distribution is still ongoing, and IITS is ready to support any student who requires technology

Another part of our efforts to improve student access to technology has been the University Student Union (USU) Computer Lab, a collaboration between the USU and IITS that has repurposed the USU ballroom into a temporary student computer lab of 30 computer stations and 20 BYOD tables that are socially distanced for safety and cleaned after each use. To further remove any barriers that might keep students from accessing on-campus technology and attending in-person courses, IITS added new capabilities to the Campus App that allow students to complete the daily COVID screening form in a few simple taps while on the go. Creating a safe learning environment has been an important step in ensuring students feel comfortable accessing on-campus technology resources. 

Closing the digital divide goes beyond offering technology; it is also about offering support and services that scale to respond to a variety of preferences and digital challenges. IITS has collaborated with partners across campus to provide virtual support that allows students to seek support or engage and collaborate with classmates through text, audio, or video. By using Microsoft Teams and Zoom, the campus is offering flexible synchronous and asynchonous virtual support services that students can access despite any technological or other challenges, such as lack of privacy at home. 

Through technology loans, innovative software solutions, and other initiatives, CSUSM strives for digital equity and is committed to continue bridging the digital divide and ensuring every student has the tools they need to succeed in both their in-person and virtual courses.