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Breaking down digital barriers one click at a time

In a context of flexible and hybrid learning, and the wider digital transformation, how do we make sure no one is left behind?
July 15 2022
4 Min Read

Stop for a moment and ask yourself what you understand by “barriers to education”.

For universities, much of the focus in recent years has been on removing barriers by widening recruitment, and then on supporting students pedagogically as they make the transition from secondary to tertiary education.

As higher education has become increasingly digital, with information technologies reaching into every area of study, we need to acknowledge that some of the barriers students face are digital.

Whereas the use of software and applications had previously been largely limited to curricula in the fields of science, technology and mathematics; information technologies now feature in every area of learning, from languages to physiotherapy, to architecture, to qualitative social science research. The digital transformation has also seen computers in on-campus labs largely replaced by user-owned devices (BYOD); on-premises ICT infrastructure replaced by ICT infrastructure for the cloud; and installable software giving way to browser-based software, applications, and learning platforms.

One of the key contributions of the 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. Almost 40% of students say flexibility is a consideration in where they will apply to university.

Flexibility has a positive impact on the learning experience of students, and on the working environment of staff, and is also strongly linked to inclusivity. 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 caring responsibilities.

But in a context of flexible and hybrid learning, and the wider digital transformation, how do we make sure no one is left behind?  Students at universities have significant differences in the resources available to support their studies; and have had distinct pathways into higher education, experiencing a wide range of levels of support and training along the way. There’s also a big variance in the types of computers and devices they’re using. So how does a university make sure that all its students can make best use of the digital resources it offers?

Whilst getting a computer and internet access into the hands of students is the crucial first step, this is just part of the story. Once you’re sure a student has that laptop, how do they install the software they need for their course? Who do they ask for help when they are far away from campus and the application they need for a project needs a licence code to install?

Complexity and lack of support around digital resources is a big issue for both students and staff. A study for the Chronicle of Higher Education found that “more than a quarter of students say they have to sign in to two or more platforms to access what they need to be successful every day”. And around one in three staff say their institution uses multiple tech systems, making it challenging for them to do their jobs effectively. That’s a large number of students and staff for whom overly complex and inaccessible ICT setups are making it harder to study and work.

“Complexity and lack of support around digital resources is a big issue for both students and staff”

How do you give students and staff access to digital tools in a way that is accessible and equitable, that is genuinely useful to their studies, work and future careers; but also safe, and cost effective?

Academic Software was developed to answer these challenges. Academic Software is a SaaS platform that centralises and integrates all the software, cloud and web applications of an educational institution, automates licensing, and distributes the resources through a variety of deployment methods.

The Academic Software platform can help institutions in concrete ways to protect and deepen inclusivity around digital resources:

  • Institutions benefit from Academic Software’s economies of scale, and from Academic Software’s position as a broker, which means they have access to licences for software and applications at favourable rates.
  • Academic Software also takes over helpdesk support, offering any direct support users may need in accessing and installing digital tools. The education institution can thereby 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 put to furthering other strategic and social goals.
  • Through the platform, students can access a wide range of software and applications for free (including open-source software), or at significant discounts. And institutions can also offer completely free access to students who might not be able to afford certain software they need for their studies.

The simplicity of the Academic Software platform for the end-user is noteworthy – almost all  users who want to access software or a web application via the platform can do so straight away with no extra help. But anyone who can’t install or access something directly themselves, is able to get real-time assistance from the Academic Software service desk, which will follow through until the application or software is installed. The helpdesk is available in the user’s own language,  out of term time, and will solve deployment and licensing issues for any device the user is on.

We believe the Academic Software platform provides a model for following through on inclusivity in digital transformation, by backing up the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of a simple-to-use self-service solution for licensing and deployment, with guaranteed helpdesk support. More broadly, we argue that licensing and deployment need to form an integral part of any strategy to develop digital inclusivity. Let’s take away one potential barrier to education, and make accessing software something no student ever has to worry about.

About the author: This is a sponsored post by Arne Vandendriessche, CEO of Academic Software – the global leader in licensing and deployment solutions for education. Academic Software works on a day-to-day basis with schools and universities in more than 17 countries, ensuring no one is left behind in a world where digital transformation is bringing powerful new ways of learning.

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